Epic’s gun-tot­ing Minecraft remix fi­nally breaks cover


PC, PS4, Xbox One

Devel­oper/pub­lisher Epic

Games For­mat PC

Ori­gin US

Re­lease 2018

Ac­cord­ing to its cre­ative di­rec­tor Dar­ren

Sugg, the long-in-de­vel­op­ment Fort­nite has be­come “a mir­ror for the evo­lu­tion of Epic as a whole”. The game be­gan life as an Xbox Live Ar­cade project dur­ing the hey­day of so-called Epic 3.0, that mid­dle­ware be­he­moth in thrall to a cou­ple of pre­mium ac­tion se­ries. Seven years later, it will launch as a flag­ship ti­tle for Epic 4.0: a dig­i­tal pub­lisher with its own desk­top app, a fo­cus on in­di­rect moneti­sa­tion and five projects un­der­way si­mul­ta­ne­ously, propped up by the en­dur­ing Un­real En­gine busi­ness and a $330 mil­lion in­vest­ment from Chi­nese jug­ger­naut Ten­cent. It’s per­haps in keep­ing with the theme, then, that Fort­nite feels un­de­cided, caught be­tween eras and tra­di­tions – both a co­op­er­a­tive sur­vival shooter and a freeform con­struc­tion sim, a pas­toral toy­box and yet an­other freeto-play con­tent tread­mill.

In a pre­sen­ta­tion at Epic’s Ber­lin of­fices, Sugg sum­marises the game as a love let­ter to play­ing at cas­tles with your friends as a child, con­jur­ing up ram­parts and tur­rets from bits of dis­carded tim­ber or sofa cush­ions. Pub­licly avail­able from July 25 as a paid-ac­cess trial ahead of a full re­lease in 2018, Fort­nite sees up to four play­ers comb­ing pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated lev­els for odds and ends to smash to­gether into struc­tures, then de­fend­ing their rick­ety cre­ations against un­dead spawned by a global mael­strom that has killed off most hu­man civil­i­sa­tion. Be­tween trips to th­ese lev­els, you can also ex­pand and out­fit a per­ma­nent out­post, which serves (along with char­ac­ter lev­el­ling) as the back­bone of your Fort­nite ca­reer – host play­ers are able to re­strict edit­ing priv­i­leges here, but when you’re out on a mis­sion, any­thing goes.

In a fa­mil­iar

turn for nos­tal­gia ex­er­cises of this kind, the game bor­rows an aes­thetic from the pop Amer­i­cana of the ’80s. Its mod­estly sized land­scapes, split be­tween in­dus­trial, ru­ral and subur­ban biomes, are a wel­ter of pizza par­lours, coin-op ar­cades and Satur­day­morn­ing-car­toon mi­ne­shafts, dot­ted with wacky ob­long candy dis­pensers and fizzing neon signs. It’s an earnestly and, at times, la­bo­ri­ously comedic spec­ta­cle, rem­i­nis­cent of PopCap’s Plants Vs Zom­bies. Destruc­tible ob­jects wob­ble like jelly when struck, zom­bies sham­ble into bat­tle dressed as base­ball pitch­ers, and you can ex­pect plenty of inane ban­ter from a bum­bling ro­bot ac­com­plice.

The aes­thetic fos­ters a spirit of slap­dash improvisation, but this is a fantasy soured by the game’s re­liance on drip-fed un­locks and busy­work – a del­uge of X-of-Y bonus as­sign­ments, ran­dom gear drops of dif­fer­ent rar­i­ties, skill points to in­vest, NPC sur­vivors you can ‘equip’ to boost var­i­ous stats and, in­evitably, loot crates, which can be earned in-game or pur­chased. The prospect of an­other it­er­a­tive fes­ti­val of con­tent won’t amuse F2P de­trac­tors – the pres­ence of two dif­fer­ent


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