Fuse has had one of the most interesting development cycles of any game in recent memory. Forget the fact that this is the first Insomniac game to appear outside the Sony stable in over a decade, this cooperative, third-person shooter also used to have a much lighter tone, and a completely different name (Overstrike). A lot of the original ideas from that incarnation are now gone, and Fuse feels more like a standard shooter with a hint of that Insomniac charm. Unfortunately the only way it should ever be experienced is when players bring three friends to share the experience.
Jumping into the shoes of the Overstrike 9 team is actually a fun tale. Each of the four character choices comes with a decent back story, and enough personality to make them feel unique. I genuinely laughed at a few moments, and the story feels like the average summer popcorn movie. There is just enough sci-fi and outlandish characters to keep it from feeling overly dramatic, including a crazed Russian psychic whose boss battle is still etched in my brain.
The voice acting is solid, and Insomniac’s writing shines through with each character. Dalton is the headstrong leader with a knack for sarcasm. Izzy serves as the team’s medic and technical expert. Jacob is a former homicide detective sick of the bureaucracy, while Naya is the former assassin whose father just happens to be Raven Captain Luther Devereaux. Insomniac does a great job of filling out the character’s back stories and personalities throughout the game, even if most of it is fluff.
The core game play is reminiscent of any other third-person shooter in recent memory. There is a dash button, taking cover is imperative and each character can only carry a limited arsenal. The catch to Fuse is that each member of Overstrike 9 carries their own unique weapon. Dalton carries the Magshield, which allows him to catch and reflect enemy bullets. Izzy has the Shattergun which turns enemies into crystallized fodder, as well as removing them from cover. Jacob has the Arcshot, which is great for distance as well as being able to lay down fiery traps. Finally, Naya has the Warp Rifle, which creates a singularity effect that tears enemies apart.
The weapons are as unique as the characters themselves, and what makes Fuse so much fun with friends. Weapons feed off of each other, creating combos when combined. Coordinating as a team allows players to take down enemies faster as well as earning more XP. Each character is leveled up individually with their own unique skill tree. It is worth noting that when playing single player, the main character I played as leveled much faster than the rest. I had to constantly switch between the others to assign their skill points. It becomes a hassle to manage it all at times.
I still cannot recommend playing Fush with any less than three players. When flying solo I felt like I was going through the motions. The combat is fine, and the shooting mechanics are solid, but the constant barrage of enemies, and increasing challenge started to wear thin towards the end. The AI often times worries about fighting blindly instead of actually using their weapons the way they are designed.
Fuse’s campaign is solid, with at least ten hours of popping out from cover to eliminate bad guys. Taking it on alone though is where things fall apart. This is a co-op shooter, and that cannot be stressed enough. I played through the campaign solo the first time through to see how it stacked up, and came away sorely disappointed. Players can pick one character from the outset, and switch to the others at will. The AI of your teammates is surprisingly not atrocious, but a lot of what makes Fuse special is lost when the CPU takes over.
After the campaign ends there is a second mode called Echelon. This mode breaks down portions of the single player campaign and creates objective-based challenges such as defense and wave elimination. Again, this can be played cooperatively (as it should be) and delivers an alternative take on the formula. Sadly it just isn’t that much fun. It feels like a grind when compared the single player game. I would hope for more unique design, perhaps with the weapon use, but as it turns out, this is just another way to farm XP for the mediocre skill tree.
Visually the game looks good, but I personally liked the original design better. Now it feels almost like “just another shooter” with serious tones, drab hallways and facilities that lack any sort of personality. There are a few exceptions such as the underwater area, but for the most part Fuse definitely lacks originality in the design department. Sound is impressive at times, with some solid effects and the voice acting is superb. Hearing Steve Blum deliver his best Russian accent is always a treat.
I really wanted to love Fuse a lot more than I did. When played with at least two other people, it shines bright, but when tackling solo it is a bore more often than not. I recommend picking this one up after a small price drop, and again only if you can convince your friends to join you. When played with cooperating team mates, there is definitely something special to be found. The weapons click, and the story is just interesting enough to drive you forward. Solo players simply need not apply.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.