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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Protect the inner sanctum

Game Category: Action - Tower Defense, Shooter, First Person, Science Fiction
Developer / Distributor: Coffee Stain Studios
Release Date: 16 Apr 2011
Rating: ESRB - Not applicable

Sanctum Collection
Click image to shop online
There has been a recent spate of tower defense games being released over the past few months that it has become really competitive in this niche genre. I have reviewed a small handful of such games before, but I'd thought I up the ante by introducing a few more games from this genre to you.

Today, I will be introducing Sanctum, one of the latest tower defense games around with a refreshing first person spin added to the entire package. The game was developed by Coffee Stain Studios, a developer based in Sweden. Sanctum uses Unreal technology and it is no surprise that they won the fourth prize in the Make Something Unreal 2009 contest. The game play is that good!

Sanctum has you taking on the role of Skye, a determined soldier who is all out to protect the Cores of her home town, Elysion One. Do you have the spunk and gumption to take on the role of Skye and help her defend the various sanctums from a horde of alien invaders?

Welcome to Sanctum
Game Play
Sanctum comes with single player and multiplayer modes. The game was originally bundled with only three levels upon it's first release. As of today's review, there are now a total of 6 levels offered with Sanctum with the possibility of purchasing another 4 maps as additional DLCs (that's gamer-speak for Downloadable Content).

You may complain that 6 maps (or maybe 10 maps) plus one tutorial map is just a bit too little content. Well, let me debunk that fear. Each map has at least 20 to 30 waves of alien creatures to overcome before the next one is unlocked for you, and each wave is going to take you at least a few minutes to complete. If you do the maths, it will probably take at least an hour to complete each map.

Play the tutorial or you'll be pwned by the alien creatures
If it's the first time you are playing a tower defense game, play the tutorial. If you've played a tower defense game before, I recommend that you also play the tutorial. Don't go flaming me here, it's not like the game is highly complex, but there are some intricacies of the game that is best experienced first hand. Nothing like a little practical session to grasp what the designers had in mind.

Skye has been entrusted to protect the Core; it's a glowing orb that is found at the heart of every map, and it must be protected at all costs. The core starts off at 100 percent but will get damaged when an alien successfully clambers into it. If the core reaches 0 percent, it will be game over for you.

You'll be hooked once you start building your maze
In Sanctum, you start off the game in Build mode with a fixed amount of resources. You will be spending resources to place blocks on a marked out grid. On each of these blocks, you are able to plant a single tower (or what I like to call a weapon emplacement). If you have enough resources, you can choose to upgrade these emplacements - up to level 6. The higher the level of an emplacement, then the more damage it will dish out to the alien creatures. Alternatively, you could also upgrade the weapons that Skye carries, especially if you prefer the personal touch and want to punish the aliens all by yourself.

You are told what types of aliens you will encounter in the next wave, so make sure you build the correct type of weapon emplacements, especially if you know that your next group of enemies will take to the air (and you don't even have a single anti-air weapon emplacement placed yet).

You should always supplement the weapon emplacements
with a little firepower from Skye
Once you are happy with the placement of your blocks and weapon emplacements, you press the Enter key and the game enters the Wave mode. Here, a single wave of alien creatures (pre-identified during the Build mode) will swarm the monster entryways and slowly make their way across the map towards the Core. If you did some strategic planning during the build phase, you would have started to design an intricate maze for the alien invaders to march through. The longer the route, the better the chance you have at surviving the wave.

Your weapon emplacements will start blasting once the aliens are within range. Weapons include gatling turrets, powerful lightning turrets, high-powered scatter lasers, or mortar weapons. If you are equipped with these, you can also plant slowfields to slow down fast-footed aliens, ampfields to amplify the damage taken by aliens, plus other exotic weapons (some of these requiring a purchase as a DLC).

Upgrade weapon emplacements to protect the glowing core
At any time, you can press the Tab key to be taken to see an overview of the entire level. If you are in build mode, you can admire the maze that you have embarked on building. Here, you can plan how to maximize the distance the aliens have to travel by carefully designing a wicked maze that they are forced to traverse. On the other hand, when in Wave mode you need to be see the overview of the level to have a real-time update of how your defences are holding up. It would be good to hop into your maze to lend support fire. You are practically invulnerable to aliens, so just go ahead and enter the fray.

