Developer: Insomniac Games / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Release Date: March 2013 / ESRB: Rating Pending
When it’s been a year or more down the dev-cycle road for your major-console game project and said project is starting to look almost entirely unlike what it started out as, well, frankly, that’s not typically such a good sign. Thankfully, Insomniac is by no means your ‘typical’ developer. The studio’s forthcoming PS3 and 360 exotic-weaponry combat game Fuse is actually the rebranded end-product of what started out as a cartoonish 2011 shooter (then tentatively named Overstrike).
Designed from the outset to be enjoyed with multiple actual, human players (preferably four or more), Fuse’s multiplayer ‘charges’ players with forming co-op squads of four and laying into waves of bad guys that demonstrably, passionately require a combined-arms, exotic-tech ass-kicking.
You take the role of one of four special-ops agents of the Overstrike 9 group. Their job seems to revolve exclusively around using weaponry and other gadgets based on an exotic alien tech (dubbed ‘Fuse’) against a dedicated (and presumably evil) quasi-military organization called Raven—and by those means, to prevent any more of said exotic extraterrestrial tech from falling into Raven’s claws. Each Overstrike 9 agent—who has his/her own distinct personality/issues—can utilize the Fuse substance to enhance the performance of their chosen gear. Jacob Kimble (voiced by Khary Payton) is a hot-headed detective with a penchant for energy crossbows; Naya Deveraux (Jennifer Hale) is an experienced thief who makes liberal use of personal cloaking tech; ‘Izzy’ Sinclair (Ali Hillis), a brilliant young scientist—and sometime guitarist for Guns ‘n Roses—makes things weirder than they probably, strictly speaking, need to be with a ‘mass bubble’ gun; and the absolutely-not-compensating-for-anything Dalton Brooks (Brian Bloom) is the Obligatory Wisecracking Merc with an energy-shield. Naturally, this team is action-packed with egos, ‘personality quirks’ and general, broad-strokes Authority and/or Protocol issues. So when things have devolved to the point where you feel you need to call in Overstrike 9, God help you, you probably really need to call in Overstrike 9.
The level we experienced saw the team pinned down in a sprawling, cavernous sort of docking-facility environment boasting multiple entrance-points and far too many enemies spilling in from them to swarm us. As with certain previously-released co-op games, your squad-mates can come to revive you when you get taken down—provided they can get to you. Meanwhile, each team member has to use their particular, ultra-specialized weapon/gear to expert effect, or it’s…or frankly it’s just over for you, friend. The Insomniac guys on hand made a point of noting the “notes of humor” to be found in the game—but, just as with the ‘points of safe cover’ theoretically in the immediate area, I was having serious difficulty taking the time to sit back and drink them in: The whole clawing-and-scratching-to-save-my-ass thing was getting in the way.
After a certain extended period of frenzied fighting and continually emptying clip after clip after clip, you can make use of your accumulated Fuse energy, letting loose with a single, powerful discharge of energy—a rewarding sensation when you can pull it off. For the bulk of the time, however, the idea is to tactically and creatively put those specialized weapons to use. There you are, marching forward as a unified force behind an attack-absorbing, curved energy-barrier shaped rather like the windshield of an old car…and then having another team member cut loose on the giant, gatling-gun-wielding enemy before you with a weapon that fires bolts that work like a sort of wicked, unearthly liquid nitrogen, rendering enemies vulnerable to being literally shattered like so many ice-sculptures. Again, a neat trick—if your team can get its collective, tactical fecal matter sufficiently consolidated to pull it off.
While most of the blatant Cartoony may have been excised from the initial vision of the game, the required combined arms use of the super-specialized weaponry means that, in the larger scheme, the game still somehow has that “Oh yeah, this is an Insomniac title!” feel to it. I was kinda hoping there’d be an Easter-egg addition to the arsenal laying around somewhere that would make all the enemies in my field of vision suddenly do The Hustle en masse, but if it was there, nobody found it. Beyond the sparkle, shine and added temporary killing-power imparted to certain weapons, it’s still not quite entirely clear what the extent of exploiting the exotic ‘Fuse’ element might otherwise entail.