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Fuse review: cover-based creativity

by Steve Watts, May 28, 2013 10:00am PDT

I can only imagine the difficulty that comes in creating a debut title meant to launch a franchise. How much do you hew to genre tradition, versus putting your own mark on the new arrival? Fuse is Insomniac's first bounding step into both multiplatform development and what it hopes to make a series. It answers this question by crafting a likable game that is rendered slightly unmemorable by its adherence to popular trends.

The story follows a four-member team called Overstrike 9, as it finds and ultimately turns weapons powered by the substance "Fuse" on those who would use it for nefarious purposes. That may seem like a broad overview, but that's only because the actual plot of the game is just enjoyable sci-fi nonsense; the kind that would be at home in mid-90s cinema. The sarcastic patter between the characters even fits.

Story isn't this game's priority. It instead accomplishes its primary goal of being a solid third-person shooter, and a beautiful one at that. Insomniac has always had a way with art direction that doesn't shy away from vibrant color and thoughtful industrial design, and that shows through in spades here. The characters' faces are also especially well-realized, looking just exaggerated enough to match the semi-realistic tone.

Even with impressive design, it takes something extra for a third-person, cover-based shooter to stand out in the market. In the case of Fuse, that comes in the weaponry. This should come as no surprise to followers of Insomniac, the studio that has built a legacy of creatively deadly implements in both the Ratchet and Resistance series. Unlike both of those, however, Fuse isn't about building a large arsenal of inventive weapons. Instead, it introduces only a handful of them, and then explores and iterates on each one -- to its success and detriment.

On the one hand, the four "Fuse" weapons, each assigned to one of the four principle characters, do each come with some neat applications. As you make your way through the upgrade paths, it's fun seeing your weapons progressively grow stronger and gain new abilities. All four members also gain a specialized ability of their own, and eventually can trigger Fusion: a time-limited overpowered attack I used mostly as a panic button.

This also means that each character falls into a particular type. Dalton's shield makes him ideal for encroaching on enemy territory, Izzy's healing grenades make her the best for medical emergencies, and so on. Sticking with any single character would feel limiting, like you're ill-equipped for every eventuality. Fuse mitigates this feeling with Leap, the ability to jump between characters at will.

Unfortunately, that leads to a drawback in multiplayer. Since each character is so class-based, and teams are limited to one of each kind, you have to hope to find a game that allows you to be your personal favorite. Class-based multiplayer is a tricky balancing act for this very reason. While I appreciated the differentiation of classes, asking a player to be stuck in a position they may not enjoy could be a lot to ask.

That said, the game is clearly meant to be played with others -- ideally with just one other person, so you can both still use Leap to exercise some variety. In single-player, the bots can be frustratingly dumb, often charging into enemy fire and getting themselves killed while trying to save your life (thus dooming you both). Even relatively difficult encounters in single-player were made significantly easier by having just one other human player aboard.

The standard co-op campaign is complemented by the objective-based Echelon mode. These come in 12 progressive waves, ranging from wiping out enemies in one area to keeping enemies from damaging a Fuse capsule, and interspersed with mechanized bosses. It may not be as imaginative as the weapons, but it does have one major strength working in its favor. Since the game is built around the Fuse tech trees, and all upgrades and experience carry over between the campaign and Echelon, it makes a nice inviting way to boost your stats and muscle through tricky parts of the story.

Insomniac has made it clear that it intends Fuse to be a franchise, and this debut game proves that the developer has something special to offer the third-person shooter market. It packs some clever ideas that keep it from falling into "just another shooter" limbo, but those ideas come with a few of their own growing pains and that holds them back from really taking center-stage. Fuse feels like a standard third-person shooter with a dose of Insomniac charm. If a sequel comes, I'd like to see it go the other way around. [6]


This Fuse review was based on a Xbox 360 retail version of the game provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 3.





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