While in overview mode; all you can do is make use of televators that you build on a map. Instead of a weapon emplacement, these blocks are built with a televator. They allow you to quickly access an area of your map so you can take the attack straight to the marching alien invaders. While in first person mode, a televator also brings you up to block level (like an elevator) so you can see eye to eye with some of the taller aliens.

An overview of the Mine
The aliens come in all kinds of shape and sizes, and boy are they ugly. I counted at least 9 type of ground moving creatures, and 3 types that take to the air. Here's a sampling of alien creatures: there are runners (requisite small and fast creatures), walkers (standard soldier forms), chargers (these guys are fast), hoverers (these tall guys can only be shot from behind), soakers (ugly creatures that are susceptible to quick heavy fire - like gatling turrets), spore pods (these floating creatures can only be taken out by anti-air towers).

The most irritating monster, what I would consider an almost boss monster, are the bobble heads. These creatures are vulnerable only in their head. However, targeting their weak spot is quite a feat as they swing their head from side to side while walking. The appearance of bobble heads usually means that you will have to take them out all by yourself, since most weapon emplacements aren't effective against them.

Stop swaying your head!
Each map has four difficulty levels - easy, normal, hard, and insane. There are also four survival modes built into each level - standard, bounty, pre-built, and stamina. Bounty has a time limit during the build phase from the first wave onwards, pre-built has some randomly placed blocks and weapon emplacements (and already upgraded), while in stamina you must survive the game with whatever resources has been given to you at the start; which is quite a lot.

The multiplayer mode also gives you the same choices mentioned in the previous paragraph, plus you get to choose from any of the 6 standard maps. The key here is you get to play cooperatively with up to 3 of your friends on the Internet, and it's quite fun too!

Lots of people are playing Sanctum!
Sanctum makes good use of Unreal technology. The level designs are quite large and all levels afford you with a great expanse to design a cool maze. The static meshes (3D objects) that appear in the game are well detailed, and everything looks very out of this world (even the skyboxes look awesome). The alien model designs are really something, they look downright weird and definitely deserve our wrath. I also like the detail done on Skye, and I'm sure you'll enjoy the sweet victory dances performed by Skye (or the aliens when you lose the map).

The music is really thumping and adrenaline building... but isn't any Unreal game like that? I like how the music slows down in pitch while you are walking on a slowfield (and it's even dependent on the level of the slowfield). The synthesized speech is not too bad, and it gives the game that futuristic feel. Skye really sounds like a sadist, laughing at the awesome twitching deaths of some of the aliens. The sound effects from the weapons are not too bad!

What shall I build in this Glade?
  • One of the key highlights of Sanctum is the possibility of designing your own maze. You can then place weapons strategically to make life really difficult for the alien creatures. Trust the developers with great level designs that fuel your need to be creative.
  • You not only have to be strategic, you most often also need to lend support fire to take out stubborn alien creatures that continue to march on inexorably towards the core (despite the firepower put out by your weapon emplacements).
  • With the game making use of the Unreal engine, you can rest assured that the visuals will be nothing short of spectacular. 
  • Sanctum comes with cooperative multiplayer and several fun survival modes.
Take it easy Skye!
  • At the start of each map, you must equip Skye with weapons and towers. If you choose wrongly here, say for example you forget to add in an Anti-Air tower, then it's going to be very difficult to survive through a wave of spore pods. There is no way to change your equipped weapons and towers midway through the game, so choose real carefully.
  • There could be a few more monster designs thrown in for added variety (instead of the current twelve); perhaps different colored creatures to indicate level of difficulty.
  • Six maps may still feel too few for some.
  • The game makes use of color to differentiate the upgrade level of an emplacement. Pity the guy who may be color blind.
  • Others may feel that there are way too many waves to complete before you finally get to see a new map.
Wrong choice of towers for the Bridge map
Sanctum is an innovative marriage of the first person shooter genre with a tower defense game. The game play really hooks on you as you commit yourself to a plan that will make life a nightmare for all the nasty alien creatures hoping to destroy the cores of Elysion One.

And no wonder it's so much fun, Sanctum is truly something Unreal!

Time for some coop fun!
Daily PC Game Review Score: 7.5 / 10
Review Date: 6 Nov 2011


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