Fuse may represent Insomniac’s liberation as an independent developer but with their first chance to create for themselves, the studio have turned out their most ordinary and corporate videogame yet. All of the working ideas are in. And while they’ve compromised on common design, there are moments Fuse arrives at some new value, where the developers are able to specialize, and clearly present a template for something bigger.
The shooting parts threaten change for a genre that’s sorely lacking. It’s never spelled out exactly how in the game but the four-person shooting dynamics are the heart and make for some real carnage when used in tandem. Much like Insomniac’s past work, the firearms are fun as hell to use and are emboldened with character.
It’s different from the novelty of putting imaginative guns in something like a character platformer, as much like Resistance, Fuse enters into a genre where all of the worthwhile entries excel in the same way. A third person shooter that’s entirely sold on its shooting isn’t inherently special but as the common elements blend into the new, there are moments where it begins to feel like a necessary genre piece.
It’s in good genre company and derives only from the best. It controls much like the perfect Vanquish with just as much to add to the genre. Whereas Vanquish brought restraint and survival concepts into a format that was simply point and shoot, Fuse proposes an interesting format for co-op pointing and shooting.
If alone, the player can switch between the four agents on-the-fly, making it easy to stack up their own firing combinations, while providing solo-oriented players a way to enjoy all aspects of Fuse. The character transitions prove to be a handy system, unfolding naturally in the context of a firefight. AI’s just present enough but still undercooked, making for some frustration trying to keep them alive.
There’s generally little variety in combat patterns, with the same repetitive enemies and an eccentric boss occasionally thrown in to remind us of the big potential here. Only late game does Fuse necessitate real cooperation, spending much of the time offering scenarios where players might learn their character specific weapons and how they interact through practice. There are clear setups for the solutions of using each of the high-tech weapons, whether an enemy needs to be crystallized, sniped, warped into oblivion, or thrust away with a blast from the shield.
The cast are effectively non-characters outside of some snarky dialogue and while it’s rerouting the usual cinematic focus into a mechanical one, there’s a missed opportunity to capitalize on the great diversity of its cast. There are no typified hardened war vets or typified bald men. It also does well to avoid stereotyping the mixed cast for their gender and ethnicity, despite their archetypal roles. It’s like a straight-faced Binary Domain in the way it handles characters, and their progression follows with similar RPG-like upgrade trees. It’s fine but there’s potential to do more with these systems.
The other influence, of course, is Uncharted. Even while no longer under the Sony banner, Insomniac pay homage to Naughty Dog and wear their influences comfortably. For all the climbing about, while it’s useful to break up the action, Fuse rarely finds a pragmatic new use for doing it, leaving potential for more co-op oriented segments. Almost every door is a co-op effort but there’s also room for some more interesting interactions there.
Following the brevity of the campaign, the Echelon mode’s a nice slant on Resistance 2’s brand of co-op. It locks into campaign areas and triggers a series of missions, whether it’s protecting a Fuse cell or taking down a giant mech. It’s decent and worth a few rounds on each of the maps.
Technically it runs well enough and doesn’t feel they’ve hit any rough patches with the transition to non-Sony tech. There were several camera snags that permanently lost their view of the character and a few times the level geometry dropped through but nothing consistent enough to ruin an experience.
There’s also the pro-consumer release. Fuse has no online pass, is fully playable locally, and has no DLC at the time of this writing. Much like Vanquish and Binary Domain before it, this is one of the only complete retail experiences out of the box. I always admire that extra bit of pro-consumer goodwill from a modern release.
The plan from here is iteration. It’s clear that Insomniac have more work to do and with a bit more finesse and a personal approach, there’s enough potential to get this right. For now, there are far worse options for a co-op third person shooter and few better ones.