A few years ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a game marathon charity called “Piece of Heart”, where two teams, one in the US and the other right here in Brisbane, raced to see who could complete all of the Ratchet and Clank games the quickest. Sadly, my brain checked out at about hour 40 and I passed out, putting us behind for an eventual loss. But I enjoyed every second of the experience - Insomniac’s ability to infuse (sorry) personality, humour and imagination into every moment of play made the whole event a pleasure to be involved with.
So you can imagine my immense disappointment when I had finished my first hour with Fuse, Insomniac’s first attempt at the over-the-shoulder-guns-blazing genre that seems to be the rage at the present moment. Things seem moderately promising at first, after a reasonably flashy set of menus, promises of drop-in co-op play and an initial selection of funky weapons that are powered by “Fuse”, a form of fusion energy. Each gun handles and fires differently, allowing for potential hybrid abilities with your partners, extra points and upgrades.
To the games’ credit, these weapons are very inventive in their use, especially as they are upgraded and used together. My favourite is the magshield, which creates a bullet soaking forcefield as its primary use, but when close to an enemy allows a shotgun style force shot that can take out a cluster of enemies. It can even create a portable shield that can protect your flanks while you move forward with the handheld field, your team firing through it. There’s also a railgun style sniper rifle, and a shotgun that enables the owner to stealth up for some close quarters action.
But all of this is for naught if you don’t have 3 like minded friends to fight alongside you. Fuse makes things clear from the very beginning that this game is designed to be played with others. Playing by yourself means teaming up with some of the most useless AI compatriots of recent times. I cannot stress this enough. I’ve had firefights when one of my team doesn’t even fire a single shot. Others where they run straight into barrages of enemy fire, or completely ignore me after I’m a bloody mess on the floor, crying out for a medic. It probably wouldn’t matter as much if the enemies weren’t so numerous, so stupid, or so goddamn accurate.
Forget personality, imagination and character - every single soldier in Fuse looks identical, yells out the same standard taunts and commands, and soaks up an insane amount of ammo. I’m talking a good 5 or 6 good shots to the head, 8 to the chest. If you’re any good with the sniper rifle you can lower these requirements a little, but moving through the motions is an absolute slog. Once you’ve cleared an area, another boatload of nameless zealots roam in, for no particular reason other than you have guns and they just got reloaded.
Every battle in Fuse seems to exist to make you tired and disoriented, like a masochistic serial killer forcing you to knit a scarf while bolted to a chair in the dark. There’s always some massive robot to wear down, three helicopters to plow away at, enemies running at you from every direction with some new cheap trick to knock you down, stun or trap. You’ll get shot and killed so many times it eventually won’t even matter anymore, even after you grind enough XP to get this skill or that skill. You’re still always at a significant disadvantage against increasing armour thickness and superhuman stormtroopers.
But what shocks me is just how generic the entire sequence of events is. You’ll spend most of your time shooting at the same things in slightly different areas, when occasionally two of the weapons will work together to provide a Bulletstorm style kill bonus. Boss fights, a notorious trope-hate of mine that peaked in mediocrity during Deus Ex: Human Revolution, feature like clockwork in Fuse, culminating in the end with easily the closest thing a shooter could get to MMORPG grind. I didn’t finish it. I felt like my time was worth more to me than cheap shots and chipping away at layer after arbitrary layer of armour.
I just couldn’t see any of Insomniac in this title, at all. It could have been made by any old developer with a competent ability to design what is arguably the most average shooter of the past few years. You won’t care about the characters or their motivations, because there aren’t any. You won’t care about where you’re fighting, who’s fighting you or where you are doing it either. What’s here is nothing but guns, fireworks and chaos; a place you and your friends can indiscriminately kill floods of enemies without needing to think about it.
Fuse is what happens when someone had a great idea that got greenlighted in a meeting 4 years ago, before executives and VPs stripped it down during development until there was nothing left but a shell. It’s what happens when a developer, full of creativity, showmanship and excitement, feels like they need to play it safe because humour and wit aren’t apparently marketable properties in an industry that no longer feels comfortable taking risks. What a colossal disappointment to a game I had personally wanted more than anything to succeed.