Fuse: a tasty treat in an unappealing wrapper

By Brenna Hillier
31 May 2013 14:28 GMT

Having launched in the US a few days ago, Fuse hits Europe today. Reviews aren’t exactly stellar, but Brenna thinks it’s worthwhile persisting.

Fuse – Insomniac’s latest

Available now on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

The latest new IP from Insomniac Games, creators of Ratchet & Clank and Resistance.

As with past Insomniac games, the focus is on interesting weapons – each of the four members has a signature gun powered by the titular Fuse substance.

Combining the four weapons in co-op has great potential – if you can co-ordinate to pull it off.

Supports just about every combination of online and couch co-op you can think of. Don’t play it alone.

There is a tendency in games media to have a bit of a pile on when a game doesn’t get top-of-the-line scores right off the bat. That’s not to say the critiques are not deserved – just that there’s something liberating about boarding a hate train. You get a chance to use all those deeply snarky sentences you’ve been saving up for the first game to drop below an 80 Metacritic. You can pick on things you’ve let slide with dozens of other games. You can let your own opinions rise up instead of being objective. You can count on the comment sections not to tear you an oozing fresh one.

Gosh I wish I had a bunch of bad things to say about Fuse, but to be honest I’ve quite enjoyed it so far, and can only complain that it does a terrible job of selling itself.

One of the things people are saying about Fuse is that it is generic. They’re looking back at the early Overstrike materials, which had a kind of pulpy, comedic thing going on, and saying that would have been a better game. I’m not sure it’s even worth my time pointing out that a couple of promo images and a trailer do not represent a functional game, let alone something people might actually like to play – and even if I did, we’re all so wary (and weary) of focus-group tested game worlds that I’d get shouted down anyway. Regardless, Fuse is what we have, not Overstrike, and I’m not sure it deserves such a thorough lashing when it does so much to distance itself from the mind-numbingly boring modern day shooters we’re surrounded by.

Not that it does itself any favours in this regard. Fuse actually has a lot of personality, but for various reasons it’s not that easy to get to. You might play the whole game through and not notice Jacob’s boots, for example. Each of the four characters is equipped with these little quirks, even Dalton – the egregiously typical grizzled-marine-squad-leader type who you might assume is the star of the show – is not as straight forward as he seems.

“He’s probably more stylised than any of the characters,” Insomniac CEO Ted Price told me when I asked if Dalton was deliberately as boring as possible. “Throughout the entire process, he’s always been that over-the-top, square-jawed dude.

“He doesn’t take himself particularly seriously though – he’s a wise-cracker. For us, it was fun to develop him because we wanted a character that was not particularly serious.”

I’m afraid that joke is going over a lot of people’s heads, written off as soon as they catch a glimpse of the team of four, each seemingly fitting a wince-worthy archetypical role – the buff marine guy, the token minority, the violently crazy woman and the smart woman with a British accent. But while the members of Overstrike don’t seem particularly deep at first, their personalities and pasts are an intrinsic part of the planet-hopping, corporate conspiracy plot. By the time players reach the second world, they’ve already met two figures out of the team’s history, for example.

In my first play through so far, I’ve grown very fond of a particular team member, and as far as I’m concerned Naya is the star of the game. But Price said that’s a matter of perspective, with players tending to gravitate to one or another even as single-player gameplay forces them to switch between all four.

“I will say that Dalton and Naya have more face time in the game, in terms of their pasts that we’re revealing and the other character that they’re connecting to in the game,” he said.

“But we spend time on the backstory for all of them, and help you understand who Izzy is, and who Jacob is, and why they joined Overstrike.”

One way this manifests is in flashback sequences, which present in a pretty cool way – at set points, one specific team member will experience a kind of hallucination – the explanation for this is a spoiler, I’m afraid – and if you happen to be playing that particular character, you’ll see an incident from their past. If you’ve leapt into another character, you’ll just see the bot – or your co-op body – writhing around on the floor.

Fuse is definitely a co-op game, and Echelon may end up being its primary long-term attraction, so in many ways Insomniac’s trademark extravagant weapons are the real stars. Despite that, it actually fronts a pretty good story and cast, with lots of humour and personality. So it’s a bit of a shame that so many people will miss out on them.

For those keen on the story, it’s a strong motivation to repeat chapters, which you may want to do anyway if you’re keen to max out your skill trees for the super-tough and competitive Echelon mode. It also encourages you to leap between characters, which you should do often in order to experience all the content. For example, there’s a scene early on where the team encounters a guard taking a quiet leak. Depending on which characters have scouted ahead, the resulting dialogue changes – sort of like Mass Effect. It’s funny, and makes the experience more personal.

Fuse is definitely a co-op game, and Echelon may end up being its primary long-term attraction, so in many ways Insomniac’s trademark extravagant weapons are the real stars. Despite that, it actually fronts a pretty good story and cast, with lots of humour and personality.

So it’s a bit of a shame that so many people will miss out on them. Co-op is definitely the best way to play, but it isn’t conducive to listening to dialogue and watching cut-scenes; with a buddy by your side, you’re even more impatient just to get to the action, am I right? And Insomniac, for reasons I find difficult to accept, chose to pack the opening hours with oodles of exposition, delivered as ambient dialogue while you are restricted to a very slow walking pace.

TL;DR summary

The exposition-heavy opening, slow skill unlocks, and co-op unfriendly story-telling methods and unusual humour make Fuse difficult to love. You have to wait a few hours for things to really get good, and the true joy is in high-level Echelon mode play – and not everybody has the time or the inclination for that.

Price told me this wears off fairly quickly, but I can see why Fuse has generated so many negative initial reactions – it just doesn’t start well. It’s slow; you don’t even get the cool weapons for a while; playing it alone is less than ideal; and the characters’ appeal is buried behind their gentle subversion of tropes, which is the sort of thing you either get or you don’t. Add to all that a pretty slow skill unlock and you have which, in its opening few hours, fails to distinguish itself from any number of – yes – generic third-person squad shooters.

The end of a console cycle is, historically, a bad time to launch a new IP, and I think Fuse is suffering for that. I honestly think there’s a pretty great co-op shooter buried in there for fans of horde-mode style experiences, with lots of scope for creative builds and strategies, and the potential for triumph against very high odds with an experienced crew onboard. It’s a pity so many of us won’t let it see the light of day.

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