Reviewed Platform: Xbox One
Format: Digital Download
Other Platforms: PC
Release Date: February 3rd 2016
Fortified – The Review
In some games engaging with the multiplayer aspect is essential to the gameplay, whereas in others you can comfortably play through the entire game without ever needing to dabble in a connected experience. Fortified falls somewhere between the two camps; it is a fine game to play solo, but it really comes alive when more players drop in to join the fight.
What is Fortified?
Fortified is a third-person tower-defence shooter. It bears similarity to games like Toy Soldiers or Sanctum. You place your defences – fortifications, if you will – but you are also running around the map, bolstering your structures’ attempts at defending the base by tearing into the Martian invaders with your character’s own rifle, shotgun or Martian plasma gun. Set against a 1950s backdrop, where the Martians are invading Earth, the game design and art are a compliment to the game, and set the tone well for an over-the-top, Cold War-era action film-style game.
The game starts out easily enough – on the aptly-named Easy Street. Most achievements will ignore progress you make on Easy Street, which should give you an idea of just how easy that map is. In subsequent maps, though, the action quickly gets frenetic, and without a good balance between structures – player-movable but solid defences – and guns, the base will soon be overrun.
Before the first round begins, each player is allowed to run the map and places defences, and easy affair using the shoulder buttons. It’s easy to place defences, and they can be sold (which refunds all the money, a nice touch and slightly unusual for this genre). When all players are ready, they can each hit View to start the wave. On higher difficulty levels, subsequent waves will immediately follow each other with a timed countdown, a brief interlude to allow the regaining of composure and placement of more defences, while on the lowest difficulty setting each player needs to signify their readiness again.
With a single player game, the amount of money available for upgrades is substantial and allows the player the ability to purchase multiple structures to shore up defences where they are not actively defending. With more players, which is only available via online co-operative play, the amount of money is reduced per player, a trade-off for having more firepower, but with strategy and co-ordination the benefits are clear.
There’s a levelling system which gates access to additional structures and weapons, but by Level 9 (there’s an achievement for Level 20) I already had the ability to select any weapon or structure. A points system then gates which things you can have unlocked at any one time; an RPG-style point-allocation system allows you to unlock each weapon, and spend a second point to unlock its upgrades. Fortunately, you are not tied to your decisions, and can freely choose to completely respect at any time, re-allocating all points as you see fit.
Only four structures and two weapons can be brought into a level in co-op. By Level 9 I already had the ability to fully upgrade three weapons and six structures, meaning I had the difficult choice of leaving behind a couple structures that I would really have liked to use on the map to wreak havoc with the invading Martians. Alone, you are free to bring six structures to the ’50s-stylised carnage.
Instead, co-ordination with a partner is required to create combinations of defences that work well together; for instance, Scratch and I would use a few of our defences each to create what we fondly nicknamed “the Death Trap”, a menacing mishmash of a magnet to briefly hold enemies in place in front of a freeze ray, which slows their movement and inflicts damage, and a tesla coil, which fires electrical bolts and which will hit multiple enemies if close together. This was all built in front of an anti-tank cannon which would deliver devastating explosive rounds to the Martians at point blank range. If I had the cash to spare, I may even have built an auto-turret nearby, which was upgraded to set enemies alight. You know, in case they were cold from the freeze ray. Oh, and often there were Rocket-troopers within range, infantry units, who can be commanded smartly using the D-pad, who would fire rocket-propelled grenades into the maelstrom.
It was chaos. And it was glorious.
Easy Street is a single path towards your rocket, and easy to defend. In subsequent levels, there are multiple entrance points, multiple points of entry from which the Martians can attack the rocket, and even the path may branch, dividing Martians from one entry point and sending them along two different routes. It can spread resources thin, it can lead to plenty of running around the map frantically trying to chase down enemies and it can be frustrating to fail. But it’s an exhilarating experience. This, in co-operative multiplayer, is where the game truly comes alive, when you find a winning strategy that overcomes the weak points in previous plans, and together you prevail.
Fortified, in addition to the twelve campaign levels, also features a horde-style Invasion mode across three different maps. These are incredibly difficult compared to the campaign maps and led Scratch and me to consider that perhaps we were missing some vital strategy, and yet we kept playing, undeterred by our failures. In Invasion, the maps are much closer, but also players are only able to place defences within close proximity of the rocket, a far cry from the freedom afforded in campaign levels. It changes the gameplay significantly, and there is no respite; within seconds of each wave, the Martians have already advanced upon the rocket and the battles are intense.
Differing from campaign levels, in Invasion there are three gameplay modifiers for each wave, which also do their part in altering how the game is played. These include things like “Giant Robots” which literally means – no points if you guessed it – that some of the invaders have been supersized. Another modifier, meteor showers, rains down meteors on the level which also deal damage to the player, while some modifiers will do things like strengthen the base.
Fortified does well what it sets out to do. It’s a competent third-person tower-defence shooter with good gameplay mechanics and compelling gameplay when played alone, but as part of a duo or team the best parts of it reveal themselves. Strategy and co-ordination are brought to the forefront, and allow the player the freedom to concoct an insane arrangement of structures and infantry to tear the Martians to shreds.
Scratch, with whom I played this game in co-op, has also reviewed Fortified for XGM separately on YouTube. You can find that video review below.
I will be streaming gameplay from Fortified on Twitch today, ahead of its launch tomorrow. I will begin at 9pm GMT (4pm EST, 1pm PST) and play for two hours, partly solo and partly in co-op with Scratch. Tune in here.