Insomniac Games has a history of creating some wonderful games and franchises, including Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank. However, with its work on Resistance and now especially Fuse, I can’t help but wonder if the developer trying too hard to appeal to mainstream audiences, and in the process losing sight of what made its earlier games special. When Fuse was first unveiled, it was known as Overstrike and gave us a glimpse of an interesting cooperative third-person action game. Sadly, the final product is mostly uninspired, from its aesthetic redesign and game mechanics to the story and writing.
Fuse follows Overstrike, a team of four special agents from different ethnicities and an equal number of men and women, who come across an alien substance called fuse and unique guns that use it. Together they must stop an evil man who wants to use fuse in weapons of mass destruction. Sure there are a number of subplots and details, but none of it matters or is conveyed in a way to makes players care. The first level of the game feels more like one you’d find a quarter the way in since it throws you right into the middle of the action. Throughout the entire game, there’s little to no explanation and any exposition is done quickly with so much nonsense jargon that most players will be lost or confused about what exactly is going on with the plot. In-game dialogue is downright awful with generic lines borrowed from other works and groan-inducing attempts at humor. For example, it’s revealed early on that the leader of Overstrike, Dalton Brooks, is afraid of cats. His fellow members proceed to make dumb cat quips which become the equivalent to those Skyrim “arrow to the knee” jokes. With poor writing and storytelling comes a severe lack of characterization or empathy for any of Fuse’s cast. In fact, I sat emotionless while watching one of the Overstrike members hold someone he used to love while she was dying.
By no means is Fuse an ugly game, however its visuals and art design are nothing special. Environments are filled with various flora or architecture, yet at times I spotted the seams keeping the illusion together. During an early level taking place in a jungle forest setting, I tilted my camera upward to find that any of the grass, flowers, and shrubs was merely standing, 2D images that looked like paper flowing in the wind from that angle. Insomniac tried to provide variety by having the Overstrike team traverse the globe to locations with different environments and weather. I found the shift in scenery well-needed in Fuse, but it boiled down to typical archetypes such as a “jungle” level and a “snow mountain” level. After Uncharted 2 brought me to similar locales, Fuse’s international trip ends up feeling very much “been there, done that.”
Speaking of Uncharted, that’s a particular series Fuse appears to imitate in its gameplay, only with lackluster results. You will find yourself climbing and platforming, though unlike Uncharted, it’s almost mindless and doesn’t evoke any sense of thrill. The rest of the game comprises of shooting your way from point A to point B featuring the most redundant level and enemy design I can recall in recent memory. A lot of levels take place in building with the area your character traverses littered with places to take cover. In your arsenal are melee attacks and animated takedowns, which are risky and only practical during the occasional stealth opportunity. Therefore, be prepared for monotonous popping up and down from cover to pop shots at the generic enemies. Boss battles are equally forgettable for the same reason: redundancy. You earn experience from kills, completing objectives, firing support and more that levels up the one of four Overstrike agents you’re playing as. Each character then receives points to unlock buffs in his or her unique skill tree that definitely helps you in combat, though unremarkable at the same time. In addition, there are piles of gold you collect called Fuse Credits that are added to a collective total to be used for buying team perks. What’s the most irritating about that system is the unbelievably high cost of any of them. Half way through the game, my team could only afford a single team perk.
Fuse’s enemy AI is so dumbfounded that fighting enemies frequently felt like a shooting gallery. A good chunk of the time, enemies will stand around while occasionally taking cover or will run straight into your targeting reticule. The main challenge I found in combat was simply the sheer number of enemies. Ally AI is not much better and the fact that they are stupid, if not more stupid than the enemies, makes the game all the more frustrating. Co-op is key to surviving in Fuse since all it takes is one member of the Overstrike team to die to trigger a game over. When you’re regenerating health is depleted, your character is down but alive for a little longer with the ability to crawl. To get back up, an ally has to come to your side and heal you. If you aren’t able to take on Fuse with human players, the other members of the Overstrike team are controlled by horrendous AI. During combat, they will stand around while not shooting (often far away from the action), poorly prioritize who should be healed first, or simply have awful pathfinding that you’ll bleed out and die before they can come to your aid. I absolutely cannot imagine the hair-pulling frustration one would experience if he or she played Fuse alone. Running through the game with one other human player and two AI allies already became a chore for me.
That being said, if you manage to wrangle up three other friends, four-player co-op in Fuse is genuinely somewhat fun, both in the campaign and enemy wave modes. There’s a real chance to demonstrate great teamwork as you bark commands and strategies to each other. Anytime during the game, you can switch to any other Overstrike member, allowing easy access to experience the different fuse guns and special abilities. Finding network games online was a breeze as well. One of the few other positive aspects of the combat comes from the fuse-powered weapons that the Overstrike members have, with each character wielding a different one with its own abilities. They are by far the best part of the gameplay, reminding me of some of the alien weaponry in the film District 9.
Fuse also seldom stutters and runs fairly smoothly, even in splitscreen. Nonetheless, I encountered several glitches from my camera being stuck too low to random noises getting stuck on loop. The most headache inducing glitch was when the heartbeat sound that occurs when your health is low kept going endlessly during a fourth of the game, even when my friend and I died and reloaded to the last checkpoint. This telltale heart experience was made worse when the sound of a robot crashing started looping, to which my friend said, “I cannot play this if that second sound keeps going.” Fortunately for the both of us, it stopped soon, leaving the heartbeat to continue inducing stress upon us. Clearly, not enough polish went into Fuse and it certainly shows.
-The Final Word-
Fuse is an exercise in mediocrity, pure and simple.