Originally announced as Overstrike at E3 2011, Insomniac Games’ first multi-platform release was portrayed as a refreshing, over-the-top cooperative shooter. Instead we end up with Fuse, an uninspired shooter that is lacking the charm and polish associated with the developers behind the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance series. Somewhere along the line, Fuse lost any sense of identity it hoped to esablish.
Fuse’s generic story reminded me of a summer blockbuster–packed with flashy action, but lacking substance. Based around a 4 person operative team called the Overstrike 9, they take on an assignment to destroy items left behind in a compromised government weapons lab. Once inside, they learn of Fuse–an alien substance that radically bonds with anything it comes into contact with, and it’s being used in development of advanced weaponry. Of course things don’t go as planned, as the team quickly faces resistance from the Raven Corporation; who have different plans for the alien substance. Now with the fate of the world in danger, they must pass through mountainside villages, hold position within a gondola and travel to a space station to make sure that Raven does not succeed with its plans.
While Fuse’s characters do display a bit of personality and occasionally spew some funny one-liners, the real stars of the show are their unique weapons. Each character is equipped with a Fuse powered weapon that livens up combat. Whether its a mini black hole that tears enemies apart or a Mag Shield gun that not only blocks enemy fire, but shoots out a pulse that incinerates enemies, each weapon allows the character to be both combative and supportive. Though each weapon is specific to a single character, you can easily swap between squad members so long as the agent you want to control isn’t being used by another player. Using each weapon in conjunction with a teammate’s, creates awesome chain of events that can clear groups of enemies in a matter of seconds, which is by far the highlight of the game. But playing through the campaign alone turns out to be painfully burdensome.
The assistance provided by your AI controlled squad-mates is so spastic that you’ll get easily frustrated. Sometimes they are competent, effectively taking down enemies; other times they’ll hide behind cover while you handle all the taking down all the enemies. Their incompetence is even more apparent when you character is downed. They will make an effort to revive you, but on more than one occasion I watched them leisurely walk to my location or ignore me because I was on a different platform. Oftentimes, you’ll also find yourself switching control to an agent because they’ve taken up position behind a stationary gun, or because they’ve wandered away from the group and you need at your location in order to get past a door or get inside an elevator. As to be expected, playing with a friend through split-screen or online is strongly preferred.
Still, teaming up with friends doesn’t nullify the monotonous nature of Fuse’s design. Aside from a few rudimentary climbing sequences, the entire game is one long linear sequence of large combat-oriented rooms laid out with numerous cover points and walkways. Though the controls respond competently and make you feel nimble when maneuvering around barriers, movement out in the open can be a bit sluggish, but on the whole, the core action feels crisp, if very generic. The enemies that challenge you lack variety–from standard foot soldiers to snipers and gigantic mechs–they show up for every encounter in predictable waves. Occasionally you can embrace a stealthier approach, but it feels like an afterthought, especially when the your partner’s AI operates under the idea that a single silent kill authorizes a “free for all.” In addition, the act of shooting is dull and you’ll have to unload dozens of bullets into enemies before they go down–a situation that’s amplified once you are forced to resort to the standard assault rifles, shotguns, and pistols.
Each character has a skill tree that you can level up throughout the game by killing enemies and picking up Fusion canisters. At first glance, this instills your character with a degree of customization–until you realize that each characters shares a nearly identical skill tree structure, except for a few character-specific upgrades. It’s a missed opportunity since a deeper variation of skills would’ve made these characters feel a lot more distinct. In addition to character skills, there are also team perks that are actually beneficial since they effect the whole team. These include perks like increased experience gain, faster health regeneration and wider grenade explosion radius. These perks ease some of the issues Fuse faces when it comes to standing out amongst others shooters, but the process of earning experience and collecting credits means you’ll have to suffer through the bad AI and repetitive enemy encounters.
If you want more Fuse after you’ve completed the 8-hourish campaign, you can replay individual chapters to keep leveling up your agents or try out Echelon, a wave-based survival mode with rotating objectives. With friends, Echelon is an entirely adequate way to spend an hour or so. With AI however, it’s near impossible to get past wave five. But in the end, it comes down to Fuse’s combat simply not being good enough to support a mode based solely on unloading bullets into multiple enemies every few seconds.
Traditionally when you see Insomniac’s name associated with a title, you expect a certain level of quality Fuse’s gameplay has some decent ideas, but they don’t carry enough substance to distance it from other third-person shooters on the market. Those longing for a new co-op game will find some brief enjoyment here but for me, Fuse left me disappointed and yelling a different four letter F word.
Editor’s Note: Fuse was reviewed using a Xbox 360 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.