Fuse feels like a B-side. A prog-rock B-side, to be specific: stodgy, overblown and wrapped up in its own delusions of grandeur. It’s far from the confident and characterful multiformat debut Insomniac promised in its reveal trailer for Overstrike, the game’s original name, prior to a dumbfounding art overhaul that stripped it of much of its personality.
At least the studio’s flair for creative death-dealing remains. A cooperative squad-based shooter, Fuse revolves around its mercenaries’ stolen hardware: four experimental weapons powered by the titular substance. There’s the Warp Rifle, which fires antimatter rounds that, in high enough concentrations, result in your enemies being swallowed up in a wormhole. The Shattergun also has an cumulative effect, eventually encasing enemies in sharp crystals which can be shattered for a kill. The Arcshot, meanwhile, is the requisite sniper option, firing bolts that you detonate with a button press. The best of the lot is the Magshield, which generates an energy field capable of catching enemies’ bullets and then flinging them back at their source.
There are secondary functions too, providing a core setup that genuinely encourages team play. A typical encounter might see the sniper in your team form up behind the shield, while another drops a healing beacon and the fourth cloaks themselves before taking out enemies in close-quarters combat – a simple one button system that threads a variety of attacks together as you move from one opponent to the next.
Kills earn XP that can be spent on weapon upgrades and other perks, and you’ll get higher amounts for setting up combinations. The Warp Rifle, for instance, allows you to ‘paint’ enemies with Fuse and trigger a chain of singularities through groups of enemies. It’s possible to achieve combo and environmental kills faintly reminiscent of Bulletstorm – with names like ‘Impale’, ‘Shatterburst’ and ‘Warpflash’ – by taking advantage of exploding barrels or crossing your streams, as it were.
But while this arsenal certainly lives up to Insomniac’s usual high standards conceptually, its execution falls flat. The idea of painting enemies with black holes or firing back their own bullets sounds impactful, but in practice Fuse’s weapons feel underpowered – an issue exacerbated by bullet-sponge enemies that, even at the lowest level, can take two or three headshots to down with anything other than sniper-class weapons. Later you’ll take on Leadfoot mechs and the Whistler attack ships, initially in boss encounters but later with dispiriting regularity, taking minutes to destroy each time and sometimes sporting recharging shields. The climatic battle provides an excellent argument for the abolition of boss fights altogether, and will hopefully serve as a useful reference for future generations of developers determined not to sap the last remnants of players’ goodwill.
The spiralling increase in enemy numbers and health points is clearly an attempt to further enforce the need to cooperate, but it’s a surprisingly blunt solution from a studio known for its lighter touch. Combine the seemingly endless waves of aggressors with the game’s sprawling levels – the ten-hour campaign is split over just six chapters, a bizarre design decision given its focus on multiplayer – and the nifty central gameplay mechanic is quickly stretched too thin, making the game feel like a slog. It’s not helped by the sluggish movement of every character, male or female, nor the fact that you’ll spend the majority of your time in generic, indistinguishable, gun-metal grey corridors, despite the new engine’s capability to render some fetching outdoor scenes.
The campaign is predictable and unremarkable: bested turrets are inevitably turned against the next conveniently timed wave of enemies, some genuinely enjoyable voice acting is scuppered by a leaden script, and doors won’t open until every last foe has fallen.
It’s not just a shooter: the rhythm of play is broken up by stealth, climbing and light puzzling elements. Stealth works surprisingly well given the bombast of the firefights, allowing you to take advantage of cover – and your targets’ inability to hear your clunking boots – to snap necks and slit throats in relative peace. It’s not always an option, as shielded enemies won’t succumb to your sneak attacks, but it does at least allow you to thin the opposition’s numbers.
The scattering of puzzles all require you to negotiate security lasers or shut down automated turrets – usually both – but never throw up much of a challenge. Climbing sections, meanwhile, attempt to ape Uncharted’s moreish clambering, but fail to capture Naughty Dogs’ flowing quality. While these deviations from the staple gunplay aren’t always successful, then, they do at least offer welcome respite from an otherwise excessively dense package.
Gluttons for punishment can take on even more waves of enemies in Echelon, a Horde-style survival mode where experience gained carries over to the main campaign. You can take on either mode solo as well, switching between the four protagonists using a selection menu brought up by holding the Back button. This introduces a slight RTS feel to proceedings as you micro-manage each character’s abilities, but you’ll have to work four times as hard to get through the campaign thanks to predominantly unhelpful buddy AI.
Insomniac CEO Ted Price argues that the game’s aesthetic switch was necessary to better communicate the deadly effects of weaponising its fictional substance, Fuse, but the stylised halfway-house Insomniac settled on fails to communicate any real horror while simultaneously giving the impression of a game that takes itself just a little too seriously. If Fuse had been made by a lesser known studio, it would simply be forgettable, but set against the expectations of a new game from the house of Rachet & Clank and Resistance, it’s a crushing disappointment.
Xbox 360 version tested.