Against better judgment, I played Fuse solo, unaccompanied, without assistance. Worse, I played Fuse. Rebranded from its original Overstrike name, Insomniac Games’ latest cooperative-minded shooter is one-half discouraging, one-half irritating, and all parts tasteless. Bad guys spill through locked doors, players take cover, eliminate the reinforcements with alien armaments, then switch characters once the ammo dwindles. While the aforementioned description could give a rundown of most third-person shooters, there are no merits here worth recounting – no eccentric heroes, no goofy weapons (minus the four Xenotech implements), and no implausible fantasy worlds/alternate histories.
No, the story’s settings appear quite grounded. Between the not-so-secret mercenary bases located amid Earth’s alpine, underwater, and jungle regions – and the finale set aboard the antagonist's space station for good measure – the dysfunctional Overstrike 9 team has been charged with destroying the private military group called Raven and the stolen element “Fuse.” A limitless power source with alien origins, Fuse has been harnessed into missiles that could obliterate whole cities, and your government agents possess the only four experimental weapons that could stymie such destructive goals.
What happened with Overstrike, Insomniac? Team Fortress 2 proves games can be cartoonish and bloody.
The characters themselves often wreak more havoc than necessary, which remains their most endearing quality. In Fuse, Insomniac – generally known for their classic comedic writing – chokes players with consistently terrible one-liners and forced situational humor. Think someone falling on his gun seems highbrow? Because the hysterics seldom integrate wit. Each agent's depth can be summarized briefly: Izzy hates people, Dalton dated Raven’s resident psychopath because she was hot, Naya has daddy issues, and Jacob ... well, I have no idea what Jacob’s problems are. He just sort of exists. Maybe his personal data file would enlighten me if I had found it. The intel supplies background information about the various villains and “heroes,” and why they aligned with whom. However, none of the characters ever comment on these collectibles, a grand oversight after completing The Last of Us (a title that continually fleshes out the protagonists).
Not that some text log would alter my opinion of the game’s individuals. The Overstrike 9 team proves dismally one-dimensional – contradictory from Insomniac’s other champions. You root for Ratchet and Spyro: the underdogs, the little guys against big odds. Fuse’s protagonists are underdeveloped to the point that it hurts. I almost hesitate to call them characters, as they never display personality. Hell, the Xenotech weapons contain more charisma. Naya’s Warp Rifle creates singularities that chain through enemies, detonating with the force of a small black hole; Izzy’s Shattergun encases adversaries in crystal, immobilizing them for easy kills; Jacob’s Arcshot pins mercenaries to the environment from long range; and Dalton’s Magshield absorbs incoming rounds, then fires them back with greater force.
With four players, the gameplay comes alive (or so I’ve heard). When the AI did cooperate, we annihilated rooms of terrorists with single never-ending combos. Dalton’s Magshield, for example, enhances friendly fire passing through his mobile force field, dealing damage faster. In tandem with Naya’s Warp Rifle, I could create more black holes more often, preventing opponents from ever gaining footholds behind cover.
The Uncharted-esque traversal sequences pad out the experience.
What should ultimately be the tip of the iceberg for creative weapons, however, melts under pressure. The rest of the firearms (pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles) are more lifeless than the same five enemy types wielding them. Beyond their identical grunts, Raven’s mercenaries cloak, jetpack, use riot shields, and heal other infantry. But their tactics never change. The invisible agents always rush you, holding you hostage when they get close. The jet troopers always leap between platforms, searching for new lines of sight. Riot shield reinforcements always form perimeters, standing absolutely still otherwise. Similarly, the armored mechs – fights that should be exciting opportunities to evaluate everyone's teamwork – are tense opponents for the wrong reasons. Every exosuit bullet-sponge eats countless Fuse-injected rounds, and should anyone die, it’s back to the last checkpoint.
Fuse (the game, not the element), then, rapidly becomes a ticking time bomb, a test of one’s resolve. How many chapters can you complete (six total) before the crippling realization that you’re not having fun sets in? For me, my fuse ran out not 50 minutes in – not even long enough to finish the first mission – because the game froze. Although that may be the gravest technical demise I met, your teammates get in the way more than your enemies.
The AI rarely makes good on the efficacy that each Xenotech weapon holds. I sat crouched behind cover on numerous occasions, watching teammates assault their targets via routine shotguns and burst rifles. Unless you bring three players along for the slog, skip Fuse entirely. With two others, that still leaves your party babysitting one computer AI. You must do everything yourself, and may your god help you when you get incapacitated, because the AI regularly demonstrated it was more than fine ignoring my pleas while I writhed on the ground two feet away. Fuse does allow character swaps, just not when it’s convenient. Bleeding out? Nope. Carrying an explosive that negates sprinting, entering cover, or equipping one’s primary weapon? Tough luck.
Several areas permit the stealthy approach, until the AI ruins your element of surprise.
Most of the time, I could not have cared less when I perished. The shootouts are cliché beyond doubt, and while the talent trees contain powerful upgrades, each character's skills are indistinguishable apart from several Xenotech improvements. Naya, Dalton, Izzy, and Jacob begin with increases to their ammo capacities, though later augmentations unlock grenade mods, like tendrils that impale enemies.
Honestly, players are better off picking their favorite agent and leveling him or her exclusively throughout the campaign. The only times I ever swapped to another team member resulted in the spending of skill points and reviving downed allies. In the latter situation, the secondary abilities actually exhibit usefulness. Naya camouflages, becoming intangible and invisible for several seconds; Izzy throws heal beacons, letting her doctor teammates without leaving cover; Dalton summons stationary shields, creating a two-prong defense; and Jacob shoots incendiary bolts that instantly disintegrate idiot targets.
When not being controlled by human players, the AI still rank up, albeit more slowly. If players want to level certain agents faster, Echelon – Fuse’s survival mode – helps competitors amass more credits and experience for team-buffing perks, with all the story nonsense weeded out. Too bad everyone, save for the most dedicated gamers, will not progress past the single-digit waves. Echelon punishes newcomers looking for an extra advantage during the campaign’s tougher fights – the very reason you would try Echelon initially. Even with Naya pushing her max level, I died repeatedly on the normal difficulty.
Although Fuse remains competent (mostly), coming from a developer studio with near bottomless ingenuity, that’s not acceptable. The gameplay? The dialogue? Both seem half finished, something I did not think possible of the company that brought fans the imaginative antics of Ratchet & Clank and Spyro the Dragon. There’s none of that creative, humorous energy the initial trailers brimmed with, either, and the stale visual makeover left my eyes glazing over. It is not my place saying what games should exist, yet I have already sated myself with many deadbeat shooters this year. I never thought Insomniac would ship one of 'em.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: May 28, 2013
Number of Players: 1-4 (Campaign), 2-4 (Cooperative)
Platforms: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360