Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Genre: FPS/Tower Defense hybrid
Developer: Coffee Stain Studios
Publisher: Coffee Stain Studios
Released: 2011

Zolgar paid: $3.74
Beaten: Yes
Zolgar's rating: 5/10 (3/10 for the $15 regular price)
Replayability: Moderate

Not long ago I reviewed Prometheus, an indy game developed on the Unreal engine which took the idea of a FPS and twisted it much like Portal. Well now I bring you Sanctum, another Unreal engine driven indy game that's a major twist on the traditional FPS.

Everyone know what a First Person Shooter, or FPS is.. and if you don't, you can probably figure it out by the title. A shooter.. in the first-person perspective.

Meanwhile a Tower Defense, or TD, as most will know is a game where you have a 'core' or some other funky named thing that only exists for one purpose: lure baddies to it! You build towers to shoot said baddies. Simple enough, eh? If you've never played one you can check out DefendTheTowers.com

Now, on to Sanctum.. Sanctum tried to combine the fast-paced slaughter fest of a FPS with the methodical logic of a TD, and what they create is basically 2 games in one. You alternate between 'build phase' and 'attack phase', both of which are really self explanatory.

In the build phase you place blocks to form your maze, place towers on said blocks, upgrade towers and upgrade your guns. Oddly this is done entirely in 1st person, instead of allowing you to use the overview (which is only used for teleporting).

In the attack phase, your defense grid goes online, and you run around using one of 3 guns to help your towers kill foes. You 3 guns are: Machine gun with rocket launcher secondary. Sniper rifle. Slow gun with AoE freeze secondary... here lies the first flaw of the game, the guns are horribly balanced.
  • Sniper: Very powerful, most useful personal weapon due to foes which are invulnerable except for a weak spot. For critters like that you pretty much need the sniper, as a well built grid will defeat everything else.
  • Assault: Useful gun to be sure, but only early in the maps and for one certain foe.. and even then it's not needed beyond maybe T3 upgrades.
  • Slow: Awesome in theory, but it's firing speed is slower than the sniper, and it's slow duration is so minimal it's barely worth talking about.
There's also a 4th gun, but you don't get it in the main playthrough: a full-auto shotgun, and just by the stats.. I'd say that thing is broken completely.

You also have 6 towers to choose from:
  • Gatling Tower: You ever so basic ground tower. Full auto, low damage, cheap.
  • Lightning: Most games would give this a long rang and call it a Sniper. It deals high damage at a slow firing speed.
  • Laser: The only Ground/air tower, fast firing speed, low damage, targets randomly.
  • Anti-Air: Air-only, slow firing explosive rounds.
  • Mortar: Slow firing speed, arced shot, good damage explosive with a massive range.
  • Slow Plate: A plate that slows your foes (and you, WTF?) as they walk over it.

These show a bit better balance than the guns, but still show a certain amount of favor, in general, to high damage. Unlike most TD, you do better with a few towers at higher upgrade levels, than a lot of lower level towers.

You have 12 enemy types, each with specific traits and weak points, most are standard TD fare. Slow tough foes, fast weak foes, flying foes, etc. They all have a 'headshot' zone though (conveniently glowing red), and some of them can only be damaged by being shot there, or otherwise take vastly reduced damage. This is what makes the Sniper so useful (seeing as a 'headshot' deals something like x3 damage).

So what we have established is that, as a FPS Sanctum is .. well.. it doesn't compare to even the most basic of FPS. As a TD Sanctum is.. generic, at best and lacks a lot of useful features that many modern TD players have come to expect.

Combine the two and you have a very fun game though, but one that I feel needs a little something more. First of all, I'd really like it to act like a normal TD and allow you to upgrade towers on the fly, and I'd like the resources to come per-kill instead of a flat amount at the end of each wave, with this mechanic they could have you get a hair more resources for killing the foes yourself, and thus giving you a reason to shoot things other than Bobbleheads.

Also it needs a plot. Even most generic TDs these days have some semblance of a plot. Sanctum? “Defend the core from the monsters.” Why am I here, who am I? Why do the monsters want to attack the core.. hell, what IS the core? There's NO story, no plot, not a damned bit of flavor text. Every map opens up with “you're here to defend the core.”

Lastly: it's short, if you read my Prometheus review you may remember me snarking a bit about how short it was.. well Sanctum is shorter and I paid for it. Six maps. Yep, six of them. Five standard and one endless. Seriously? Even free TDs have more than that.

So what it boils down to is them asking $15 for a ultra short, plotless hybridization of a mediocre TD and a lousy FPS. Someone somewhere is saying “It's got multiplayer, that's what games are about these days, the multiplayer!” This is true, it's got multiplayer, but I'm sorry.. only 6 map options, 4 gun options and 6 tower options, with 12 foes to fight.. that doesn't seem like it really lends itself to any kind of longevity in multiplayer.

Oh, and it has achievements! Well, that'll keep a perfectionist playing for a little while. Granted I didn't give much of a care about them when I got a fair chunk of them from my first (and only) play through and most of those I didn't get were 'Kill X of Y', most of the achievements are the ever-so-meaningless “Hey, you're playing the game, so let's give you a shiny badge every two frelling seconds!”

Of course, they're planning to release DLCs, to make you pay more money for content that should have been in the game from the start. If I had paid full price for this, I would be annoyed.

(Screenshots shamelessly stolen from Steam)
For today's TL:DR I'll bring you what I think the marketing meeting went like:
Let's see guys, we have no plot, mediocre TD mixed with lousy FPS gameplay, minimal content.. let's charge $15 for it!” “OK, but we have to give them lots of achievements to make it feel like they've done something!”

Pricing and availability:

(Note, while it's available from other sources, it has to be activated through Steam. As such it's been tagged Steam Only)

No comments:

Post a Comment