First it was Overstrike, and now it’s Fuse. It seems appropriate that Insomniac’s first game to appear on a non-Sony console has suffered a crisis of identity, but it’s still disappointing to have watched it slough off a visual style that recalled Team Fortress 2 and exchange it for something with less flair. It was necessary, argues Ted Price, as part of a rejig that moved the alien substance Fuse to the centre of the gunplay as well the narrative. Freed of the stylised nature of the previous approach, Fuse is better able to communicate the violent outcomes of its creative weapons.
There’s certainly a sense of impact, since even ordinary pistol and machine gun bullets lodge in enemy jugulars with great crimson spurts. There’s still stylisation here, then, a sort of hyper-real grittiness that stops the violence from becoming genuinely shocking. Still, it’s clear Insomniac has traded the vibrancy and distinct nature of its first pass to ensure its guns feel right.
Those weapons are all-important. Fuse takes a set of four, high-concept firearms and distributes them evenly among its squad. Dalton Brooks can use his to raise a one-way ‘magshield’ to defend against incoming fire while the squad returns its own. Naya Deveraux and Isabelle Sinclair, meanwhile, have guns with powerful area-of-effect effects, drawing enemies into a singularity and crystallising them in place, respectively. Jacob Kimble is the sniper, but the bolts fired from his crossbow can be detonated once they’re embedded in walls, armour or flesh.
The weapons, as well as a host of secondary traits and abilities, make sense in a game designed for co-op. What surprises us, however, is how much we enjoy going alone. There’s a faint realtime strategy feeling to hopping between characters as we assault a snow-covered base in Pakistan, and the ability to change playstyle on a whim helps mitigate the fact that – generic pick-ups aside – each character is limited to their signature weapon. Still, as Fuse’s story of camaraderie and jointly overcoming seemingly impossible odds will no doubt expand upon, cooperation is the heart of Fuse. It’s a fact made abundantly clear by the way one player bleeding out spells a restart for everyone. And by the endless waves of foes.
Never have we attacked a such a well-defended installation, as a private army’s worth of troops and mechs pours out in wave after wave. It feels needlessly attritional until we realise the overwhelming odds are a way of enforcing collaborative play. Deveraux’s vortices pull enemies into groups for Kimble to pick off with his crossbow, while the cover provided by Brook’s magshield lets Sinclair freeze enemies trying to flank us. That’s the plan, anyway, but some scrappy teamwork leads to more than a couple of tries.
Our initial forays in Echelon are even less successful. This is Fuse’s wave-based mode, but Price is keen to stress that unlike Horde, Firefight et al, it’s a mode that attempts to put players on the offensive, with objectives to drag them out of cover. “Wave-based modes have been around for a long time; we’re used to playing defensively, defending a position or just staying alive. What we do is, we want players to work together to go on the attack,” he explains. It’s a mode that certainly punishes a lack of teamwork, but it’s still unmistakably a variant of Horde.
Fuse has big guns and big explosions, but there’s a thought-out logic and interplay between its components. It no longer looks the part, but the spirit of Ratchet & Clank is still alive at Insomniac.