Have you ever been chatting to someone who’s not really listening? Someone with a glazed look in their eyes, who keeps checking their phone, keeps looking around at other things, as you attempt to expound the finer points of anthropoid limb dismemberment. You certainly get the feeling that they have better things to do than sit there talking to you. Just like many game developers fail to listen to their consumers. But not Coffee Stain Studios. I love those guys, because listening and learning is their speciality.
Firstly, they listened to what people did/didn’t like about the first Sanctum. What was over-powered, what was useless, what needed streamlining, and even how people like to purchase any add-on content. Thus was born Sanctum 2. Yet far from releasing and retiring, Coffee Stain are still at the forefront of their fanbase, responding to feedback, and constructive criticism. Very shortly after launch, the rather unwieldy and unfair method of resource acquisition has already been revamped, in reaction to fan feedback. And the game is a much sweeter deal because of that.
For Sanctum virgins, the series is a tower-defence game, which is played in the first person. That means you get to build defences to defend against the enemy swarms, then you get to fight alongside your towers as you attempt to stem the inexorable flow of fierce baddies that want to destroy your core (the heart of your base). Your input is certainly not negligible; your actions will be integral to bringing down some of the more powerful baddies when your towers are overwhelmed.
Sanctum 2 has brought a number of new features to the table. Firstly, your character gets RPG style level-ups, meaning they will get better abilities, and unlock some mighty fine weaponry and towers. There are also perks you can use to enhance the abilities of your character, and these little boosts can really help tip the balance in certain maps.
Resources to build towers are now kept separate from resources for tower bases. This simply means that you cannot set out a vast network of tunnels to channel the baddies down, right from the start of the level. Instead, owing to the limited resources which are slowly accreted as the level progresses, you must keep adjusting your setup with each round to maximise your available resources for each wave. It sounds like a small addition, but it works very nicely to keep the challenge high throughout all the waves, rather than just the later ones.
A splendid touch is the addition of bosses. These gargantuan creatures are generally far more powerful then common baddies, and will even start to destroy your previously invincible towers, should they so desire. Although the creatures themselves may be taken down, they could also knock a hole in your meticulously constructed tower path, leaving a shortcut for all the common baddies to gleefully scuttle straight through to your vulnerable core. So tower layout requires even more thought and planning.
Weapon upgrades have been removed as part of the streamlining process, meaning you can focus purely on your towers, and getting them as deadly and efficient as possible. At first this was a bit of a disappointment, as I enjoyed having uber-upgraded weapons of mass destruction in Sanctum 1. But after playing for a while, you can see that this omission does help to add consistency to the gameplay, especially in co-op mode, where players would have different ideas about what to spend their money on. Now with just towers to focus attention on, the skill is in getting the optimal tower build, rather then relying on over-powered weapons.
Having completed the game, you can replay each level with special difficulty modifiers enabled. These will make the enemies stronger, faster, and badder, which will ramp up the difficulty to create a challenge for even the most advanced Sanctumites.
Adding a little more structure to game progression, there is a story-driven campaign with comic-strip introductions to each level. Don’t expect anything special, it is all generic sci-fi waffle which is eminently forgettable 5 minutes later. Something about codes, computers, fighting, and the square root of tedium. But nobody is playing Sanctum 2 for the storyline, so this is not really an issue.
Sanctum 2 is polished, and will become even more so as the devs keep tweaking and refining to edge the game even further towards perfection. The concept is simple, but with such a good execution, it will keep you playing for well beyond its natural shelf life. It is safe to say that this sequel has surpassed the original significantly, and in such a number of different ways that it truly does merit being a sequel, rather than a glorified add-on pack.
It is comforting to know that Sanctum 2 listens. It stares deep and lovingly into your eyes, and snuggles you with a warm embrace. When you bring down a colossus of an enemy within spitting distance of your core, when you set up the perfect tower arrangement to annihilate the hordes, when you frivolously dance between the boisterous baddies, you realise that Sanctum 2 is granting you a deep sense of fulfilment. It has tailored itself to be as much fun as it can be. I hereby request that you buy this game. You won’t regret it, unless you have an abnormal aversion to fun.