Despite its cheesiness, classic, 1950s pup sci-fi has never lost its appeal. Even today, its tales of alien invasions, campy monsters and other low-budget offerings continue to entertain. Gaming has also taken inspiration from the genre over the years, and one such effort is Fortified, which is heading to PC and Xbox One this very week.
Developed by Toronto-based indie studio, Clapfoot, Fortified is a game that combines 1950s-era pulp sci-fi with the mechanics of both action defense and third-person shooter video games. The result is a title that starts off well, with enjoyable gameplay and fast-paced mechanics, but quickly becomes too frustrating for its own good.
Although it doesn’t exactly say this, Fortified was developed with co-operative play in mind, and although it allows for solo play, it doesn’t excel in this category. I found that out the hard way, because scheduling issues kept me from being able to play with others, and my experience was filled with frustration as a result. You see, the first four levels weren’t too difficult, but once I hit the fifth (of twelve), things started to get too insane to keep up with. Reason being was the introduction of two new elements: rolling/armoured enemies who are good at bypassing most defences, and a second base to protect.
Simply put, even on its normal setting, this is an experience that isn’t tailored to single player gamers like myself. It’s so fast-paced, and sends so much at you, that it essentially wants you to be in two places at once; something that is obviously rectified by playing with two to four people. If there was a lower difficulty included, this problem could have been avoided, but I want to make it clear that this is not something you should buy unless you have friends who will also be picking it up.
Gameplay-wise, Fortified is similar to titles like Dead Block, where you control a certain class of character and must use both gun-based and defence-based attacks to prevent enemies from overtaking you. However, instead of defending rooms from zombies, your aim here is to protect one or more rockets from varying types of alien invaders. This includes toy-like robots, bug-like grunts, flying saucers and the aforementioned rolling contraptions. Those, you see, happen to be turrets, which roll into your base before opening up and unleashing heavy attacks. They’re possible to momentarily freeze and slow down, but it’s hard to keep on top of them when so many foes are coming at you. It’s also not uncommon for the game to send several per wave.
Your defences will vary, because things are set up to allow players to inject their own styles into the mix. This is done by creating an unlock system, which gives you a certain amount of points that must be used to unlock and upgrade different guns and defences. With each completed level, more points become available, but you’re limited to just two guns and around five or six defences overall. There’s also a frustrating limit that is placed on all players, meaning that even if you have the money to put down more defences, you won’t be able to after a certain point. I didn’t see any sort of indicator or warning regarding this, and found it to be a cheap way of adding artificial difficulty. After all, I had the room and the money to buy more, but simply couldn’t.
So, what are these guns and defences that I keep mentioning? Well, for starters, the available roster of guns includes a machine gun, a shotgun, a grenade launcher and a TNT launcher. Each one has two secondary functions, as well, and once you’ve spent one point to upgrade a weapon, you’re given the choice of either one of its bonus abilities. Take the shotgun for example, as it can fire explosive bullets or, conversely, shoot something that freezes enemies for a very short period of time. The latter is a godsend, to say the least.
Now, when it comes to defences, you’re looking at an interesting mix of options. There’s your everyday turret gunner, a powerful rocket launching troop (whose upgrades are also very helpful), and a robot-like being that can fire electricity. On top of that, different contraptions allow you to fling smaller enemies into the distance, or slow them down in a nearby proximity. Of course, aerial defences also play into the mix. What I found to be the most helpful, though, were the mortar-based catapults, as they did the best job of keeping enemies at bay and blowing them into smithereens.
What’s neat, and appreciated, is that your loadout can be replaced at any time, without penalty. As such, you can try to adapt your options to each unique level. Or, if you’re playing the game’s wave-based Invasion survival mode, you have the option of tailoring your defences to your exact play style.
I need to be honest, though, and admit that, because I was playing solo and the game got so cheap, I only made it to the sixth stage. You’d think that if a game is marketed towards lone gunners like myself, it would be more adaptive to us, but Fortified unfortunately is not. Its difficulty level is high, and unfairly so, because it throws so much at you that surviving feels like an impossibility. Take the sixth level’s boss as a prime example, because not only is he large and full of health, but I could not — for the life of me — take him out alone. It’d look like I was close, but then he’d simply regen some health and grow another shield, before walking to my base and hammering it into oblivion.
Another problem is how far away you’re forced with placing your last line of defences. What I mean by that is that there’s a big buffer around your base, where you’re physically unable to place anything at all. It’s far too large of a space in-between, and it makes it difficult to defend the bases themselves. This has you running from one to another every time the alarm sounds, out of the fearful knowledge that your defences just aren’t able to put an end to the attacks. That said, I honestly have no doubt that Fortified will be a better and more enjoyable game for those who don’t try to lone wolf it.
As far as its presentation goes, Clapfoot’s campy effort is full of nods to the days of classic pulp science fiction. Its colourful motif, and plastic-like textures, were obviously inspired by the 1950s. On top of that, its bases, characters and enemies all look like toys taken from that era. The four classes, themselves, also fit right in, with options like a soldier and a spaceman. Each one has its own special move, too, with one having the option to fly and another being able to call in aerial strikes that are somewhat helpful in the heat of battle.
Of course, the music is also quite fitting, and the sound design — with its bullet, laser, robot, alien and torpedo effects — is perfectly fine. It’s nothing revolutionary, and the same is true of the opening cinematic (which takes comic book form), but it works.
At the end of the day, Fortified is an alright game that could have been better. It works as is, but needs some tweaking before it will be something that is playable by solo defenders. Pick it up if you’re looking for some sci-fi infused tower defence, but only do so if you have a group of friends to play with. Otherwise, you’re looking at a heck of a lot of frustration.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Although it can often be too frustrating for its own good, Fortified has a lot going for it, and will appeal to those who like to work together with their friends. If you're a solo gamer, however, you'll want to pass on this one, because it's just not built to be the lone wolf-accepting title that it purports to be.