Fortified is an engaging third-person shooter that mixes gameplay elements from tower defense and strategy games with strong retro-futuristic production design.
Indie games have certainly grown in scope over the past decade. There was a time when these titles were largely small-scale affairs, often using 2D graphics to cut down on the costs associated with a third dimension. That's all changed now — and games like Fortified demonstrate just what smaller teams can do.
The core gameplay in Fortified draws on an eclectic range of influences, with elements of the third-person shooter, real-time strategy, and tower defense genres meshing together well. The premise is simple: Earth is under attack by Martian invaders, who need to be repelled across a selection of increasingly complex maps.
As in the best tower defense games, those maps will inform the player's overarching strategy. Predicting the routes enemies are likely to take and lining them with damage-dealing structures is the tactical foundation of minute-to-minute play — but there's also plenty of action.
Running round the map to build structures is only the first part of a round of Fortified. Once the enemies start making their assault, players take up arms for themselves as one of the four character types available — an artfully designed bunch who range from gruff marine to sci-fi space cowboy.
Here's where the game really puts another spin on the tower defense genre; several of the 'structures' you can build are in fact troops, and they're far from stationary. Using a simple but flexible set of controls, the player can then lead their forces into battle, or send a squadron to fight off another attack while protecting their own territory.
It's a system that resembles the criminally underplayed Freedom Fighters, and one that adds considerable depth to Fortified. Even in the simpler maps at normal difficulty, neglecting to use all the tools available to the player will end in an unfortunate Martian takeover of Earth.
One very early level, for example, offers enemies two straightforward paths to their objectives. Having played several games in this style before, I was under the impression that a few well-positioned troops and my own shooting capabilities would be more than enough to repel the attack — unfortunately for Earth, I was very wrong.
While the gameplay put forward in Fortified is great fun, the best part of the game is its stellar art direction. We've seen plenty of games tackle a similar retro-futuristic look before, but few commit to it quite as whole-heartedly as the team at Clapfoot Inc.
From its beautifully realized character designs, to engaging flavor text, to the way interstellar invaders coexist with 1950s America, it's clear that Fortified is something of a labor of love. It's the sort of experience that only a small team working towards a common goal could execute so well.
Some players will likely be turned off by the lack of a true campaign mode — it's more a series of maps that can be attempted at a range of difficulties, or in co-op. Progression comes in the form of upgrading individual characters and unlocking more weaponry and abilities.
In other words, there's not much to keep players engaged if the core gameplay doesn't do the trick. However, given how well that gameplay has been put together — and the title's budget price tag — it's sure to grab many, particularly those playing with others co-operatively.
Fortified may not be a sprawling, epic experience — but it's a well-made game with mechanics that stand up to extended play. With great art design to boot, it's a solid purchase for anyone looking for a mix of action and strategy, or their next co-op staple.
Fortified is available now for Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.