Forts Is A Fun Mix Of RTS And Worms

Brisbane-based Earthwork Games has brought out a fort building - and fort destroying - simulator that combines strategy, engineering, aiming, and micromanagement. It's a fun cocktail that puts me in mind of Scorched Earth, or maybe a Scorched Earth that let me build a bunker around my tank. And then three more tanks on my bunker.

It's very much like Worms or Scorched Earth in that you're taking control of your weapons to shoot at the enemy fort, but it's also very much an RTS in that you're investing in the exploitation of two different resources to build your own weapons and defences. There won't be any units that you send to capture territory or attack the enemy base, and rare is the shot that destroys the enemy power core in one hit.

Instead, it's a game of clever engineering on defence, while offence requires that you make smart decisions about what to target and then aim at it competently. You can target the enemy's guns to limit their offensive ability, you can target their resource assets, or if you spot a structural weakness, you could even collapse the whole thing with one well-placed cannon shell. Most of the time, you'll have to think about causing cost-effective damage, forcing them to use resources on repairs.

Key to this is the ability to hide weapons behind your wooden palisades. Perhaps the enemy has protected their most expensive gun behind the similarly expensive metal door... Or perhaps that's a ruse, and it's behind the plain old wooden panels. If a metal panel is at a perfect angle relative to the incoming shot, it'll bounce off instead of causing any chip damage. If you have two metal panels at 45 degrees in the right spots, you can even deflect an enemy's laser shot right back at them.

Image: Earthwork Games

Aiming is also smart, with angle and velocity decided by where you put your reticule on the aiming popup. Every shot actually has a little bit of recoil, meaning you can't just keep your mouse in the same spot, but it does record the reticule position of your last shot, so you can try to replicate it. Usually you'll only get a few shots off while controlling one weapon before your attention is called to repair or build something else.

This is one of the few games in which I enjoyed the campaign more than multiplayer. That's partly because the campaign was very well done, and partly because it was onerous finding a multiplayer match. I'm grateful the game lets you join lobbies with their own custom settings instead of a one-size-fits-all Quick Match button - more customisability is always good - but the vast majority of these matches just didn't work. The ones I did get had a ping of about 400, but luckily ping doesn't matter much in this game.

The campaign, however, is lots of fun and worth the price of admission alone. It feels a lot like a mobile game campaign, with each mission presenting three challenges that award points if met, and new regions requiring a certain amount of points to unlock. In fact, even the World of Goo-style construction of base building feels like it'd be right at home on a handheld device, making it one of those weird games that feels like a mobile game despite being a PC exclusive.

The harder missions are quite hard, and the enemies will cheat, but not in the way they usually do in an RTS. This kind of cheating is deliberately transparent -- the start of a mission will inform you that the enemy has the exact same fort as you except double the resource generators. It'll be hard, and unfair, but that's kind of okay because you know it's supposed to be a challenge. I'm still having trouble with some of the later missions.

I will say that these enemies leave a lot of explosive barrels around their structures, but that's part of the fun. The campaign has lots of silly situations in which you're building high off the ground to get more wind for your windmills, or building as low as you can from the underside of a cliff, or racing to the middle to gain control of a cannon.

Multiplayer also has some crazy situations -- one 2v2 map lets one member of each team build up, and another build down, on the same cliff. But I did find that a lot of people I came across online were keen to build up until they had the best weapon available. It's the equivalent of an eco boom every match in Starcraft, which isn't that exciting, but people aren't going to change until you force them by showing them a better strategy. With indie games like these, in a market full of quality games demanding our time, it's always a toss-up as to whether the multiplayer will sustain a population long enough to develop any real meta.

That's cool though, because you can always play your friends in a custom game, and the campaign is good, hard fun.

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