Despite paying every year for an Xbox LIVE Gold account, having a very active Steam account and playing on PlayStation Network every once in a while (usually for a quick game of Journey), I am not the biggest fan of multiplayer gaming. Don't get me wrong, I think that a lot of multiplayer portions of games offer a lot of value for my $60 and can even be a genuinely good time among friends. But I have always been a single-player gamer. I play for the experience that takes me away from the people in the world outside my door and playing a shooter online often just makes me realize why I keep that door locked. All jokes aside, I have never found competitive multiplayer all that engaging. That said, I have been playing a number of online cooperative games recently and it has made me realize something: co-op beats the hell out of single-player on many an occasion. So when Insomniac Games announced that their next game was not only a new intellectual property but a campaign co-op shooter, I was pretty ecstatic. However, I don't think Fuse is the game that co-op players will be seeking out.
As a long-time fan of Insomniac Games, I was immediately drawn to this game when it was announced back in 2011 as Overstrike and, despite the number of changes this title has gone through in that time, I have continued to follow its development (including speaking with Ted Price at PAX East earlier this year). After games like Resistance 2 and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, the idea of a campaign co-op game from Insomniac seems like a no-brainer for any gamer looking for something different from all the other “modern” shooters out there. But the next time we all saw Overstrike, it had gone through quite a shift; both in name and style. Fuse lost the humor and cartoony look which made Overstrike the new Insomniac game we all wanted to play. In Fuse, you play the mercenary team known as Overstrike-9: Dalton Brooks, Naya Deveraux, Jacob Kimble and Isabelle Sinclair. After being sent to a top-secret lab by “the client”, the Overstrike team finds the lab is complete disarray and must stop a rival mercenary team – Raven – from stealing an alien substance found after WWII, “Fuse”. Long story short: you find weapons altered with the “Fuse” substance, Raven gets away with a large amount of “Fuse” and now you must stop Raven from using “Fuse” to destroy the world. If you felt as if the description I just provided sounded like many other shooters you've played before…well…you probably have.
One of the biggest problems with Fuse is its story. While Insomniac has been known for crafting remarkable stories that span across different worlds (Ratchet & Clank series) and alternate realities (Resistance series), Fuse ends up playing the generic, “stop the big bad, Bond-like villain” video game that we have seen so many times before. Even the Overstrike team doesn't manage to engage the player in the story. Occasionally, in the brief moments of sentiment, a member of the team will provide a hilarious one-liner, but those moments are few and regrettably far between. Considering Insomniac is most beloved for their rich single-player experiences, Fuse falls very flat for anyone coming in after some Ratchet & Clank – or even Resistance – storytelling.
But the big factor that makes Fuse an almost worthwhile occurence is its cooperative play. The entire campaign is available as a co-op experience and it works exceptionally. You can invite any of your friends who also have Fuse into your game and play cooperatively with friends. You can also do splitscreen play in couch co-op, which works very well. Best part: the co-op play is drop-in/drop-out. You are never penalized for leaving a game session at any point. One never needs to worry about getting tired or busy, even if you are hosting a game. If you are the host and close out your session, the remaining players on your session will double back to the last checkpoint and continue without you. No one loses XP or “Fuse credits”. This is how co-op (and multiplayer) gameplay
should work! Beside campaign co-op, Fuse also provides “Echelon” mode, where you and your team protect an area while waves of enemies are coming at you from all directions, like the Gears of War “Horde” mode mixed with “King of the Hill”. While I would have liked there to have been more than two gameplay modes, both modes make Fuse standout slightly from the pack. That said, friends leaving the game means you are left with the companion AI which is far from exceptional.
Companion AI in a co-op game is especially important when playing solo. Many times, your companions will act against you. I do not mean that they will kill or shoot at you, but they will do things causing you to get shot and/or killed. For most of the game, I played as the stealth character – Naya Deveraux – who has a cloaking capability that makes her invisible to enemies. Many times, you will come upon a new wave of enemies and one of the characters will say that we should not draw attention. After I go in and take out about two enemies invisibly and silently, my team starts shooting their big guns while I am in the middle of taking one of the enemies out. This happens the entire game; there will never not be a firefight. You are also unable to command your AI counterparts. Had Insomniac at least put in a Mass Effect-like command system to control characters that you don't want to jump into, the game wouldn't feel as if your own team is fighting against you.
But no worries, guys. The enemy AI is also pretty terrible, making the game unnecessarily difficult. Now, I know what you're thinking: Is it bad AI or is the game just difficult? Trust me, it's bad enemy AI.
First, let me start with the poor variation of enemies. There are foot soldiers, cloaking foot soldiers and three mechs (one with a Gatling gun, one with rockets and one with a flamethrower). That's it: five enemies. Then you have boss battles, which are all just bigger mechs, flying vehicles that shoot things at you and a fever dream (more on that in a bit). Hell, even the final boss is just a variation on a previously battled enemy. “Uninspired” is a word that comes to mind throughout playing this game.
Now, for the enemy AI. After my companions let everyone know that we're there, Raven begins sending out their cloaked soldiers. You can always see them if you're looking for them, so you begin firing directly at them. But they never slow down. You can have a shotgun, one of your big Xenotech weapons; doesn't matter. They will keep charging toward you like a bull on Speed, come up behind you and put you in a choke hold. The enemies seem to not only have the ability to take a whole lot of hits, but an inability to feel any kind of pain. And that isn't just the cloaked enemies, it is all enemies. You are wasting entire clips on headshots. HEADSHOTS! AI can make enemies difficult to kill while also make the game fun. But just making them take a ridiculous amount of shots to kill isn't clever, it's shotty.
Hey, what about those awesome Insomniac weapons that we all love?!
Despite loving Insomniac weapons a very great deal, Fuse does not deliver much to their wheelhouse. The Xenotech weapons – Magshield, Arc Shot, Warp Rifle, Shattergun – are all pretty cool, but you get them at the beginning and they don't really change much from start to finish. You make a few minor upgrades, but you never feel as if you are striving to make this gun any better, just have its effects last longer.
Well, what about those beautiful Insomniac worlds?
They are…also missing. The locations are frighteningly generic. Science lab here, enemy bunker there; pretty much average shooter fodder that we've seen before. I genuinely believe that the only Insomniac-like environment that pops up comes at the second boss battle, when you enter a crazed man's Fuse-induced fever dream. That's the best the game has to offer in terms of interesting visuals, but you have four missions after that one.
What saddens me most about this game is also its biggest fault: it is wholly unremarkable. It is not a broken game. It isn't even a bad game, really. Fuse merely isn't a very good one. The entire experience makes it seem as if it were toned-down after a few too many focus group sessions; a game made by committee. I do not know what happened during this game's developme
nt to make it come off as watered down, but I do hope that Fuse does not become the excuse that developers and publishers use as a reason to not invest in interactive cooperative experiences. This was a step in the right direction, but a step not far enough.
Pop culture geek, Nick Boisson, lives in front of his computer, where he is Section Editor of Comics Bulletin's video game appendage and shares his slushily obsessive love of video games, comics, television and film with the Internet masses. In the physical realm, he just moved to Austin, Texas and is trying to figure out just how many times it is possible to go to the Alamo Drafthouse theatres without seeming too weird.