Console platforms have always suffered from a lacklustre showing in both strategy and tower defence-style games, with these genres usually sticking to PCs where the inputs allow a little more flexibility than that offered by a gamepad. When implemented well, these types of titles can be a real pleasure on consoles however, and this tower defence/third person shooter title is no exception.
Set in the 1950s, Fortified opens with an old timey newsreader announcing the invasion of Earth by aliens. The government has gathered together four of Earth's greatest heroes to defend against the Martian threat and you'll be controlling one of them in up to four player co-op or single player, doing your best to ensure their mission succeeds.
Battle takes place at street level, with ever more difficult waves of robotic Martians marching towards your rocket ship in a bid to destroy it, you and anything or anyone else who gets in their way. There is a building phase before each wave of enemies and all players must flag themselves as being ready for the invasion before the Martian march begins. To keep them at bay, characters are equipped with weapons, turrets, traps and troops which can be strategically placed in the building phase, with each structure costing money and with funds being limited. More money can be earned by wiping out aliens, but the real windfall comes at the end of each wave. Players can also sell and build structures during the invasion phase and this can turn the tide in battle, or leave you frantically cursing that you don't have enough cash for the turret you need. There's also a limit to the number and types of troops that can be on the battlefield at one time, so it isn't simply a case of throwing money at the problem. Each placement must be carefully thought out and ideally planned with your teammates.
While your automated defences are doing their work, you and your heroic pals will run, jump, shoot and fly your way around the battlefield, picking off drones that made it past your turrets or banding together to take down the big boss monsters that land with ever-increasing frequency. The difficulty builds well at first, with enemies only coming from one or two directions, or there only being a limited number of waves, but all too quickly you'll find yourself defending multiple rocket ships with attackers closing in from all directions in seemingly endless waves and you'll go from beating levels on your own easily, to enlisting some other heroes to fight by your side.
Each of the game's playable characters embodies a 50's pulp fiction archetype and brings their own flavour and unique hero power to the gameplay. The Captain is a military man who commands troops on the battlefield. His primary structures are troops and he can order them to stay at their stations, guard specific locations, follow him or defend the base. This makes the Captain a very flexible leader character and his hero power allows him to buff all allies and call in a military strike. The Rocket Scientist is all about explosions. She starts with a grenade launcher and a heavy mortar and her hero power grants her unlimited ammo which inevitably results in a plethora of grenades hitting the streets and pieces of robot flying in all directions. The Spaceman is a space cowboy who will take the role of controller for your group. His ice traps and freezing bubble hero power make him a valuable asset to any team. Finally, The Agent is a shadowy figure whose hero power grants him additional damage. The Agent begins the game with highly effective Tesla traps and unlocks troops like the sniper early on, for maximum damage.
Characters gain experience and level up as they play through the 12 stages available. The experience can be spent on new structures and weapons, or used to unlock powerful modifiers suited to the enemy type they are about to face. This is where Fortified starts muddying the waters a little. Initially it seems that each character is unique and exciting, but as you play through the game with each archetype, the unlocks cross over more and more, leaving you with well rounded characters but also removing the need to include other players in your game. We would have liked to see characters stay more distinctly different in order to drive more people into multiplayer, to plug the gaps in their teams.
Fortified draws its inspiration from the pulp fiction of the 1950s and its comic book menu screens and fonts perfectly embody the era. In their introductions and loading screens, the heroes and villains look like they've jumped straight from the page. In actual gameplay however, the look is more contemporary. Although it's clear that the models are based on the beautiful, retro artwork seen earlier, the gameplay itself takes place in a polished 3D environment which doesn't quite capture the ambience as effectively. The HUD stays in character but one can't help but wonder if a more cel-shaded look would have helped Fortified to the next level artistically.
The lighting is excellently implemented, not only adding atmosphere, but also creating classic movie set pieces on occasion, as you watch a shadow theatre of giant robots marching ever onwards, projected onto a wall in front of you which alerts you to an out-of-sight enemy. Throw grenades in the direction of those shadows and you'll be treated to a slapstick theatre of flailing limbs and disintegrating machines stretched across a brick canvas.
Unfortunately, aside from the newsreader's era-perfect transatlantic accent, the sound is average, not really adding or taking away from the experience in any way. The exception to this is the plodding military music which plays during invasions or in the menu screen. This manages to be both monotonous and intrusive enough to grate pretty quickly and the game is better enjoyed with the music turned off if you plan on engaging in more than a single round.
Fortified is a tower defence/third person shooter which draws on the imagery and tropes of 1950s pulp fiction. The emphasis is on multiplayer but it can be enjoyed alone if you have the patience to get through some of the more severe difficulty spikes. The 50s theme is well implemented in many areas and the gameplay is challenging, while characters remain different enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. If you enjoy this genre, Fortified is worthy of your time and you should consider dropping it into your multiplayer gaming rotation.