Long time exclusive Sony developer, Insomniac Games has finally gone multiplatform with a new third person, team tactical shooter. Originally under the project titled Overstrike, "Fuse" has been re-branded into a newish shooter that blends realistic firefights with bits of sci-fi tech. Fundamentally, it's a co-op experience, though you can play it by yourself. But it really comes down to is this -- if you're looking for another third person shooter, then this a game you can play.
I don't like being so negative about games like this because "Fuse" isn't a terrible game by any means. It's just terribly bland. The real problem is that this genre has been so saturated with same-y mechanics and attitudes, that when you see something that could genuinely have been unique and cool, it's a disappointment when it doesn't live up to your expectations.
It's doubly disappointing when this games comes from a developer with a strong pedigree for weird and fun weapons with smart story telling and charming characters. Insomniac made their name with the humorous, over-the-top "Ratchet & Clank" series that delivered a neat twist on platformer/shooters with bizarre weapons. With "Fuse" it seems that a lot of that imagination had been exhausted and replaced with generic cover-based shooting and mixed with odd traversal puzzle.
"Fuse" dumps you into a world of near future tech as a small PMC squad consisting of your basic shooter archetypes-- the grizzled leader, Dalton; the heavy hitter, Jacob; the stealthy sniper, Naya; and the medic, Izzy. It doesn't break any new ground here but players will have a decent selection of characters to choose and you'll quickly figure out who you'll like playing. Each character has their specified role -- Dalton has a protective shield that provides protection for the team and boosts shots fired from its cover; Jacob uses a powerful crossbow that can deal tremendous focused damage; Izzy can drop heal beacons to resurrect down-but-not-out allies and she has a gun that can freeze and shatter foes. Naya turned out to be my favorite as she had an impressive Xenotech weapon that proved to be especially devastating to groups -- you can tag baddies with its power and then focus one to create micro black hole that chains between everyone enemy that was tagged. Additionally, she can become invisible to get you out of jams and take some of the heat off her.
In fact, I liked using her so much that I often just let the mostly, helpful AI run around doing their own thing. And that's kind of a problem --especially jumping in with co-op -- as I didn't want to play as anyone else. Also, since whatever character you choose levels up quicker -- each character has their own skill tree -- that my Naya was so much further leveled up that I was just used to rolling around with her powers.
You can swap between squad-mates on the fly with the "LEAP" function. It works best in single player as you can just choose who you need to be whenever. But it also works well with two players since you can choose two mains and play digital musical chairs whenever you need. But with a full roster, you're locked into playing as only one of the four characters. Which kinda sucks because I figure that most people will want to play who the like best and if they don't get to be that character will just drop from the game.
The basic mechanics work well enough and the shooting feels rewarding -- ultimately, though, it's a shooting gallery with the occasional puzzle or boss fight. Beyond each character's special Xenotech weapon you can pick up a variety of guns like pistols, rifles, and machineguns. The story is pretty non-existent with most of it hidden within found collectables. This became somewhat humorous during one cut-scene as I was completely unaware of one of the squad-mates previous love life and was left wondering what the hell that sudden pathos for a dying character was all about. Furthermore, the story is so typical and generic that I was fading in and out of between missions. Occasionally, there light-hearted banter between the Overstike 9 team but it comes off random and out of nowhere given the weak one-note development. Mostly the plot is just a loose skeleton of set pieces, taking you from underwater labs, to hidden palaces, and eventually into orbit.
Boss encounters end up being some of the weaker parts of the game when put against some of the smaller, but more engaging, enemy firefights. These small scale shootouts provide some depth to the combat and really utilize each characters' specially ability. They sort of work out as combat puzzles that give your thumbs and spatial awareness a nice workout.
Padding out the content is Echelon Mode -- which brings co-op partners against wave after wave of increasingly tougher enemies. It's pretty bare bones when it comes to extras, but I had some fun with couch co-op as well as over XBL. The difficulty ramps pretty quickly and disorganized teams will tap out around the 5th or 6th wave. To help out, you can bring in your leveled characters from the campaign which should even the playing field for the first several rounds, though it's advised to have a maxed out team if you hope to make it to round 12.
Honestly, Echelon Mode is probably the best part of "Fuse" and it's a shame that it didn't have any more modes to experiment with. Insomniac did include some randomization by means of creating side objectives (like protecting an ammo drop) during some waves, but they don't dramatically alter the gameplay in any meaningful way, and even if you don't succeed you can still finish the round and move on.
The biggest flaw with "Fuse" is that it lacks any sense of personality. So much so that the original, cartoony look could have been a fresh coat of paint in a world saturated with gritty, brown third-person shooters -- especially given the developer who has a great sense of charm with their projects. "Fuse" seems like a polished game from the barest of evaluation standards -- responsive controls (check), co-op (check), steady frame rate (check) -- but it lacks any passion. It's as if Insomniac just set out to "make a game" and they did just that.
"Fuse" is available now for PS3 and Xbox 360. Review copy provided by EA and reviewed on the Xbox 360.