In a time when most shooters seem dedicated to the idea of various paramilitary groups warring for their own survival, it's sometimes nice to see a good old-fashioned fisticuffs between patriotic Americans and a completely alien foe. A throwback to a retro style without all that social paranoia souring it up with meaning. Fortified provides just that, with classic designs and clichéd dialogue that really nails the cheesy sci-fi vibe they were going for, and all it's missing is a bit of stock footage between levels. However, once you run out of '50s era fun, you'll find little about the gameplay or online features to keep you coming back for more.
Fortified is a tower defense shooter in the vein of Iron Brigade and Orcs Must Die! where you choose from one of four characters, outfit them with grenade launchers and alien blasters, and then set up your defenses to take on the Martian menace. Your foes are straight out of a B movie, sporting a neon green color scheme and borrowing designs from The Incredibles and Lost in Space, among others. You must defend your rocket ships from these foes on maps that start off straightforward and get complex quickly, eventually ending with having to defend multiple ships from all angles. That complexity is surprising considering how breezy the beginning of the game feels, forcing you to pay attention and identify which threats can be easily picked off and which must be taken down immediately.
Each playable character is designed to have a different focus, with the Captain able to summon infantry to his side and the Rocket Scientist dealing with explosives and covering the air. Unfortunately, while each character does unlock things in a different order, everyone does get access to most weapons and structures, making those differences superficial at best.
I leaned more towards the Captain, as his squad capabilities made most threats easy to take out in the early game, letting me dash around with an upgraded flaming shotgun and sweep up the remaining forces. I tested the other characters, but they're each tied to a specific progression, so players will likely need to pick a favorite and stick with them unless they wish to grind through the campaign over and over.
After playing through the story alone, I could tell that the game was designed around multiplayer. The gameplay is balanced either way, with a generous amount of sprint letting you cover several places at once with ease. When jumping online, you can more easily work together to protect important bases, and you'll rely on your teammates to place structures since your cash is split up evenly between each team member. Every game is better with friends, and Fortified seems like a good enough reason to gather around a couch for a few hours.
I didn't have three friends willing to come over for hours on end, so I instead jumped in online and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the online suite is lacking to say the least, with no server browser or filtering options when you want to hop into a random game. You can host a public game and hope others join in, which functions great until you realize that the game rebalances after each wave, which might put you at a disadvantage if someone decides to join and then immediately quit or leave the computer to go find chips. When I joined others games, I felt like I was a burden more than anything, since I didn't ever seem to have enough money to build defenses for the greater opposition my teammates were now facing.
What we're left with is a competent game with fun visuals, but a progression system that suggests a depth in gameplay that just doesn't exist. Even with the Invasion mode, the game doesn't have too many maps, and you'll either get bored with the gameplay or frustrated by the sudden difficulty spikes between levels depending on your level of skill with these types of games. While the style does draw you in, Fortified has a hard time keeping players invested, and its barebones multiplayer options really hamper what could have been a great online co-op choice for fans of tower defense and shooters.
While the style does draw you in, Fortified has a hard time keeping players invested, and its barebones multiplayer options really hamper what could have been a great online co-op choice for fans of tower defense and shooters.