One can’t fault Insomniac for trying to move on with their gaming lives. After all, they’ve been making the same two or three franchises for over a decade. It’s been a whole lot of Ratchet, and a whole lot of Resistance. Clearly, they wanted to spread their creative talents and see if they could create yet another winning franchise.
Fuse doesn’t get them off to a very good start.
If you’ve ever seen an action movie, you know the plot to Fuse. There’s a secret alien element that allows for the creation of extinction-event level weapons. The government loses control of this element to an evil paramilitary group, and calls in the best of the best to get it back. That would be Overstrike 9, made up of Dalton, Kimble, Izzy, and Naya. While a diverse crowd, they severely lack in personality. Sure, there are some sarcastic one liners and a few attempts to create a back story, but they aren’t enough. Okay, so Dalton doesn’t like cats. How, exactly, am I supposed to care about that? Naya’s father is working for the evil organization. Maybe this would cause some interesting conflict? Nope? All right then. The other two don’t even get that token bit of treatment. I have no idea what Izzy is about, except that she likes to ignore orders to satisfy her own curiosity. Again, that’s not an endearing trait.
Beyond the team, the story is just bland. Sure, it’s got enough explosions to make Michael Bay happy. There’s an odd romance angle thrown in there, only to be forgotten moments later. There are pieces of an interesting story. They just aren’t put together. The main villain is instantly forgettable. It doesn’t help that most of his lines are spoken from a loudspeaker. Try as I might, I just couldn’t care about the world of Fuse. It was just so generic.
Bland also perfectly describes the game’s graphics. Technically, they’re solid. There’s even some slight exaggeration in the character models, a vestige of the game’s previous campy attitude. Some of the animations are missing some frames, but they’re not that bad really. Where things fall apart is in the fact that you’ll see the same kinds of locations you’ve seen in hundreds of games before. Oh look, there’s an enemy base in that snowy mountain. Who would have guessed? Each underground complex is full of the same blank corridors followed by open rooms with two stories. It’s like they made this game from a stencil.
The lack of personality and emotion carries over to the voices as well. The characters just seem to be sociopaths, hellbent on racking up as large a body count as possible. On the way to that goal, they may make a joke or two, scream at you to get down, or feign shock at some traumatic event. It never feels genuine. Musically, the game hits the standard notes, and seems to be attempting to make things more dramatic than they are. It was a bit too much, like something out of Lost or Inception, though. It could get comical at times. The effects are the best part, with the unique weapons sounding as otherworldly as you’d hope.
Mechanically, this game is about as solid as you could want. You move with the left stick, aim with the right, zoom in with the left shoulder button, fire with the right, and so on. You can snap into cover, vault over obstacles, roll to dodge attacks, and throw a punch when the time is right. The controls are tight, precise, and configured in such a way as to avoid mistakes. This isn’t like Uncharted, where you can roll of the edge of a cliff instead of hiding behind a cement divider. I never had an issue getting the game to do what I wanted it to.
The star of the game is the Xenetech weapons, which are created with that alien element I mentioned earlier. Each character has a specific X weapon, which represents the only practical difference between them. Dalton has the mag shield, Kimble has the crossbow, Izzy has the scatter gun, and Naya has the warp rifle. The mag shield can absorb enemy fire and send it back to them. The crossbow is good for tons of damage, and the bolts can be detonated to send fiery death to those around it. The scatter gun and the warp rifle are pretty similar. Both fire regular shots that build up to a critical mass. When that mass is met, some kind of interesting event occurs. Izzy’s gun surrounds enemies with black crystal that can be shattered for an instant kill. Naya’s rife creates a black hole that can chain and take out many enemies at once. There are other weapons in the game, but you won’t use them unless you run out of ammo for these weapons. A regular old pistol just seems too bland.
That’s the problem really. The game really wants you to use those X weapons. In fact, it rewards significantly more experience for kills with those weapons. Taking somebody out with the crossbow was good for nearly three times as much experience as a kill with any other basic weapon. Also, the basic weapons just don’t do enough damage. I could empty an entire clip of bullets into an enemy with the assault rifle, or I could launch one blast with the mag shield. The choice was easy for me. In fact, I would often scramble to find ammo despite the inherent risks of death and the fact that I had extra mags for my pistol at the ready. It’s not even that these weapons are particularly fun to use. They’re just so much more useful.
If you complete a mission in this game with less than a hundred kills, you’re impressively bad at games. Enemies come by the truckload, and it makes killing them incredibly easy. The AI is just dumb. They’ll stand straight up and take shots that come to them, or run closer to you so as to make it an easier shot. The tougher enemies just have incredible amounts of health. They display no thought for tactical considerations. They attack you seemingly at random, and gleefully walk into traps and crossfires. There are six missions in the game, and I ended my first run through with easily over a thousand kills. That doesn’t even account for all of the kills my teammates surely must have scored themselves. It’s just wave after wave of mindless drones. They only advantage they have is sheer numbers. You might miss one by accident.
Level design in this game is basic beyond belief. While the game introduces things such as climbing mechanics, ducking through vents, and hacking turrets, none of these things are available during combat. Battles are simple affairs, with you on one side of the room and the bad guys on the other. Take out all of the bad guys, move to the next room, and then take out the bad guys there. You can’t get simpler than that.
At times the game does seem to cater towards advanced strategies that require teamwork to pull off. Shield enemies are a pain, but you can easily team up to flank the guys so that one of you can pull off a shot. With other human players, this is possible and even somewhat fun to do. However, the AI is useless. They never perform useful functions. They may heal you if you fall, but they’ll normally just sit still until you move forward. Since you can’t command them in any way, you’re stuck trying to do everything yourself. Playing this game by yourself is a chore.
There are two modes of play. The campaign takes place over six different missions and offers various checkpoints and difficulties to keep you coming back. Since characters gain levels and upgrade their abilities to a small degree, there’s some incentive to come back to reach the next plateau. Then there’s echelon mode. This is kind of like a horde mode, except that each wave brings with it a specific objective you must complete. You may have to protect an area, take down a specific target, or cover an ally as they transport an item from one location to another. The objectives are random and challenging, making this a fairly engaging mode to play. The kicker is that you won’t want to play unless you have an advanced character, meaning you’ll need to play around in the campaign a bit before you have a chance at making it past more than a few waves.
In the end, this game suffers from a number of issues. While it’s solid, it’s also bland and uninspired. It controls as well as you could want, but the precise controls aren’t really needed when enemies stand around like cardboard cutouts. Four player co-op is great, but playing with other people can only make up for so much poor level design and dumb AI. I suppose the game satisfies an itchy trigger finger well enough, but it isn’t good enough to justify full retail price. This is the first time I’ve ever been truly disappointed with an Insomniac title. I’m hoping they revisit this idea, but give it some more attention, and a heck of a lot more personality.
Short Attention Span Summary
In Fuse, you shoot things. What’s that? That description a little lacking for you? Try playing the game! Fuse is a bland, uninspired blob of a game. While it controls well, looks fine, sounds solid, and offers four player online action, it does so with vanilla characters, lazy level design, and downright boring action. It’s lazy is what it is. I never thought I’d say that of an Insomniac game. These are the guys who came up with the gun that turned people into sheep and the disco ball that could be used to make even the biggest boss get down and boogie. None of that charm and inventiveness made it into Fuse. This is just another overpriced, generic shooter that no one will remember in a year. That just makes me sad.