“In terms of tone Fuse takes the dry humour and lethal teamwork of Mission Impossible and combines that with the near-future setting and experimental weapons of District 9. But Fuse takes place in a uniquely Insomniac universe.”
Insomniac CEO and Founder Ted Price is careful to enunciate those last nine words. As well he might be, few developers have endured the catty probing Insomniac has ever since it performed a dramatic U-turn, ditching Overstrike in favour of Fuse. Price is quick to wave away concerns the game has since joined the homogenised military-shooter club, and half an hour with the game is enough to suggest there’s plenty of quintessential Insomniac in here.
The game pays homage to the Ratchet & Clank developer’s delightful back-catalogue through its madcap arsenal of weapons, for one. During my playthrough I took the reigns of Dalton, Fuse’s riff on the archetypal tank character. Dalton enjoys a mag shield shotgun-thing, which cuts a sweet divide between its offensive and defensive capabilities. At range it’s useful for sneezing out large walls of cover. Effective, though hardly Insomniac grade-excellence. In CQB situations, however, the passive mag shield transforms into a nightmare shotgun capable of obliterating seven or eight enemies with one squeeze. It’s no disco ball, but it’s a damn sight more interesting than most weapons found in shooters of the last few years.
For our campaign demo we’re plonked down in a rocky-mountain province of India. A brief bout of stealthy mêlée gives way to all-out action, with enemies stationed high and low making the plentiful waist-high cover a vital battlefield commodity. The headshot rules in Fuse, with body-shots chipping away only meager amounts of health from the bars that float above enemy heads. XP announcements festoon the screen as you set about playing duck-hunt with the enemies and there’s a veritable arcadey feel about everything from the word go. The demo concerns itself mostly with action, but there’s a little hacking, some non-puzzling puzzle-platformer sections and a few of the more cinematic moments you’d expect from a shooter vying for attention alongside Call of Duty and its ilk.
Shooting has this wonderful and thunderous clout to it. It’s not quite Batman’s fists channeled into machine-gun form but it’s meaty enough that when an enemy explodes into a storm of offal and claret you feel directly responsible. The four lead characters are each blessed with their own unique weapons – one has an explosive crossbow that wouldn’t feel out-of-place alongside Bulletstorm’s wonderful entourage of murder-devices, another a warp gun that spits out warp holes to good effect. There’s no skimping on the shooter mainstays, mind. Everything from pistols to shotguns, rocket launchers, snipers, flamethrowers and rifles make an appearance, but it’s the unique weapons that you’ll favour and that best foster the spirit of an Insomniac game.
It’s a co-op game at heart, although Price is keen to stress Fuse has been designed to accommodate any number of players (up to four) without those playing alone or in pairs being punished for a lack of friends. “We’ve designed the game from the ground up as a four-player co-operative game but we never force teamwork down anyone’s throat,” he notes. “We simply encourage teamwork by rewarding players when they work together to take out enemies. Specifically we give players XP bonuses when you’re working together.”
The campaign demo is solid if never quite face-meltingly astonishing. The more promising mode is the co-op, Echelon mode, chiefly because it requires the blood, sweat and tears of four people and there’s something brilliant about that type of comradeship. This is Fuse’s take on the voguish co-op horde mode every other game is launching with at the moment. Insomniac have dubbed theirs a copetitive mode (“Competition. Cooperation. Copetitive”) and it bears shades of Mass Effect 3’s excellent co-op multiplayer.
You’re tasked with surviving twelve rounds of increasingly difficult combat scenarios with objectives thrown in at random. These range from VIP missions to boss fights and defence objectives. It plays much as you’d expect, but it’s gruelling and through that particularly rewarding.
The enemies here offer no quarter. Price warned that Insomniac had tuned the co-op pretty tough and he wasn’t uttering a word of a lie. Soldiers are ruthlessly efficient and just as accurate. They boast armour and are able to dish out grappling moves that leave you button-bashing as your character crawls about awaiting the magical chest-thump of revitalisation. This is admittedly a step too far in the wrong direction and there are whispers among the PR chaps that Insomniac are considering removing the enemy’s ability to down you in a single move. They’d do well to.
The competitive element comes from the bounty of cash (coins, bags and bars), which are left strewn around the battlefield. Squabbling over these is a natural part of the game, with more rapacious players able to advance further up the upgrade ladder, but you can also spend funds on team perks and upgrades for the whole team.
The synergy between the characters is most keenly felt with other people playing beside you, and the inherent brutality of the Echelon mode offers a desperate sense of struggle amplified when played with buddies. There’s been an unfortunate trend of games ditching local co-op this generation in favour of improved online multiplayer support. Fortunately, Insomniac’s latest shooter provides support for both, but it’s the potential for couch-co-op capers that mark Fuse out as one to watch.