Fuse screenshot. (Insomniac Games / May 29, 2013)
Ever since it initially announced this project called "Overstrike" a couple of years ago, Insomniac Games has had my attention with its first multi-console (PlayStation 3 AND Xbox 360) with the newly named "Fuse." And last March, I could see the appeal of it, combining wicked weapons together to create a firework-like display of creative violence. That's really when the game is at its best, when you see the ingenuity of Ted Price and his team at work. Now you can see for yourself with the finished product, though there are a few dull edges that you'll have to get past.
In "Fuse," you portray one of four mercenaries called upon to stop a madman from using alien technology to his advantage, which has been rummaging around the Earth for some time. How do you do this? By fighting fire with fire, actually, as each soldier carries a gun that uses "Fuse"-like capabilities to great effect. Our personal favorite is Naya's gun, which can generate black holes that, in turn, create chain reaction supernovas. Dalton, the leader of the group, comes in a close second with the ability to generate a Magna shield, which in turn can shoot bullets back at enemies.
The team effect is what works best in "Fuse's" favor, as each member brings something different. Not only do their weapons make a difference, but the individuals can also use special abilities, like cloaking and building a shield transmitter to regain lost energy. But the goal is to work together, or you'll soon find three soldiers on their knees, seeking a revival. And when only one is left standing to battle the odds, that's not always easy to handle.
I say this because I ran into it A LOT over the course of the single-player campaign. That's because a) the AI is a bit unbalanced, with folks either moving about rapidly or needing to be healed themselves and b) enemies are so dead-on in finishing you off that you barely have time to save someone else's skin when you're maintaining your own. (And that's not even including the armored guys.) You can toggle between players, but that requires taking a break from the action (hard to do when you're under fire), and then warping into someone who could be in even more peril. The AI behavior isn't completely ludicrous, but you can just tell that the game wasn't built for grinding on your own, like Insomniac's previous "Resistance" trilogy.
Where "Fuse" fares best is in its co-op wares. Up to four people can join in as each individual soldier and do some MAJOR damage. Seriously, when you combine all the "Fuse" effects in each weapon together, it's something of pure genius, as you build up a high score and watch enemies evaporate in a number of ways, from melting away into hot butter to creating a chain reaction of planet-like explosions. It's really something to experience -- and probably what Insomniac had in mind all along when it started the project.
In addition to the seven hour-ish single player story mode (which is acceptable, though Insomniac told better stories through "Ratchet and Clank"), you can move on to Echelon Mode, where you face waves of enemies either on your own, or together as a group. Obviously, group is better, though you need to make sure you're on the same page and prepared for a challenge. Otherwise, you won't be grinding levels much.
"Fuse" does come with skill trees, where you can increase players' capabilities; but really, it's all about having the right team in place. That's how you know you're going to have a good time. And Insomniac did a solid job in creating the co-op experience, as players can jump in and out at any time, like an arcade game, without interrupting what's happening. I just wish the invite system was a little smoother -- but at least what's here is somewhat functional.
Insomniac has created more polished efforts than "Fuse" in the past, but this game has its merits in the presentation department. The weapon effects are quite cool; the bloodshed flows with ease; and some of the level structure is well-built. However, the animations can be jerky, there are a few bugs, and you can't skip the cut scenes, even if you've played through the game before. The audio is okay, filled with a few zingers in the dialogue, but again, Insomniac has done better. At least some of the sound effects are good, like the black hole explosions. (Others, like the misplaced sirens, need to go.)
So, with its first dual console release, Insomniac Games hasn't exactly gone gangbusters. However, it's a start that could lead to bigger and better things. "Fuse" has its problems in terms of storytelling and making the single player experience fathomable -- especially with three idiots in your employ -- but the co-op comes together nicely, and the gameplay generates enough gun-toting excitement to get you through a few well-invested hours of play. It's worth a few nights' rental, at the very least.
Also ... why didn't it keep the name "Overstrike"? I always thought it a better fit.
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