Like many of you, I played through the Fuse demo when it went live a few weeks ago. I was unimpressed with the game as a solo experience, but it grew on me once I played through the available section of the story mode with a co-op partner. Insomniac did themselves a disservice with that demo. Sure, the campaign is fun, but Fuse’s bread is buttered in the superior Echelon mode. This co-op shooter should not to be missed.
The premise is simple: A four person squad of elite soldiers, dubbed Overstrike 9, embarks on a less-than-routine mission when they stumble upon some top secret super weapons cooked up by a clandestine organization. These weapons are enhanced with an alien energy source called, you guessed it, “Fuse.” Another secret organization, we’ll call them “The Bad Guys,” breaks into the facility because they want to get their hands on a sweet “inFused” MacGuffin. The Overstrike 9 team didn’t get these fancy guns for nothing. It’s time to kill some bad guys.
The story, locales, and characters are perfectly serviceable, but there’s not much here you haven’t seen or heard before. I did enjoy the music, as it has this droning sense of purpose and doom at times, offering a nice contrast to the lack of urgency of our heroes. The game looks nice enough, and each character has a little attitude, but Insomniac doesn’t take the necessary time in the campaign to flesh out anyone as more than a wise-cracking hero or a megalomaniacal villain. The overall story feels incomplete -of course, that’s what you do when you’re trying to launch a franchise, but even for an “episode one,” this seems rather truncated. Luckily for Insomniac (and us) the stellar gameplay of Fuse stands on its own.
I began the campaign as Izzy, because I have a thing for intelligent women and encasing my enemies in melanite. My co-op partner took control of Naya, because she likes stealthy cloaking powers and the ability to crush men into a singularity. Fuse offers local co-op via a vertical split screen display. It also supports four player online co-op and combo co-op. Huzzah! The split screen HUD was a little crowded with the fade away ammo and level indicators, but it was manageable.
We played through the first stage, using pedestrian pistols and taking advantage of an intuitive cover system which allowed for vaulting, cornering, sprinting and sliding behind barriers. I should note that all three times we played the first mission we ran into the same camera-breaking bug. I resolved the issue by resetting the checkpoint twice and using the “Leap” feature once. It may be patched out of existence by the time you get your hands on the game. Either way, it was a quick fix and the only real technical issue I had with the title. After the characters got their “What were they working on?” lines out of the way we procured our Fuse weapons. That’s when the game took off.
The ensuing firefights were fierce and brutal. Melee takedowns, whether initiated stealthily or in the heat of battle, were violent and satisfying. Enemy soldiers sniped, flanked, and used grenades to great effect. There were a variety of baddies, from standard grunts, to jetpacking shotgunners, to fully armored soldiers operating artillery-wielding mech-like suits. Relying on standard firearms was a death sentence. That’s where the Fuse-powered Xenotech weapons steal the show.
All four characters have their own unique Fuse weapons and abilities. Dalton has an enemy squishing Magshield. Jacob wields a scoped Arcshot for sniping. Naya carries a Warp Rifle which can implode enemies. Izzy is armed with a Shattergun which can grotesquely freeze soldiers in place. Each character will earn an incredibly useful secondary ability early in the game. These little extras, like a stand alone shield, cloaking, and an AoE health beacon, make the more furious firefights (and all of the Echelon maps) possible.
The most important thing to realize is that nearly all the special weapons and abilities are based on cooperative play. Dalton’s Magshield provides mobile cover for teammates. Naya can infiltrate enemy lines using her cloaking abilities, allowing her to not only flank fire positions, but to tag crowds with her Warp Rifle before sucking her foes into oblivion. Jacob can lay traps with his Arcshot and do massive damage to armored targets. Izzy’s enemy stopping Shattergun is great for crowd control. When we used our abilities together, like warping away enemies who had already been frozen with a Shattershot, we were rewarded with XP bonuses. More XP netted us more skills which allowed us to kill more bad guys with greater ease. And isn’t that what it’s really all about?
Fuse supplied us with two AI partners since we didn’t have a full roster of living, breathing, players. The AI ranges from impressively badass to shockingly inept. Once we had leveled up our AI characters appropriately (they gain XP as well, but at a slower rate than player controlled characters) they would use their special abilities, call out targets, and most importantly, revive fallen players. Our AI-controlled Dalton would occasionally drop a Magshield in an insaniating (it’s like infuriating, but it slowly drives you insane) location. Luckily, savvy players can take over for friendly AI using the Leap feature.
The Leap feature allows players to take control of any AI controlled character on the fly, so long as they aren’t incapacitated. If you don’t like the job AI Jacob is doing as a sniper you can do it yourself. Simply hold the back button and tap a face button and you’re Jacob. Is AI Izzy not dropping enough med beacons? Time to Leap. Did a Leadfoot just get airdropped from a helicopter? It’s time to Leap to Naya for a stealthy approach.
Of course, this is all moot if you’re rolling with a four player squad. But now you’re probably wondering what’s going to happen to the three other characters you’re not using when your co-op session is over. When you go back to your game, is your level 20 Dalton going to be surrounded by level one losers? What happens if you join a game and somebody else has already claimed Dalton? Are you going to roll a level one Jacob in Echelon? No, you’re not. Don’t stress. Insomniac has got you covered. Your own roster of characters will level up along with your character, once again, at a slower rate.
For example, after I finished my first playthrough I had a level 27 Izzy, whereas my other three characters were hovering around level 20. I had barely used Naya, Dalton, or Jacob. I think the system works very well, and it encourages you to play as all four characters if you want to keep them equitable in abilities. I did not, so I had some catching up to do. I enjoyed playing as all four characters, but I definitely have my favorites (and not so favorites).
Once I was done with the campaign (which took me about 10 unhurried hours) I thought I was done with Fuse. I was wrong. I had dismissed Echelon as another wave-based survival mode, and while that’s exactly what it is, it’s great. The tight gameplay and Fuse weapons really come into their own in these 12 round battles across six different maps. The waves of varying enemies are incredibly challenging. You’ll want four human players with fully upgraded Fuse powers to really stand a chance. Your team will keep all XP and credits whether or not you complete the map, so don’t worry if you get dusted in round six.
Players will be rewarded with XP and credits, and unlike the campaign mode, credits are NOT shared. These credits are used to unlock and upgrade team perks as well as new character and weapons skins. This adds a little healthy competition to the mix. When you take down a tough foe or meet an objective within a set time limit greedy bastards will break from cover and try to snag the giant bags of money falling from the sky, only to be cut down by enemy fire. Now you have to heal the SOB, because you need him for the next round. And by “him” I mean “me.” Communication and playing with sharing friends is important. Don’t be like me.
As much as I enjoyed Fuse, I have a few small complaints. Character skill trees are far too similar. Each Overstrike 9 member gets 15 skills, but other than a few individualized bumps in stats for their specific weapons, most skills are exactly the same, either increasing health or damage. The standard guns are pretty lame. I only used them when I had totally run out of ammo for my Fuse weapon. Other than these two little things, it’s a very solid title.
Fuse is a great cooperative shooter. A few shortcomings keep if from being something special, but it's very nice addition to Insomniac's stellar stable of titles. It might be lacking for solo players, but co-op duos will have a lot of fun here. If you're part of a four man co-op team you need to pick this up.
For more information about the co-op features be sure to check out our Fuse Co-Op FAQ.
A copy of the Xbox 360 version of Fuse was provided for review by the publisher.