Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Get Demo/Buy: 240 Microsoft Points
Phew. FortressCraft made it.
Despite only being a few weeks long, FortressCraft's development cycle has been one of the most turbulent I've ever witnessed. ProjectorGames have endured rampant trolling, a massive media firestorm, time limits, XNA networking problems and - to put the cherry on the cake - a certifiably insane PR manager making an enemy out of the Xbox Live Indie scene itself.
But now FortressCraft is here. There's a lot riding on this one... and thankfully, it doesn't disappoint.
During our series of interviews, project lead DJ Arcas explained that FortressCraft was designed to win an argument: could Indie hit Minecraft work on consoles? ProjectorGames was convinced that it would, and set about creating a prototype that proved it could be done. FortressCraft is therefore based on Notch's original template to some degree - providing players with an enormous world full of cubic blocks to destroy, create and gleefully mess about with to our hearts' content.
Taking place in first-person perspective (with the ability to see your avatar in TPV if you really want to), the action revolves around shaping a world to fulfil your every whim. Luckily the map consists of an enormous selection of metre-wide cubes that can be instantly evaporated with a single press of the left bumper. This allows you to excavate enormous tunnels, carve subterranean labyrinths and reduce the highest mountains into deep chasms... but destruction pales in comparison to your more important ability: creation.
A simple radial menu allows you to choose from blocks of various different materials and place them wherever you see fit. As well as the more mundane cubes, you can also manifest design elements such as torches, TNT and even pits of lava to drape over (and form) the landscape. This makes for an incredible and enormous amount of freedom... as well as complete non-linearity. It's your map. What are you going to do with it?
The play area, which is randomly-generated for each unique gamertag, is absolutely enormous. I'm reliably informed that visiting every square of the map will take over 200 hours, and I'd absolutely believe it. However, the first thing you'll notice are the graphics - which are probably the most impressive on the Xbox Live Indie marketplace. Day/night transitions, an eyepopping draw distance, detailed textures, real-time reflections and capable lighting effects make FortressCraft a genuine feast for the eyes. It looks a damn sight better than Minecraft, that's for sure.
So... what's the point, then?
Firstly, you'll need (and want) to explore. The map is absolutely vast, and the thrill of working out how to reach a floating aerial island or distant peak is as fun and satisfying as actually getting there. Will you create an enormous, glittering suspension bridge out of gold, diamonds and bookcases? Or level a mountain into a crater? Challenging yourself to dig deep or aim high is a fun and exciting metagame in itself. To give you more incentive to explore, several Relics are dotted around the map (including some cleverly-hidden subterranean delights) that grant you unique abilities such as high jumps, water walking and, well, an awesome laser gun. Finding them is the only linear objective that FortressCraft has to offer.
Otherwise, it's up to you... and your friends. Up to eight players can descent upon a single map to collaborate on erecting vast construction projects and mucking around with the biggest LEGO set on the Xbox 360. Seriously, whilst most games stifle - and replace - imaginiation, FortressCraft genuinely challenges us to use it to advantage. It's also the perfect platform for in-engine directors thanks to built-in machinima functions which allow players to tweak almost every aspect of the visuals and lighting.
Just dress your avatars up as soldiers and zombies, make some sets and you're good to go.
There are a few technical issues knocking around - and we can forgive most of them thanks to the negligible price point and how freaking good everything is. Frequent autosaves can cause the game to hang for a few seconds every few minutes, and there are plenty of clipping issues to vex players in deep tunnels (or even help them see hidden relics, shhh). However, the most annoying problem is that joining a multiplayer game deletes your singleplayer save file. You can avoid this problem by copying your 512Mb save file onto a memory stick, but even so, this is a seriously inconsiderate measure. Still, a fix is on the way.
At the end of the day, FortressCraft Episode 1 is one of the best Xbox Live Indie games ever made... but it's only the beginning. ProjectorGames plan to add massive multiplayer battles with huge user-created fortresses, complex machinery, dwarven minions and any number of exciting new features that leverage the powerful engine and non-linear design. We can't wait - and we'll keep you up to date with the latest.
Oh, and it's finally worth noting that FortressCraft is setting a remarkable precedent. It's garnered well over 40,000 sales and is rocketing up the Xbox Live best selling lists (trampling DLC, XBLA titles and games on demand in its wake)... which will make more gamers pay attention to the struggling Indie scene. More importantly, it should also rouse Microsoft out of its stupor and force them to recognise the Xbox Live Indie marketplace as the untapped unique selling point that it deserves to be. Here's hoping that Microsoft will start trumpeting the service from the rooftops before too long... as well as advertising their games right along with triple-A titles and XBLA hits.
We could well be headed for an Indie golden age... and despite cries of "cynical clone" from the sidelines, FortressCraft is blazing the trail. Bravo.
- Turns you into a God with a powerful engine, slick controls and non-linear gameplay
- Fantastic visuals
- Fun and frequently hilarious multiplayer
- Technical issues
- Weak focus
- Here come the "it's a Minecraft clone" trolls...
The Short Version: FortressCraft is an outstanding achievement, an incredible precedent and a damn fine game to boot. I'd urge you to invest in the first episode of an emergent Xbox Live Indie phenomenon.