Insomniac Games has produced a number of games that I've enjoyed, like Spyro the Dragon and the Ratchet & Clank series, but I feel that they've faltered this generation. The Ratchet & Clank entries on PlayStation 3 (barring All 4 One) have been pretty great, but as they've tried to branch into new properties like the Resistance series, the results have been hit-and-miss.
Now breaking away from being a Sony-centric developer, Insomniac is also trying its hand at a new genre with Fuse, which is a third-person shooter with a focus on co-op. Like most modern third-person shooters, Fuse emphasizes the cover mechanic, with some unique sci-fi elements that are mostly delegated to character-specific weapons.
Fuse isn't great. This won't be a huge surprise for most, but it's certainly worth reiterating since Insomniac is capable of something better than this. At best, Fuse is a competently structured co-op experience that won't qualify as the worst thing you've played this year. It's certainly a forgettable experience a few days after you finish it, though, and it's hardly a great first impression for the developer's first multiplatform release.
Fuse is structured around two modes, the primary campaign and the multiplayer-focused Echelon mode. From the campaign menu, you can play the game solo with the option of friend invites, play with three random individuals, or play offline. Echelon is strictly an online mode, and it's still co-op, but it boils down to something like Horde mode from the Gears of War series. You take on increasingly difficult waves of enemies on a series of maps, graded at the end on overall progress, and gain experience and Fuse credits, which persist across both modes.
As far as campaigns go, Fuse doesn't make much of a mark. It's a better experience when all four slots are filled with actual players because playing alone with the AI team leads to mixed results. Computer-controlled partners can either be brilliant and helpful or downright stupid, depending on the moment. They don't have a tendency to rush out in the middle of a firefight, but they can be sluggish in performing heals and rescues, and they are bad with implementing crowd control and appropriate weapon usage.
Playing through the game alone also feels like an arduous slog. Every enemy is the definition of a bullet sponge, as it takes numerous rounds of hits from multiple weapon types to drop an enemy soldier to the ground. Even headshots aren't instant kills, with later enemies forcing multiple shots from a sniper rifle variant when aiming at the skull. The boss fights are generally an absolute bore, culminating in a final boss encounter that takes every awful element Fuse employs and turns it up to 11.
On a less offensive note, the cover system is decent, even if the default control scheme takes some getting used to. While you have the equivalent of a "roadie run" with the A button on an Xbox 360 controller, to actually stick to cover, you'll use a separate face button when approaching. There's a slide-to-cover effect that allows for a considerable amount of space between you and any given object, and each stage is covered in objects that you can adhere to. Moving out of cover is easy enough by pushing away from it, but it's not so sensitive that you'll accidentally pop up from behind an object.
There are also some stealth elements that are useful — mostly because being successful with stealth means you'll encounter less gunplay. It seems like certain areas are rigged against you, so an entirely stealth-focused playthrough is impossible. It's tough to figure out the cone of vision given to enemy soldiers. Sometimes, you'll be spotted despite there being ample space between you and a target; at other times, your team pops out of cover right in front of a foe without a single alarm being triggered.
Another aspect of Fuse that leaves a lot to be desired stems from the characters, how they relate to the plot, and their unique gameplay elements. The four characters make up a group of specialists called Overstrike 9. At the outset of the game, they're called in to a secret base to figure out why the clandestine operation went offline. When Overstrike 9 arrives, it's clear that the secret base wasn't very secret, since it's been ransacked and half-destroyed.
From here, we're introduced to the titular Fuse, an alien element that's being used for weapons and energy in a variety of experiments. A couple of organizations are vying for its control, with the main bad guys being a group called Raven. From the initial installation, you'll travel the globe hunting down Raven and the missing Fuse element, with stages that touch on most of the standard shooting tropes, such as jungles, snow-covered mountains, and covert space stations.
The four members who make up Overstrike 9 are Dalton Brooks, Naya Deveraux, Jacob Kimble and Izzy Sinclair. Of these four, only two see any sort of character development or have a significant impact on the way the story develops. Dalton has some ties to one of the bigger villains stemming from a past relationship, and Naya is the daughter of a scientist who's central to the conflict. Jacob and Izzy could be any other character, with backstories that are barely fleshed out through some hidden collectibles that are dutifully scattered throughout each stage.
Each character has a unique Fuse weapon at his or her disposal, but weapons and abilities don't reflect much about the character's personality. You could swap out the skills and weapons across any of the characters and lose nothing in the transition, so the characters are less important than the actual gear. This feels backward for any story-focused effort.
There's an experience system that employs a skill tree for each character, and you can dump points into it, but the skill trees are largely identical beyond the few abilities that tie into the weapon or ability. Everything else is shared between the four team members, including the Fusion skill that arrives too late in the game to feel important or useful. There's also little customization allowed, beyond a handful of skins for each character, though they are hardly worth seeking out.
Switching over to Echelon mode, if you're going to enjoy anything about Fuse, this is probably it. It strips out all of the unnecessary clutter surrounding the campaign and pits you against waves of enemies in mixed environments. Each wave gets progressively more difficult, and enemies spout coins, which double as Fuse credits.
Since this mode is focused on multiplayer, you won't often run the risk of being saddled with insufficient AI partners. Players can drop in and out of a game at any point, and you'll find that Echelon is a lot less fun (or doable) if bots fill in for the players. Echelon mode is where you'll see some of the character-specific abilities, and potential weapon combination effects typically shine. Since you're not being funneled through corridors and half-baked climbing sequences that fill the void between fights in the campaign, you can also manage to keep your eyes open across the 14 waves that make up an Echelon stage.
While I don't think Fuse is worth your time, it's not because it's a broken, buggy experience or something that's unplayable. It has a couple of weird bugs, including sections where scripted moments don't trigger and require a checkpoint restart, but for the most part, it felt pretty polished. I'm also not as opposed to the art style or character design as others are, even if I can see the appeal of the initial reveal trailer from 2011 compared to what we actually got.
What really kills my interest in Fuse is that the only exceptional thing about it is the incredibly bland experience. The characters, combat, co-op and plot are little more than a paint-by-numbers re-creation of bits and pieces of better titles that came before it. There's nothing wrong with not being wholly original — few titles are — but Fuse doesn't even put forth minimal effort in distinguishing itself from other established franchises. It's the equivalent of store brand food, but without the budget price that should've gone along with it.
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