Fortified! Review (Xbox One)
Fortified is the kind of game that I want to keep playing, but it frustrates me just as much as it entertains me. It does everything it can to stand between me and victory -- as a good game should -- but it does these things in way that's sloppy, unclear, and lacking direction. I want to say great things about Fortified, there's a lot to like here, but those compliments are bundled with a few legitimate concerns.
Fortified is a pure tower defense game sets in a '50s alien invasion B-movie, charging me with fending off wave after wave of dirty Martian robot scum by both shooting them in classic over-the-shoulder third-person shooter style and by planting "structures" throughout the battlefield to aid me. Structures include the Tesla Coil, which zaps incoming enemies, a Sniper post that attacks charging enemy units from far distances, and an anti-air cannon for the flying enemies. Each structure costs a certain amount of money, and I have limited funds to pull from in every round.
I can choose between four different classes, each with their own perks and abilities in battle, to fight the hoards with, but other than Heroic Powers the four play extremely similarly. Weapons are simple guns like a machine gun and a grenade launcher, but each gun has a pair of shot functions depending on which trigger I use to fire. With the grenade launcher, for example, the right trigger launches a standard grenade while the left trigger shoots a grenade made up of smaller grenades. The trade-off comes from ammo supply, as the spread shot uses more of my available ammo than the standard grenade.
That brings me to my first major peeve with Fortified: reloading a weapon. It's simple enough to do -- just press Y to start the process, but it takes forever to get back to action. I can switch to my other weapon while the first reloads though, and the reloading gun continues to do so behind the scenes when I switch. All of this sounds great, but the game offers me no guidance on this reloading mechanic. I accidentally figured it out for myself while in the middle of a strong wave of enemies. That's a problem, especially for a major element of a shooter game like reloading my weapon.
In fact, the game not telling me important things about how to play might be the game's biggest issue. Let's start with the one thing more important than reloading in a game like this, player health: the game's heads-up display has no health bar for my character whatsoever, instead forcing me to depend on the screen changing from color to black and white as a health indicator. Perhaps I wasn't thinking straight but I legitimately thought my character was invincible and only the rocket ship I'm guarding takes damage, whereas I can be knocked out for a few seconds if I take too much damage and the hordes can get free reign on the rocket.
The game sports some RPG elements too, slowly unlocking more weapons and structures as I progress through missions. Each weapon and structure can be upgraded, but not in the conventional way. Using an upgrade point unlock two different variations of the weapon or structure, like giving the Sniper less cooldown time or more damage from far distances, and I have to choose which one I want when I place it in the field. I like this idea, as it adds even more planning to my approach with each wave of aliens.
However, just like the rest of the game the system is imperfect: the first time I unlocked new stuff, the game revealed two new structures but only gave me one point to use for them, thus making me choose which one I wanted to unlock first. Oh, and you "unlock" new stuff and then have to spend an upgrade point to actually make that new item available, rendering the first "unlock" pointless.
For all of my complaints about the nuances of the game, actually doing battle against the Martians is actually pretty fun. The waves are relentless at times, raining down dozens of enemies at once from multiple spawn points from around the map, but that really just adds to the fun. Admittedly the game doesn't look all that great, as my character resembles an action figure and runs around the map like he has a stick up his butt, but he gets around pretty fast and lets me properly deflect the coming enemy waves at my own pace.
Fortified is by no means perfect, as it has a few quirks that really get under my skin. However, when it's time to lock and load against the Martians it's a challenging little game that tests my strategic mind just as much as my trigger finger. The '50s kitsch is a nice throwback to the B-movie genre as well, to the point where this would make a pretty good flick.
This review was completed using a download code of Fortified! provided by the publisher for Xbox One.