Here's where we're really going to start splitting hairs: Sanctum versus Sanctum 2. The original Sanctum struck an almost perfect balance between strategy and action. Your time was neatly divided into tower placement and first person shooter sections. Resources were plentiful, and not only could you give your towers a little boost, but you could also beef up your own weapons one level at a time. This created a very dynamic give and take between the genres, all without overshadowing each player's personal style.
With Sanctum 2, most of that delicate balance has been toppled over. It's a much simpler, more streamlined game, and if you're coming from a background with the original Sanctum, you're probably not going to like the changes. Towers seem almost useless in the sequel. Not only does their firepower feel reduced, but they don't provide solid player-sized blocks to create walls, just little nubs that barely protrude from the floor. While this does improve visibility and mobility, it also increases the illusion that towers are, in fact, nearly pointless.
With the focus shifted to fighting, one would think the weapons have been fleshed out into a nice arsenal of destruction. Unfortunately that's not the case. Sanctum 2 reduces weapons to a few character-specific guns, each with a regular and an alt firing mode. Instead of upgrading weapons using resources, you can equip various perks that boost certain abilities, often with a game-balancing cost associated with them. For example, Haigen has a shotgun perk that increases overall damage by 30%. The tradeoff is weakspot damage is eliminated, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your situation. There's a little bit of strategy involved in choosing the right perks, but you'll probably stick with one or two favorites throughout the game, even when new ones are unlocked.
Resources are handled a bit differently in Sanctum 2. Instead of automatically adding them to each player's total at the end of a wave, crates appear that must be picked up by each player. When the game was first released these resources could only be collected by one person on the team, leaving everyone else to sit and watch while one lucky player got to build and upgrade. Coffee Stain Studios listened to a lot of player feedback, though, and soon released an update that made it so resources were available to everyone on the team. This quickly fixed the imbalance, restoring co-op to a more complete team-based experience. Thanks, Coffee Stain Studios!
The changes between games aren't all negative, however. For starters, the graphics in Sanctum 2 are noticeably sharper, clearer, and more lively than in the first game. There's also a story to follow, though it's minimal at best and can be neatly summed up by saying "these four people are going to kill aliens". The comic-style cutscenes are a nice treat, even if they don't add much to the game.
Summing up the Sanctum vs. Sanctum 2 debate is simple: Sanctum 2 is a first person shooter with light tower defense elements, whereas Sanctum 1 is a balanced hybrid. Entering Sanctum 2 from a background in Sanctum might leave you a bit disappointed, but if you're new to the series, Sanctum 2 might actually be a better starting point, especially if strategy games aren't your thing. It's a good game with great graphics and a good co-op mode no matter which way you look at it, but it doesn't quite reach the level of awe-inspiring entertainment achieved by the original.
UPDATE: Coffee Stain Studios released an update shortly after launch that fixed a number of issues/imbalances in the game. The changes were so significant we updated our review (and review scores) to reflect this.
This review was based on the PC version of the game provided by the developer.
The Co-Op Experience: Sanctum 2 is a sequel 2009's Sanctum, a hybrid FPS/Tower Defense game. To succeed you have to construct and upgrade defensive structures. What makes Sanctum unique from other tower defenses is that when the havoc starts, you jump right into the action with your own weapons and play a key role in the defense.
Co-Optimus game reviews focus on the cooperative experience of a game, our final score graphic represents this experience along with an average score for the game overall. For an explanation of our scores please check our Review Score Explanation Guide.