Fortis seems to be another indie title attempting to bring back the glory days of the retro-style by attuning it to modern expectations with updated controls, graphics and levels. Personally, I never liked Asteroids, but the makers of Fortis clearly did, as it takes from it the perspective, the infinite switch-to-the-other-side borders, and of course, the gameplay. It doesn’t actually feel like Asteroids, which is arguably both a good and a bad thing, but it does manage to deliver acceptable gameplay despite the irritations of repetitive, easy and limited levels and the consequent low level of replayability – not to mention the fact that it appears to have been designed primarily as an iPhone application.
There are 36 levels and 3 stages, with 12 levels in each stage. Early levels help adjust you to the game, providing a nice difficulty curve as you get used to the controls. At least, it’s nice at first – just like so many genuine retro games, once you get the hang of it you just want to skip these early easy parts, as having to go through them every time you want to get a better score is more of a hassle than actual fun. Each level might have a handy tip such as ‘look south’, ‘use rockets’, or the wonderfully helpful ‘aim well’, and to advance through levels you must beat a set percentage of the enemies.
Each stage has a 3D backdrop (plus one for the bonus levels), be it a snowy mountain or a river of lava, which doesn’t really offer anything other than something nice to look at while shooting stuff, and the game could function just as well without it, being essentially 2D in nature. While functionally obsolete, the token 3D element does have an aesthetically pleasing quality, and the visuals in general are crisp and precise if somewhat lacking in variation and technical complexity.
One major complaint I have visually though is with the camera. With Asteroids (an inevitable comparison), the borders are clear-cut and you have a pretty good view of what’s in the ‘arena’ at any given time. In Fortis, however, the camera follows you slightly when your ship moves and you never seem to be able to see the very edge, which means you never have a full idea of what is going on and thus either fail to see incoming enemies or miss out on powerups. Also the menu is blatantly designed for a handheld device, with each option taking up the whole screen and forcing you to navigate blindly.
There is not much to say about the sound, other than that the music is kind of catchy but very repetitive and thus you might want to avoid extended play at risk of driving the theme tune firmly and irreversibly into your head. The in-game sounds are generally appropriate, clear and satisfying, thankfully not falling into the category of overly irritating or headache-inducing.
For your ship you have four weapons to choose from with their respective pros and cons. Beating levels and touching pickups gives you money which you can use for upgrades in between levels, though I found I rarely had to use anything other than the infinite ammo default weapon by the time I had managed to upgrade all four weapons to 4/4, and after this I just had to keep restocking on ammo, mainly for the rockets. In fact, all I really had to use were my rockets to keep on advancing through the levels – a little overpowered, perhaps.
Saying that, the game in general is actually quite easy. Enemies appear as moving 3D polygons on the 2D layer such as circles, triangles or pentagons, and are clear and well presented, but most die with just one or two fully powered rockets. It is only the later levels that offer any kind of real challenge, which means that to find the game truly fun you have to trawl through the early game every time you decide to play. What this game needs is more levels, more enemies, more guns, more upgrades – more of everything really.
What I felt Fortis has done right is the controls. For me, Asteroids was never all that intuitive. This game allows you to use either the arrow keys or the mouse, and at first I used the arrow keys (and managed to get halfway through the game), but was frustrated by how I was supposed to avoid things flying right at me, and how it took so long to turn.
When I used the mouse however, I found it unexpectedly, well, better. It not only became easier to move, it also became more fun. Left-click and right-click cause a circle to appear in which you then move the mouse the way you want to move or shoot. This means you can perform lightning u-turns, speedy evasions and most importantly, you can fire in any direction without moving with your oh-so agile ship.
The only problem with this though, is that it harks back to just how easy this game is; making levels kind of a cakewalk. At least with the arrow keys I had to fire straight ahead. Just to give an indicator of the difficulty, on my first playthrough (with arrow keys) I made it halfway through stage 2, whereas when switching to the mouse I was thwarted at level 10 of stage 3 – that is, level 34 out of 36 on my second playthrough. What’s more, the circle-clicking controls that the mouse uses seems to be more of an iPhone design, which just reminds me how much this game appears intended for casual and portable rather than hardcore lengthy (hello old-school Asteroid gamers!) and home-based play.
Retro gamers will probably be justified in their inevitable disparagement of this almost-remake, and fully fledged gamers will quite understandably go unchallenged in their derogation of the easy and repetitive gameplay that’s lacking in replayability, and I accept these points – in fact, I stress them; but I also maintain there is a certain charm to Fortis that raises it slightly above the level of equivalent flash-based remakes which might well give reason to pay the lowly price of £2.39. However, aside from purchasing this for my hypothetical iPhone (for cheaper than the PC version – $0.99), as a PC gamer Fortis offers very little that I couldn’t find in any of the hundreds of flash game websites out there, and is certainly dwarfed by the rest of my PC collection.
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