The nature of war is a hotly contested within the gaming space. Those in fear of impending nuclear annihilation will quickly remind you that war, war never changes, while a particularly nanomachine addled old soldier would argue the opposite. Still, some may see war as little more than worms aiming bazookas at each other, Forts takes the latter approach to the whole ordeal.
EarthWork Games’ Forts is a strange mash-up of a physics simulation and a 2-D real-time strategy game, in the same vein as the Worms franchise or the much older Artillery Duel. Players are stationed on opposing sides of the map and take shots at each other in real time while trying to build and fortify their bases. The art style is cutesy and inoffensive, against the backdrop of interminable war.
There is a story here, but it’s nothing to get super excited about. Oil has become an extremely rare resource, and the campaign sees the three factions, flimsy ciphers for the United States, Russia, and Germany, vying for the last major oil deposit. The whole thing is portrayed in a pretty silly way, with the Eagle Empire spouting catch phrases and hashtags and the Dragon Empire portrayed as bumbling Nazis. It can be fairly obnoxious, but there’s so little of it that it’s not really a problem. All you need to know is that there’s a bad guy and you should probably blow him up before he blows you up.
The combat is pretty enjoyable. By building and activating weapon emplacements, the player will take aim at the opposing fort and pepper them with rockets and mortars while defending with machine guns. Hitting the perfect shot and blowing up a gun emplacement is always satisfying and useful, though it hurts plenty when they do the same to you. That constant push and pull is the mark of a good match, though it is fairly rare in the campaign.
Base building in Forts, however, is where things get really interesting. In Forts, both sides build their structures simultaneously, in real time. This plays similarly to the bevvy of physics-based bridge building games. Create your fort by building struts and connecting them to things to provide the most stability while reinforcing problem areas and prevent your base from falling apart. It’s simple enough until you do this with an opponent barraging you with incendiary mortar fire. Watching an opponent building their base adds an interesting tension and ensures that more competitive matches are fast paced and fun.
The weapons all fulfil different purposes and the way they all knit together can be fairly interesting. You’ll need your snipers for precise attacks and paint targets for your rockets, but you don’t want them exposed to too much danger. Steel doors can do a lot to keep that little guy safe, but the time it takes to get them open might make it hard to time a weakness when it’s exposed. Machine gunners are great for intercepting rockets and mortar fire, but could do so much more damage when upgraded to Gatling guns, at the cost of their defensiveness. An incendiary mortar is great against wooden structures but pack far less of a punch than their less flaming counterparts.
The single player campaign is pretty short, and feels more like a tutorial for more advanced levels of play. The skirmishes and multiplayer are where the real meat of Forts is at. Sadly, however, public multiplayer is bogged down with poor net code and frequent connection errors. It seems that private lobbies are still viable, but that is little comfort to friendless war gamers like myself.
Forts is an interesting game that offers a lot of fun for fans of the genres it employs. Long time players of 2-D strategy games, or even their turn based cousins, like the Worms series, will derive a lot of enjoyment from deceptively strategic battles here. Fans of physics building simulators will find a classic formula with a few new elements thrown into the mix. Fans of both will want to give this a look without question. I look forward to the multiplayer getting fixed and the addition of mod support.