Developer: Insomniac / Publisher: Electronic Arts / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language]
Finally, Ratchet & Clank and Resistance developer Insomniac has stepped out from the shadow of its Sony exclusivity for its first multiplatform release, the extremely solid Fuse. A relatively substantial story features four distinct characters. Fun, third-person perspective gun-combat focuses on tons of enemies to shoot. And it adds a four-player cooperative campaign plus horde modes. The controls are pretty tight, and the gameplay is generally satisfying. And yet…there is an aspect of it that simply doesn’t quite click, though just what or why is surprisingly difficult to pinpoint.
You take control of one of four members of Overstrike, a for-hire paramilitary organization commissioned to stop another somewhat evil paramilitary group called Raven steal an alien element known as Fuse. In the process of investigating the theft, the foursome finds Fuse-augmented xenotech super-weapons and embarks on a globe-spanning adventure to recapture the Fuse from those who would use it to take over the world. That translates into shooting lots and lots of dudes in armor, mech-suits, and super-planes, an experience that’s really fun, and exponentially more intense with each level and skill upgrade.
Gun battles are constant as the team works its way through mountain bases, jungle compounds, and even a space station. It’s never too long before the next army of faceless goons appears to put you through your paces. And the environments—though rarely very memorable—are definitely varied and interesting enough to provide plenty of options for how you want to tackle each fight.
You could attack head on, advancing through cover simply by shooting every bad guy that appears in your gunsights. Or you could fight your way up the ladder to your right to pick off baddies from above, providing cover fire and a distraction for your teammates below. Or maybe you want to stealth your way through the enemy, utilizing two particular members of the squad: Jacob is outfitted with a super-silent sniper cross-bow, and Naya can activate a cloak and quickly take out soldiers from behind. Then there’s Dalton, who deploys a super-shield and can advance on the enemy with teammates firing from behind it—there are tons of combinations and possibilities for getting the job done, and you can switch between any of the four virtually at any time.
However, as varied as the possible options are, playing the game solo means you generally have just one option: picking a character and shooting, and hoping your AI-controlled teammates are good enough to back you up and revive you if you go down in battle. The AI is actually pretty decent most of the time, as it usually doesn’t feel like you’re carrying the whole team alone. But when certain scenarios arise to make you totally vulnerable, it feels like you’d really benefit from your squadmates having an actual pulse.
For instance, each level is outfitted with different variations of automated turrets that can be bypassed through two steps: shooting it with xenotech weapons, and then scaling walls and hanging onto ledges to shimmy past laser fields and hit the off-switch. But since the xenotech only disables the turrets temporarily, often you’re left exposed as you make your way to the objective. That means you’re about to get fired on unless one of your teammates covers you. In my experiences, sometimes the AI knew what to do and the process worked fine. Other times, my teammates were asleep at the wheel and I died. Since I was behind the aforementioned laser walls, they couldn’t jump in to revive me so we had to start the whole dance again.
Another scenario has you lugging a rapidly destabilizing Fuse canister from one end of the level to the other, with tons of enemies between you and your goal. During times like that, it’d be great if your teammates would form up around you, with Dalton deploying his mag shield to keep you from getting killed. That happened in one colleague’s single-player encounter here, but only during my cooperative campaign session with another Inside Gaming colleague did this tactic save us. Truth is, AI can be good, but flaky.
That’s the biggest issue with Fuse: it’s great as long as you’ve got other friends who all own copies of the game. Otherwise, it’s a good shooter hindered by the frailties of current-gen AI routines getting your back.
Fortunately, Echelon mode helps to bring you together with other Fuse players. Despite the seemingly arbitrary name, Echelon is basically horde mode with drop-in/drop-out online co-op. Taking place in environments from the main campaign, you fight wave after wave of increasingly difficult and numerous enemies, staying alive as long as possible to earn Fuse credits, which you can use to buy team upgrades like faster revive-times or increased damage. Unlike the campaign, Echelon mode doesn’t rely on your friends list for possible co-operative help, so people may or may not pop in to help out and bring the human element to your squad-based shootery.
The controls work really well most of the time, with the four face buttons being used for melee attacks, vaulting and sprinting, snapping into cover, and reloading, while the triggers and bumpers aim, shoot, and activate special abilities. Leaping from one squad-member to another is extremely easy: just hit select and one of the four face buttons that correspond to who you want to be. It’s a great feature, and one that could potentially provide tons of replay options.
Visually, the game looks great (though it’s a bit cramped in local co-op with the screen split down the middle). Colorful environments and characters, detailed textures and levels all provide variety. One level has you riding a sky-tram through the mountains as you’re besieged on all sides by enemies. At one point, half the squad jumps off the tram to disable some helicopters, while the other half stays behind to cover them and clear the way for their sabotage. Because you can leap from agent to agent, it’s up to you what part of the mission you want to tackle, and that’s very cool.
The aforementioned space station has some pretty exciting set-pieces that make for really memorable encounters. At one point, the station’s gravity is shut off, and you only stay on the ground thanks to your magnetic boots. When you down an enemy, he floats away, now a part of the scenery. Every time you reload, your discarded clips just hang there, lazily drifting away. Touches like this add cinematic style points to Fuse’s non-stop gun-battles.
Even still, the game’s visuals are somewhat at-odds with its M-rated storyline and non-stop rain of bullets and swear words. Bullets and swears are fine, but these characters look like they could easily fit in on a Saturday morning cartoon. The collision of the two sensibilities is jarring.
I do wish that the story had more meat, and did more to make me care about the four characters. As it is, only two—Dalton, a former Raven agent, and Naya, whose father is a higher-up in Raven’s organization—have any real connection to the story. The other two—Izzy and Jacob—are there to round out the squad.
Overall, Fuse is a good game, but one that feels as though its reach just exceeds its grasp. Maybe a deeper, more character-driven story could’ve gotten sealed the deal, or even more multiplayer options, like competitive missions pitting two or more four-player squads against each other. Maybe we’ll get all that and more if the sequel that the campaign’s ending obviously hints at ever comes to be. If that happens, we’ll definitely have a game almost impossible to refuse.