From it’s inception this game has lived in the shadow of a giant, Minecraft took the block-building sub-sub genre and made it it’s own, to the extent that the mass majority of gamers assume that Mojang actually created the genre. Can the bare-bones first chapter of a ever-evolving promised series break free of it’s super-famous cousin? Or should it be cast to the creepers?
FortressCraft: Chapter 1 is the newest game from DjArcas, a man more commonly known for developing the mass majority of games released under Projector Games on the Xbox Live indie channel. He has a vision that is ambitious to say the least. Since the Indie section of Xbox Live is a popularity contest with even the best new games eventually falling out of public sight thanks to a select few super-popular games holding coveted “Most Downloaded” real-estate, he plans on taking what would have been the world’s first fifteen dollar XBL indie title, and stripping it down into several parts and selling each chapter as “unfinishedware” with the promise of each update and new chapter improving on what already has been done.
A bold move.
So here we are, the game is out for anyone to purchase and the developer is already at work on a title update, before I get to reviewing the game for what it is… I must first address the idea that has followed this game from it’s very birth.
“FortressCraft is a blatant copy of Minecraft and whoever is making it should be ashamed of themselves.”
This little indie game waiting in the wings that was barely finished at the time was (and still is) inundated with people proclaiming it to be a Minecraft clone/ripoff. In fact as I type this someone has submitted a comment to Lo-Ping declaring “whoever’s working on this game should be sued”
Minecraft looks like a duck, talks like a duck. It is a duck.
FortressCraft looks like a duck, talks like a chicken, but in reality it’s a quail.
It does bear resemblance to Minecraft, but in the same way that Minecraft bears resemblance to Infiniminer. In this reviewer’s opinion FortressCraft is as much a direct clone of Minecraft in the same way that a Pagani Zonda is a direct clone of a Ford GT.
Not really but if the un-informed were to make quick ignorant decisions they will come to that conclusion.
So there you have it, Chapter 1 isn’t Minecraft, but it is still a sandbox game in which you can build stuff with blocks… so let’s get to actually discussing the game.
Despite the fact I’ve had more than a few conversations with the developer of the game as it went through various stages of completion I as a critic hold no punches.
If you have done any amount of downloading from the Indie marketplace you come to realise that the truely long-lasting and polished products are 400msp, anything that is 80 points and not 2D has a catch to it, be it the game is extremely short, a ripoff (I’m looking at you “The meaning of life”), something innovative but barely beyond a tech demo, horrible controls, horrible graphics, or just plain broken.
In the case of FortressCraft, it’s just not finished. There is a certain sense of wonder when the loading screen disappears and you watch huge sections of map fly up and lock into place a’la Inception, you feel like you’re peeking behind the curtain and seeing the game load from the inside. But where the wonderment stops is when the game forgets to load a texture here and there or can’t generate blocks being deleted as fast as you hit the button and it dawns on you: “This is running on a Xbox’s limited computing power”
Granted, the game isn’t anywhere near finished yet and I can accept that to enjoy it as it is, but do not purchase Chapter 1 without expecting a few glitches and hiccups. Arcas has promised three patches to the first chapter before starting work on Part 2 which will be a story-based chapter and maybe have a a physics engine.
While it does take a moment for the game load itself, take a breather, and pop everything in, when it is there this is one of the best looking games on the Indie channel I have seen that isn’t rendered in pixels. The colors are vibrant and the textures are bountiful, I also love the sound design of how your footsteps change depending on what surface you walk on. That’s something you expect from any big game nowadays but you’d be surprised how many “one-two-repeat” footsteps are used in XBLIG.
Chapter 1 has options abound, from changing what color the lights you can place give off, to a plethora of varied options you can fiddle with for Machinima purposes. The only problem that entails is it can kinda mess the game up. The only real task you have to do in C1 is dig through the ground until you stumble upon Relics buried in random places around the map. Relics do things ranging from letting you detonate TNT, running fast, walking on water, seeing with a mining helmet, and so on. The map you generate is so damn big and the relics so far apart, most people (including me) end up exploiting the Fallout-style optional third person view by shoving the camera through a solid wall and having a look around the not-yet loaded underground to see where the relics are, floating in the blue ether waiting to be found.
I don’t know about other people but the reason I used this exploit is the controls. This is the one thing I truely do not like about this game. Digging is assigned to LB and placing blocks is assigned to RB, if they were assigned to the triggers instead I wouldn’t have a problem tapping over and over and over and over and over again to dig through a solid face of dirt for little reward, but tapping the shoulder button repeatedly as fast as I can to get it over with isn’t that fun. Finding the ray gun that allows you to destroy blocks further away and faster is a big help but I still miss the inherent logic of “triggers destroy things”.
Yesterday I was mining away trying to find the TNT detonator to make my life easier and way more fun when my four year old sister walked in and asked what I was playing, I told her the name and said it was for building things, asking if she wanted to play. She hopped up in the chair with me and for the next hour and a half we built a three story log cabin with trampolines to navigate between the three floors and a groove blue-lit attic.
Just ‘cus. No planning, no resource gathering, just pure fun.
And there lies the inherent fun of ANY block-builder out there, the ability to sit down and build something for the hell of it, and thanks to the online multiplayer (yeah, XNA games can have that, I didn’t know either) you can have up to three friends in the room cobbling together your next masterpiece, griefing the living hell out of each other, or you can play god and turn off their building rights to subject them to the new horrors of your super-maze that you just finished.
To take a page from the Top Gear book on how to review something:
FortressCraft is barely finished, has a funky control scheme, has a broken third person mode that feels like it’s there JUST to show off the fact you use your XBL avatar in the game (which is something of a cancer to the Indie channel as it is), the online is laggy, and it’s still non-2D game you can buy on the indie channel.
It’s got charm, lasting power, and when it’s not in a heap crying about how the xbox’s processor isn’t that hot anymore, it looks amazing.
I’m glad to have bought it and I highly suggest you go and at the very least demo it today!
FortressCraft is available on the Xbox Live Indie channel for 240 Microsoft Points.