SENTRY Early Access Review (PC) – Prepare For Boarding

If the indie darling FTL: Faster Than Light had one piece missing, it would be guns. Oh, and traps, so I guess two things. If FTL were to have guns and traps, it would basically come out looking a bit like SENTRY. A first-person shooter with tower defence trap systems, you must batten down the hatches of your spaceship as alien waves attempt to board and bring forward the end of humanity’s existence.

Presently available through Early Access, the current version features a segment of the campaign, a handful of weapons and a few of the levels that will make up the core of the title. It’s a decidedly eclectic combination of genres, but then so was Orcs Must Die! 3, and that was pretty good. Is what’s here enough to have you manning your stations and leading a one-sentry defence? Let’s crack open this ship and find out.

Stay The Course

SENTRY has as straightforward a setup as they come. Earth has been destroyed and the last of humanity escaping is via spaceships. The alien forces are in pursuit and are hell bent on your destruction. As an automated sentry, you must take up arms, and traps, to fend off their assaults. That’s it, off you go.

SENTRY has you navigating your ship through space via handy nodes. Your goal on each map is to reach a gate, though there’s threats and obstacles standing in your way, needless to say. Nodes can feature derelict ships for materials, research points and even weapons or gear that you can then equip for battles.

While the map screens are nicely animated, there’s not a whole lot of flair on show yet. You can only see one or two nodes ahead of you at any time, so there’s a modicum of tension of which paths to take, but it’s nothing I found myself toiling over. After your first run, you’ll start to be chased by reinforcements or missiles, which adds some pressure.

Though it must be said, in my two or three complete runs, they weren’t especially threatening. Provided you don’t go back for resources you don’t especially need, you’ll be fine. Some tweaking for the balancing of this will likely happen by the time of the full release, and I look forward to seeing how the maps are expanded.

SENTRY review

Hold Your Ground

As you advance towards your galactic reprieve, you’ll inevitably run into hostile ships. When you do, it’s time to gear up and get your rifle ready. Between waves of enemies breaching the doors, you’ll have a small window of time to lay down traps with which to meet the boarding party. Think Home Alone but with more thermal blasts.

Traps can be placed on walls, floors and the ceiling, creating a smorgasbord of extraterrestrial blood. From the handful of maps available so far, placement and combination of traps is paramount to success. As waves progress, the aliens can approach from multiple entry doors, meaning poor planning in the early stages will cost you dearly by the end.

It’s challenging, for sure. On my second run, I ran aground within just a couple of battles thanks to my failure to recognise the optimal chokepoints. While the enemy AI is relatively basic, the variety of them means there’s no one strategy that’ll always see you through. Eventually, you’ll have damage-absorbing tanks stomping through your traps and flying bugs coasting through to your defence point.

Even with the small helping of available traps so far, the fundamentals are good. For the most part, SENTRY felt difficult but fair. At the moment there’s a lack of substantial options to traps, but once this is expanded on, there could be some really interesting synergies to explore and master. Thankfully, the act of planting traps is simple, quick and easy, making it relatively seamless.

SENTRY review

We Need Guns

Much like the process of setting traps and gleefully watching them rip apart the waves of aliens, gunplay is solid too. It seems intentional that you don’t control like a one-man army ala a Call of Duty. Instead, I found it to a competent combat feel, but your avatar is certainly vulnerable. Waltz into the fray recklessly and you’ll certainly find out.

So far, certain weapons felt far superior to me, such as the SMG. The ranged rifle simply didn’t allow me to compete against larger groups. The grenade toss is also… off. From my ability to gauge the distance to its underpowered explosive potential, it just doesn’t feel viable to use as yet. Of course, this will probably be worked out through updates, but so far the gunplay meta feels decent but not great.

Mowing down hordes, either through your own hand or your carefully placed traps, will see credits drop around the map. I like how SENTRY doesn’t automatically gift you these credits (which are used to place more traps), instead requiring you to strategise when to collect them. Wandering off mid battle will leave your defence point exposed, but only doing so in the interlude gives you less time to prepare.

The difficulty spike that occurs after your first successful run is where most people will come to love or loathe the experience. Starting up a new campaign only to be blasted to kingdom come on the first battle is demoralising, even if it is partially due to your own poor tactics. Yet, SENTRY is a practice orientated type of game, so repeated attempts with successes and failures is part and parcel of the game.

SENTRY review

The Re-Arrival

Reaching the end of a map means you can keep blueprints for equipment and weapons you’ve acquired. This then makes these available for future campaigns you embark on from the off, though some may need to be crafted with resources. All of your equipment can be upgraded to improve their potency and firepower, creating an interesting decision-making wrinkle of which traps or weapons to prioritise.

Which leaves SENTRY in a very solid spaceship indeed. The core components are all here and accounted for, ready to be further developed into a genuinely compelling title. While the campaign is still very short and the content offering is decidedly light, the Early Access time will allow the developers to expand the sandbox pretty significantly, which bodes well.

Visually, SENTRY is fairly basic. The environments are all very similar, with industrial sci-fi rooms meeting with the contrasting brightness of orange hues. Enemy models are relatively run-of-the-mill but serve their purpose, with different types being clearly identifiable. Effects and explosions are slightly lacklustre, but again, these may be improved on with time.

I did run into a few problems with the framerate, unfortunately. When battles pick up steam and there’s more than a dozen or so enemies on screen, the game can start to chug. Definitely not game breaking by any means, but it is a significant dip in performance. Other than that however, I didn’t run into any glitches or bugs, which is a positive sign given where SENTRY is in its development cycle.

SENTRY review

Standing By

I had a good time with SENTRY for the handful of runs I committed to. There’s a good half a dozen or so hours of fun to be had already, with what promises to be a lot more on the way. Co-op is a feature that’s been suggested for the future and if implemented correctly, could really elevate the game even further. There are understandably some kinks to iron out and foundations to build on, but there’s a lot of promise here.

The combination of FPS gameplay mixed with strategic trap placement feels relatively seamless and engaging, which will be SENTRY’s biggest draw. There’s no real story or other element to the game at present, so your mileage into deep space will be highly dependent on whether you’re a fan of these genres in the first place.

To sum up though, I thoroughly relished my time with the game. I’ll be keen to keep an eye out for how it progresses in its development and I look forward to seeing how Fireblade Software take on feedback from the Early Access period. The early stages of this sentry’s defensive line look to holding, let’s hope they can push the invaders back given some time.

SENTRY has a promising premise of competent gunplay and challenging strategy mechanics. The available campaign segment is currently lightweight and more variety is definitely needed, but SENTRY has set out a sturdy hull from which humanity may just survive and even thrive in, should it be supported on its voyage to escape the alien invaders.

SENTRY is available now on PC via Early Access (review platform).

Developer: Fireblade Software
Publisher: Fireblade Software

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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