The Resistance Franchise had a Baby with Ratchet & Clank
Fuse is one of those games that you can’t really wrangle into any particular category. It would be easy to use generic labels like co-operative and third person to describe Insomniac’s latest opus, but these are painfully simple descriptors for a fairly complicated title.
In fact, if someone were to hold a gun to my head and force me to explain what Fuse actually is, this is how I would describe it: the Resistance franchise had a baby with Ratchet & Clank.
Then I would escape in the confusion.
If you know anything about Insomniac’s back catalog, the synapses in your brain are probably already starting to fire. Resistance and Ratchet & Clank are Insomniac’s biggest franchises and Fuse draws heavily from each. The machinery that drives the game’s third-person mechanic was refined through their work on Ratchet & Clank. And Resistance obviously served as the inspiration for much of the game play. Even the graphics feel like they threw both franchises into a crock-pot, poured the resulting mixture onto a developer’s keyboard, and pressed the enter key.
The Ratchet & Clank series has always sported a cartoonish veneer, while Resistance is a dramatic, m-for-mature franchise that focuses on realistic gunplay and murderous aliens. Fuse is somewhere in between; it’s serious, but it doesn’t take itself seriously.
But the Insomniac developers aren’t afraid to look outside of their own studio for inspiration either. Elements from titles like Uncharted, Borderlands, Hybrid, and Army of Two have seeped into Fuse’s DNA, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t unique. It is. Also, it’s going to be genuinely hard for people avoid a Gears of War comparison, but I’ll do my best in this article, because Fuse plays by a very different set of rules.
Last week, I got the chance to sit down with the folks from Insomniac Games and experience Fuse for myself. They were nice enough to give me a quick and dirty tour of the game’s mechanics, modes, and even a little background info about development. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting anything fantastic. After all, Fuse has been flying conspicuously under the radar since it was announced, but Insomniac has taken what could have easily been a bog standard shooter and turned it into something interesting.
I hesitate to use an adjective stronger than interesting, though. At its core, Fuse is a co-operative shooter, so its success will require a lot of community interaction. The game is definitely playable as a single-player title, but many of its core elements are tossed aside. Fuse’s success, then, will be based on something other than the game’s quality, and gamer reactions are hard to predict.
The campaign allows four people to play through the storyline simultaneously. Each character comes with a unique set of weaponry and skills. As you polish off the game’s chapters, you’ll earn skill points, which, like most modern shooters, will allow you to customize your character.
As you play through the campaign, the depth of Fuse’s co-op mechanic will start to become clear. The weaponry has been specifically designed to encourage coordinated attacks. So, if you’re the type of player who typically abandons the team and attempts to rack up a collection of solo kills, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
Plus, your team will be less likely to revive you when you inevitably die.
Each character has a unique role to play in combat. Dalton Brooks, for instance, is equipped with a gigantic, fuse-powered shield that allows the team to quickly take shelter in sticky situations, and push forward under heavy fire. Plus, any enemy rounds that are fired at Dalton will be suspended in the energy shield until the player activates an energy burst that sends them back toward the enemy. If you ever saw The Matrix, you already know what I’m talking about.
Jacob Kimble has a crossbow called the Arcshot that has been designed to take out long-range enemies. Kimble might not rack up as many kills, but his sniping is incredibly important, because enemy snipers are common and annoying.
Izzy Sinclair and Naya Deveraux fill the infantry roles. Izzy’s weapon, called the Shattergun, encases victims in terrifying, black crystals and lifts them out of their hiding spots. Obviously this is pretty handy in a cover-based shooter. Plus, if anyone shoots the crystallized enemies, they shatter like that vase my mother still hasn’t forgiven me for. Naya’s weapon, on the other hand, causes a strange singularity to appear. Any enemies that have been targeted don’t typically survive the resulting explosion.
Insomniac has spent a great deal of time tweaking the weaponry so that each item works together. If your team can manage to keep the communication lines open, you should have no problem making quick work of the enemy forces. But, you’ll have to coordinate your attacks and watch your ammo closely.
However, this is what makes Fuse such a risky title. Sure, it’s possible to play it as a single-player game, but you lose the ability to coordinate with your team, which puts a ceiling on strategy. Though, if you’re one of those people who avoid social interaction, Insomniac has you covered with an extremely interesting mechanic.
All four of the characters are featured in the campaign, even when they’re not being controlled by a player. So, Insomniac has implemented a feature called LEAP, which allows you to select another character on the fly. If your situation calls for a sniper, you can simply leap into Jacob’s body. Or, if your character runs out of ammo during a boss fight, there are three other perfectly workable characters to choose from.
Obviously you won’t be able to coordinate attacks, though. So, like I said, the game loses a bit of its draw if you choose to play it alone.
I won’t go into much detail about each character’s back-story, but I will say that the delivery system is unique—at least during a co-op campaign. The villain gains the ability to feed images into each character’s mind, so whoever is experiencing the vision is vulnerable. While the player is experiencing his/her own vision, the others will need to step up and offer a bit of protection.
The campaign is paced a bit like Borderlands, and it definitely has a sense of humor, but where Borderlands was a perpetual motion machine of puns and running gags, Fuse actually has a bit more depth. Like I said, the game definitely doesn’t take itself seriously, but the characters do have some meaningful development.
The controls are extremely easy to pick up, but they’re difficult to master, which, I suppose, is the sign of a good game. Your movements take planning, and the execution can be difficult. Because this is a cover-based shooter, you’ll often find yourself hiding from the enemies, or asking your friends to help out. This doesn’t mean that you’re a sissy (at least not in this case). It just means that you’d like to avoid being killed.
That being said, this game probably isn’t going to appeal to the Call of Duty fan base. The controls can feel wonky on occasion, because they require a fair amount of forethought, and the cover mechanic can be tricky. And if Xbox LIVE has taught me anything, it’s that Call of Duty players aren’t exactly known for their strategic minds.
At the end of the day, Fuse is like a potpourri of time-tested video game elements. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but it gets better as you add more players, and it’s a completely unique co-operative experience. I hesitate to say that the game will change the way developers think about co-op titles—only time can tell that—but it does move the goal posts back, and that’s a very good thing.