Despite remaining a popular staple genre on PC and mobile devices, tower-defense games on Xbox One are seemingly on the decline, perhaps making way for more popular shooters. Clapfoot Inc., however, has mixed the two styles and brought Fortified! to Xbox One. Add in four-player co-op and you've got a fast-paced party game with a bit of strategy on the side. However, let's get one thing out in the open first: this ain't no single-player affair. Co-op is a must.
Here's what I liked:
Fly by the seat of your pants — Fortified is a tower-defense, third-person-shooter hybrid, similar in gameplay to Orcs Must Die. You can use the usual array of traps, turrets or various troops to battle it out for you, or if you’re feeling confident you can take a more run and gun approach and blast all the aliens yourself. Unlike most shooters, however, LT does not aim down the barrel but instead shoots a super bullet, such as a cluster bomb, from your currently equipped gun. When you're out of bullets you can also switch weapons during reload, and the gun will continue reloading in the background so you can carry on in gung-ho fashion. These unusual mechanics took a bit of getting used to, but once I was comfortable with the controls they made for some fast-paced gameplay.
Weapons of choice — At the start of each level you can select a loadout of two weapons that you can switch between on the run along with a handful of turrets and traps. The number of weapons and structures that you can choose from grows as your character levels up, and each of the four characters have a different arsenal to grow. This design can make your playthrough very different depending on which character you choose. There is also an Invasion Mode, which is similar to an endless mode (except it ends at level 20) in which you have to last as long as you can against larger and more difficult enemies.
Fabulous '50s — The game is set in 1950s Cold War-era America and as such has been designed to look like a '50s-style comic book. The four playable characters (The Captain, The Spaceman, The Agent and The Rocket Scientist) all look like wartime stereotypes, and the alien invaders are similarly pulled straight out a '50s B-movie or ancient Doctor Who episode. Surprisingly, this isn’t a style you see often in video games, and it sets Fortified apart on the crowded Xbox One marketplace.
Here's what I didn't like:
Baby, I'm bored — Gameplay-wise, Fortified reminded me of some older XBLA gems like the aforementioned Orcs Must Die and Iron Brigade. However, where those two games had oodles of personality, aside from the comic book look Fortifie! is severely lacking in the humor stakes. The story is non-existent, the backdrop is grey and samey and the characters are bland with nothing much to distinguish them other than their looks and initial loadout. Despite some intense gameplay towards the end of levels, I found myself getting quickly bored.
You can't sit with us — Online vs offline co-op is a contentious issue with many supporters favoring one over the other. The best scenario, of course, would be to have both, but presumably because of being pressed for time and resources, most developers need to make a choice and go with one or the other. Clapfoot Inc. went with the online variety, which is great for AAA games and if your player base is large but seems a risky move for a smaller indie game, especially one that feels fairly lonely in single player.
Only the lonely — While we're on the subject of co-op, Fortified is being billed as an "up to four-player co-op" experience; however, as I struggled through my mainly single-player run, it was fast becoming apparent that co-op is less a bonus option here and more a requirement. Repeating previous levels or playing Invasion mode nets you no XP, leaving no way to grind a character to improve your chances either. It's also quite apparent that some of the characters are designed as support rather than being intended to hold their own. If you want a single-player run through with The Rocket Scientist, well, all I can say is good luck to you.
Whilst Fortified isn’t an online-only game, it's a fairly dull and unmemorable affair on your own. I was able to test out multiplayer with one of our resident streamers, which did liven things up a bit but also emphasized the need for the full four players. If Clapfoot Inc. had balanced the game better for reduced players or introduced bots, this might have been a winner. If you’ve got plenty of online co-op buddies to hang with, there is a good enough amount of gameplay to keep you entertained, but anyone looking for some single-player tower defense action may want to look elsewhere.
Score: Try It
Fortified was developed and published by Clapfoot Inc. It will release on February 3, 2016 for $15.99. A copy was provided by Clapfoot Inc. for review purposes.