Fuse multiplayer preview: chaotic co-op

We had an inkling that Fuse would be a cooperative shooter with a bit of a chaotic bent, but it was hard to really figure what that would entail. It's certainly come a long way since 2011, when it was announced at EA's E3 press briefing almost as an afterthought.

Known then as Overstrike, Insomniac's third-person shooter seemed to be trying to channel something like Team Fortress with its slightly cartoony look and sense of humor; details were sparse though, and the game was overshadowed by higher-profile EA shooters like Battlefield 3. After its debut, Overstrike dropped out of sight, and didn't reemerge for more than a year.

As it turns out, Fuse's multiplayer at least amounts to something like a greatly expanded horde mode with persistent characters. It brings with it some nice options and mission types, as well as the potential for some interesting strategy. It has promise, especially if Insomniac is able to keep up with a steady diet of fancy weapons and explosions.

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Among the things that have been refined since Fuse was first shown is the overall look. It's still a bit more fanciful than the typical hard sci-fi shooter, but it also looks quite a bit less cartoony than before. For some, that will be a negative. It's not as if there's any shortage of sci-fi shooters out there. But that's not to say that Fuse looks generic. The monsters in particular are fun to look at for all their intricate detailing--the bulky muscles layered with cybernetic parts.

The action itself is fast, enjoyable, and--if Insomniac reps are to be believed--hard. There's certainly no shortage of death when fighting the waves and waves of enemies. Luckily, if you go down, your friend can pull you up to continue the fight.

One of the wrinkles that Fuse adds to the combat is that every character gets their own special attack. Probably the best is the ability to create what amounts to mobile cover with a shield. Basically, when a firefight starts, everyone rallies around that guy. It's not a bad way to encourage a little bit of teamwork among players; and with weapons like an explosive crossbow also available, it helps to differentiate the characters a bit.

Ultimately, it's that sense of teamwork that is Fuse's biggest strength. Fuse was conceived as a co-op shooter from its beginnings as Overstrike, and that emphasis on multiplayer seems to have carried through into the game's current iteration. The suite of multiplayer options is quite robust--splitscreen with friends, online player, and even bots are available. In addition, Fuse has one profile for each character, with anything that is unlocked becoming available in both single player and multiplayer. This is a nice addition for both sides of the spectrum, since it helps to balance things out a little bit by bringing the modes more closely together.

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If Fuse has a weakness, it's that might it might end up having a hard time standing out from the competition. From the look of it, the shooting is both fast-paced and enjoyable, and the variety of mission objectives--most of them built around protecting something or simply surviving--helps to keep it from being repetitive. But in the end, Fuse seems to lack either the wild creativity of a Monday Night Combat or the unique art design of a Team Fortress. If Fuse ends up catching on, it'll be because of strong word of mouth on the part of a few hardcore gamers. In that sense, the shift from Overstrike's more zany approach may be to Fuse's detriment.

The good news is that, between its emphasis on teamwork, strong multiplayer options, and solid shooting mechanics, Fuse is looking like it'll warrant whatever word of mouth it ends up getting. Coming from a well-established studio like Insomniac, it certainly has the right pedigree. The ingredients are there.

So knowing now that Fuse has the potential to be a very enjoyable multiplayer shooter, it's on Insomniac to follow through. If they do, they may have a surprise hit on their hands.

The game is coming to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 sometime in March.