I distinctly remember Ted Price lauding the single-player campaign in Fuse. He said Insomniac’s new third-person, four-player co-op title is plenty of fun to play solo, primarily due to top-notch ally AI, a decent story and plenty of environmental diversity. As it turns out, I believe he was partly correct. The game can be fun to play alone but above all else, it really is designed to be played with friends. This would be okay if the multiplayer was spectacular but unfortunately, even the co-op gameplay seems to be only slightly better. The result is a relatively quality game without much ‘oomph’ behind it.
Price wasn’t exaggerating when he referred to the imaginative, highly creative atmosphere. The changing environments is a highlight, as one minute you’re in this intimidating, futuristic industrial setting and the next, you’re riding a gondola as it winds its way through hills and forests. The only downside is that despite the variety, too many of the areas seem a tad bland. They just don’t pop off the screen, you know? On the flip side, Insomniac did a good job designing levels that work well with the cover-and-shoot gameplay mechanic. The character modeling is good but not great, but the special effects are awfully special, especially in regards to the heavier-hitting weapons that often steal the limelight.
The game’s audio can be classified right alongside the character models and indeed, the entire game— good but not great. There’s a pretty kick-ass soundtrack that really increases the adrenaline flow and overall attitude of the presentation. That score could even be more insistent than it is, though. The voices are well-performed and like the visual effects, the sound effects can be excellent. Your speakers will appreciate the depth and clarity of each intense blast and crash, and you will appreciate what it adds to the overarching experience. Technically, the graphics and sound make for a solid, occasionally impressive, presentation.
Four mercenaries band together to take down a serious threat. If this sounds a little clichéd and stereotypical, you’re not far off. While Insomniac definitely infuses Fuse with the team’s patented humor and flair, the generic nature of the story and pacing tends to dominate. The narrative is predictable and uninteresting and I wish more would’ve been done with each character. As each member of the team is quite distinctive, I would’ve expected more in-depth looks at their respective pasts. But hey, that’s not what you do in Hollywood-type action blockbusters.
The majority of your time is spent taking cover and shooting plenty of bad guys. You will have the option to flank your enemies from time to time, and the control is undoubtedly precise and reliable. These days, the third-person shooter setup is a tried-and-true mechanic (as opposed to a few generations ago, when it was still clunky and frustrating). The camera isn’t perfect but it usually adapts quickly to any given situation, and you’ll never feel as if the control hinders your progress. If you die, you died ‘cuz you messed up, which is the way all games should be. Just don’t expect to move too quickly when out in the open.
As I said, the game just feels too generic and cookie-cutter, although Insomniac desperately tries to avoid that trap by doing what they do. And what do they do? They give you the awesomest weapons you could possibly imagine, genuinely comical humor and a second-to-none atmosphere. In truth – and I don’t want this to be ignored – this game does boast Insomnaic’s aforementioned calling cards. It all just feels somewhat underwhelming due to the inherent generic nature of the production. It’s almost like watching a really talented filmmaker trying to implement higher-quality elements into a brainless action flick.
You notice the effort but in the end, you’re still stuck with that generic core. Still, I have to say that the character-specific skills can be really cool. For instance, Izzy can fire these odd black pellets that encapsulate an enemy in a crystal prison; after which, another member of the team can easily destroy that prison and the foe within. Jacob’s Crossbow is fun to use, Naya’s weapon somehow creates these mini black holes, which can even be chained between enemies. Dalton has a large shield that can actually catch bullets and grenades, accumulate the damage they would’ve done to him, and throw it back at the enemy!
See? Massive coolness. Each character has other unique skills as well, and it’s the combination of these abilities that makes Fuse so appealing. Naya can go invisible (my personal favorite), and Izzy can toss out a med beacon that heals or even revives fallen teammates. The AI does work quite well in most occasions, as an ally will revive you when you die. However, the AI disappoints in terms of offense, as they often appear to have trouble taking down enemies, and they make some really bizarre combo choices. Price said they didn’t want your allies to kill all foes for you, but I expected them to kill more than that.
I think the biggest problem this game faces is the following: Even if this was perfectly executed and perfectly presented, it would still feel lacking due to the sorta ho-hum nature of the gameplay and story structure. And as for a lone gamer enjoying this game entirely, that really isn’t true. While it’s definitely true that one can complete the campaign and remain entertained, it isn’t true that a solo player can experience all that Fuse has to offer. Echelon has you taking on wave after wave of enemies and unless you’ve got some seriously leveled-up buddies, you're toast. Progressing in Echelon is fun with friends, though, provided they're willing.
And that’s the ongoing theme of the game— fun with friends. It is. It just isn’t amazingly fun and it isn’t unbelievably well produced. There are a few minor miscues here and there (which aren’t common to Insomniac productions, I must say) and the campaign has plenty of missed opportunities. I honestly believe that if the team wasn’t quite so obsessed with creating a multiplayer-oriented title, they would’ve fleshed out other aspects of the adventure. Then it would’ve felt very much like an Insomniac game. This feels like someone gave Insomniac a formula with the corresponding warning not to shatter the mold.
So, the team stuck to that mold while still trying to make the game stand out. They didn’t exactly fail, as one can easily see the Insomniac influence. But overall, Fuse just feels a little…tired. The weapons are fantastically inventive and great to use, the story does have its moments, the control is rock solid and playing with friends is indeed quite entertaining. But it’s difficult to recommend unless you’ve got some guaranteed playmates. There just isn’t enough top-quality goodness here to warrant a $60 purchase because really, one feels as if the developers were restricted. In short, they were too in love with the multiplayer idea.
The Good: Some great visual and sound effects. Diverse environments. Responsive, reliable control. Playing with friends can be great fun. Some good humor and flashes of Insomniac style. Awesome weapons.
The Bad: A few drab, uninteresting locales. Not enough done with the story and characters. AI doesn’t do much in battle. Campaign just isn’t involving enough.
The Ugly: "This instead of Resistance 4? ...no."
5/28/2013 Ben Dutka