Air Fortress Review

Disclosure: We may earn a commission from links on this page

Developer: HAL Publisher: HAL
Release Date: 1987 Also On: None

Bummer, that’s what I have to say about this game. I gave it as much of a chance as I could have, but I really can’t give any more, almost two months of play is quite enough of an opportunity to prove oneself worthy. Air Fortress was really a sad experience for me overall, I was really hoping it would have turned out okay in the end because it feels so cool at first, but overall it’s one of the most irritating games I’ve ever played. It has charm, but this charm quickly stabs you in the back, moves the knife downward, rips out your spinal column and makes a belt out of it.

Graphically, Air Fortress isn’t the best of titles, even for its time. The animations are fluid, very little flicker, decent detail, so overall not too bad. The real problem here is, first off, the sheer lack of color and the repetition. Color I could stand (there are seriously like five colors overall), but repetition I cannot, especially this much. The same enemies over and over, the same obstacles, generally the same fortress each time, it’s pretty tedious. This is compounded by the difficulty, so I suppose if it wasn’t as hard as it was this actually wouldn’t have bothered me, but then again there’s such a lack of variety (no bosses?!!!!) that I could hardly believe it. If you actually stick through the misery of playing the later levels, all you get is a text ending as well, no cinematics. Thanks. In addition, enemies and your character look a little goofy and childish considering the ‘save the world from evil’ plot going on here. Other than the evil astronauts and some other things, you occasionally get some weird ones like these indistinct looking, blue-topped, tank-like things and these lame looking robots that essentially appear as gray, plastic water guns with legs that hop around. What? Seriously, who designed some of these?

One of Air Fortress’ strong points, however, is definitely the music. Although it’s just as repetitive as the graphics, and there are only two songs for the most part, the music is excellent; very well programmed, catchy and fitting. This game has one of the few 8-Bit tunes I can think of that sticks in your head in a good way, so very nice job on that. The sound effects work well to accent this little bit of goodness in Air Fortress, so high marks in this category overall. Can’t say I have any problems.

Sigh, but where Air Fortress really gets to me is the gameplay department. In actuality, this game seems quite good when you first play it, up through about the first five levels. Each stage is roughly the same in terms of what you have to do, the fortresses just get harder and more labyrinthine as you progress. Otherwise, the first part of each stage involves you flying around on a small craft to get to the fortress, collecting energy (I’ll explain this in a bit), bombs and shooting at various enemies. It’s well programmed and everything, but for what it is, which is nothing more than a really, really tame and basic shooter, it’s pretty boring overall. If it weren’t for the music it would be downright dreadful. So then you get to each fortress, enter and find the core, which you destroy, then you go locate your craft again and leave (cool part is you can do this beforehand to map out your strategy). This part is more of a platformer-style game where you control Hal and fly around taking out enemies, picking up some things and navigating what eventually becomes a complex maze, but is quite easy the first few levels, plus the nonlinear element makes it fun. Overall it’s not a bad idea, but there are several problems that easily betray it’s charming surface.

First off, the ‘energy’ you collect during the shooter phase is essentially your life in each fortress. If you don’t collect enough, forget going anywhere because every step you take, bullet you fire (except for missles) and hit you take drains it. Luckily, flying, moving and shooting do not actually kill you, if you stand in place your energy rises again, but this is counteracted by enemy fire. Enemy fire comes from everywhere, especially later, and is usually impossible to avoid, literally, not being exaggerative for style. I would say trying to get out of an elevator in this game with half a million shots coming at you has to be one of the most annoying experiences in my life. This wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t frikken lose what might as well be half your energy every time you get hit. Compound this with issues like the dumb hopping robot I mentioned who sprays oceans of bullets at you, and later in the game you’re hard-pressed to make any progress. Second, Air Fortress has the worst play curve I’ve ever seen. The first five levels are fun, with occasional hard spots that are manageable with some skill, and then immediately this game becomes Hecate incarnate. Moving around each maze-like stage is a blast, but by the time you get to the sixth level, this changes and you start to hate every second of it. Bullets from all directions, enemy shots that follow you, evil astronauts that take off more life than they should and freaking reappear if you move back a little bit, you name it it’s here to annoy you.

Third, and the one big thing that gets me, is that Air Fortress completely lacks a power-up system. That’s right my friends, you only have the same pathetic, genitalia-sucking/licking weapon the entire game. Although you can pick up missles that do more damage, it’s not often and you need them more for quickly destroying the core and some more annoying wall fixtures and such that shoot heat-seaking bullets at you. Just your pea shooter, that’s it. Are you kidding me? With a game that gets this hard and has you moving through incredibly complex mazes with everything but God attacking you, this is totally impermissable, totally. I don’t care about the shooter segments, they’re worthless anyway, but in the game proper they should have absolutely added some weapon upgrades, it just makes Air Fortress that much harder. To add further insult, and disgust to your life, they even have a second quest for you to go through where the levels, later at least, are somewhat different and about a million times harder. And all I get is a text ending? No, no way, nope, not playing this game ever again.

As for creativity, the attempt at integrating different types of games actually works fairly well in spite of the above. The only problem I have with it is that the shooter parts are worthless and uneventful (not to mention really, really easy in comparison to the rest), otherwise it’s a pretty creative game overall. It’s totally nonlinear, you can go wherever you want in each fortress to track the best path from the core to your craft, destroy everything (wishful thinking, but you can try), and so forth. So I give them points for that, there weren’t too many games like this at the time that integrated different features and took the nonlinear approach.

Unfortunately I’ll never play Air Fortress again. In fact, I must admit to my dear readers, I didn’t even beat it. So disgusted was I with its difficulty level and repetition I could not bear completing it, even cheating to do it! That should tell you all you need to know about the replay factor. It has a password feature that’s nice, but after the fifth level you’re going to give up anyway so it really doesn’t matter. As for length, were it a bit easier to play it would actually be good, you can come back when you want and spend a lot of time on it, you’re just not going to want to do that so that pretty much negates that.

Overall, as I said above, bummer. What really ticks me off about Air Fortress is that it draws you in with what appears a charming, well thought out game but ends up being more difficult than anything I’ve played. I really was feeling it too, excited at school, sitting there thinking about playing it at night instead of focusing on my PhD, to only eventually find out my dream of enjoying it was soon coming to a terrifying end. Don’t play it, just don’t. Otherwise you’ll be like “Gee, Stan, this is a fun game!” And then slowly get to the sixth level, when suddenly, as if from nowhere, you say “Wow, Stan, this SUCKS.”

Graphics: 5
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 4.5
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 4.5
Final: 5.7
Written by Stan Review Guide

Leave a Comment