By Kevin Kelly
As a video game journalist, it isn't often that you get to sit down with the head of a studio and co-op through a video game with just the two of you. Often, the events we attend feature a big group of writers, all jockeying for sound bites and hands-on time with games, so imagine our surprise when we stepped into a small meeting room and were presented with two gaming setups, and were introduced to Ted Price, the president and CEO of Insomniac Games. He was there to show off "Fuse," the newest game from his company.
Just in case you didn't know, Insomniac has been a powerhouse development studio for Sony, creating games that turned into franchises like "Spyro the Dragon," "Ratchet & Clank," and "Resistance: Fall of Man." But "Fuse," which was originally introduced as "Overstrike" back in 2010, marks the first time the studio has developed a title for multiple consoles, and it will be out for both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this May. It's a third-person shooter, grounded more in the "realistic" universe of the Resistance games. That is, it's not cartoonish, although it is frequently over-the-top. Which is what you will love about it.
You'll play through the game as a member of Overstrike, a team tasked with tracking down the source of a mysterious material that has been taken by Raven, an opposing faction. This material, known as Fuse, was discovered in the 1940s aboard an alien ship, and the government has been losing scientists in droves while experimenting with it. They've been able to create some experimental weapons with it, which you and each of your teammates have access to. These weapons are tied to each individual agent, giving them unique abilities. According to Price, these are not exactly meant to fill the archetypes of most combat parties: Tank, Ranged, Support, Stealth, and so on, but some of the characters to fill those roles a bit.
The team is made up of two girls and two guys, each wielding normal weapons (a two-handed weapon on the left side of the d-pad, and a one-handed weapon on the right), as well as a Fuse-powered superweapon that is unique to each character (accessible by pushing up on the d-pad.) Using the Fuse "LEAP" system that allows you to take over any agent in your squad who is not being controlled by a human (letting you play with up to one to three real people in drop-in/drop-out co-op), you can swap at-will and bring each weapon to bear as you see fit. While you might quickly develop a favorite, your first few matches will definitely find you swapping often as you see how each character drives. Here's how their Fuse weapons stack up:
- Dalton: the leader, he wields the Magshield that fires ferrofluid laced with Fuse and a microwave pulse, turning the fluid in a shield that is permeable on your side, and impervious on the other. Meaning you and your allies can fire through it, while enemy shots are blocked. Dalton can drop a copy of this shield on the ground, and then switch to a normal weapon to fire through it. Oh, and he can use the shield to liquify enemies.
- Izzy: wields the Shattergun that fires glass rounds containing melanite and Fuse, which can encase the target in crystal.This is useful for slowing down or stopping groups altogether, and is especially useful when a teammate then shoots the crystal-encased enemies, shattering them into a million pieces. She can also drop a healing beacon that pumps up your health and revives downed allies.
- Jacob: carries the Arcshot, a futuristic crossbow that fire Fuse-coated bolts with mercury tips on them. These can stun or bring down enemies on contact, or you can detonate them where they land, sending out stream or burning, liquid mercury.Pperfect for strategic shots to nail people behind cover or turrets. It's more precision-based, and works best behind Dalton's shield so you can get a bead on the baddies.
- Naya: her Warp Rifle fires antimatter that can creates small singularities that sucks up the target. Easily the most visual stunning weapon in the game, this can also be chained together to create multiple black holes, and is best fired behind Dalton's shield. To nail enemies behind cover, have Izzy crystalize them, and then Naya can singularize what sticks out. She also has a cloak ability
In our playthrough of the second level of the game, we had just left the Hyperion Base in the middle of the desert where the nucleus of Fuse was ripped out, and we then found ourselves in an undersea base below the South China Sea where our team has been stripped of all weapons and relegated to cells where they are to become human guinea pigs for a crazy Russian scientist named Ivan Solvanko to test the Fuse on. He's what you would call slightly unstable, and has been injecting himself with the Fuse as well, giving him strange abilities. The Fuse has also been affecting the agents, and each of them will have unique experiences that are only available to those agents, so you'll have to play as each one to see the whole story.
Once free from your cells, there's a bit of stealth involved in finding the room where your gear is stashed. But once you have it back, the game quickly became the fragfest it has been advertised as. Insomniac really hit its stride when they started created bizarrely insane (and amazing) weapons for games like "Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal," which was a trend that continued through the rest of the titles they developed. That carried over into the "Resistance" series, and "Fuse" straddles a middle ground, offering up militaristic weapons that do goofy and awesome things. That's what separates "Fuse" from being just another team-based shooter.
There's a real solid feeling to each of the characters in "Fuse," as well as the third-person gunplay. It feels a lot like a much more colorful version the mechanics featured in "Gears of War," as it uses a cover system, along mantling and reviving, albeit with much more colorful weapons. There's no denying that without the Fuse-amped guns, "Fuse" would feel like just another futuristic shooter in an already crowded space. But when Dalton drops a Magshield for you while Jacob sets up bolt-traps with his Arcshot, and Izzy starts crystalizing enemies, it's tremendous fun to come in with Naya and black hole everyone. Plus, with over 60 combos to discover in the game, there's a lot of reasons to change up your gunplay. That includes wielding normal enemy weapons, turrets, and boss weapons as well.
You can thank the Insomniac DNA for the addictive weaponry, and the deep story with four equally engaging characters. Price said that the team went to great effort to try and balance the four agents in the game, and to make each one someone that you would want to select for battle. "That was probably the hardest part of making this game. We wanted to make sure that each character and weapon felt significantly different. Getting them right took a long time." Besides crafting a four-headed story, Insomniac also built an entirely new engine for this game in order to develop for both consoles, and to fix problems with efficiency they had encountered over the last two decades. "This production process has thrown a lot of challenges at us, but I'm really proud of what the team has pulled off, because this is a fun, fun game."
Price went on to say, "Whenever we create a new game, the idea is to build a franchise. Because this is a multiplatform game from the beginning, it gives us a lot of options." We hope that options means DLC and more titles in the future, mostly so we can watch them create more incredible weaponry. "Fuse" launches on May 28 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and we're excited to check it out.