There is a strange mix of cowardice and arrogance within the DNA of Insomniac’s first multiplatform title. As a third-person cover shooter it is solid, but nearly everything beyond the competent shooting mechanics are largely uninspired or lazy, yet seems to presume that you will be happy to tolerate it.
Originally announced as Overstrike, the colourful and cartoony styling of its first announcement was overhauled into what is now Fuse, a much grittier looking aesthetic and experience, and while it would be easy to say that something seems to have been lost in the changes, it is important to consider Fuse on its own terms. Unfortunately however there is not all that much to get excited about when you do consider Fuse in of itself.
There could have been a story, and with the emphasis on 4 player co-op, there could have been much to make of the team dynamic, but alas it seems to have gone missing. In what is essentially a tale of find a thing, kill a bad guy, you get no real human drama or tension, no interesting twists, nothing which surprises in any way. There is banter within the team, but it’s mediocre at best, and nothing in the script ever seems to rise above what anyone reading this could likely come up with, whilst the ending is, quite frankly, appalling; offering no satisfaction whatsoever, only anger at the nerve Insomniac has to presume that the game’s snooze of a story is worthy of a sequel.
What’s also interesting to note with the narrative is how many of the clichés and tired tropes which you find could have been potentially circumvented if it had some sort of brio, or some over the top flair, but it all feels so reserved and constrained, and too afraid to be daring or subvert your expectations, almost as if it had been focus tested to the point of oblivion, leaving a dull grey where there ought to have been a rainbow. At the very least you do visit some nice looking locales, so even while not much is going on from a narrative standpoint, you do have something nice to look at from time to time.
Thankfully the basic mechanics which underpin Fuse are for the most part actually quite good. The movement is smooth, and the animations, especially those for the stealth and melee takedowns, are very well done. Each character has his or her own unique weapon, and the ability to rack up experience points from the various types of kills you can perform can be very satisfying, doubly so when you are combining your attacks with those of your teammates to kill multiple enemies at once. You also have access to skills which unlock as you level, adding buffs and increases to damage, grenade capacity etc. It all works well together and there is an addictive quality to the design, making the desire to level up a strong motivation for continued play. But be sure to try and play with others if you can, as the AI is often problematic. It does a good job for the most part in reviving you, just do not expect it to kill many enemies or use any kind of tactics, and be sure to have a lot of patience during boss battles if you play solo, as they will often make these encounters needlessly frustrating.
Fuse also has a credit system, a type of currency called ‘Fuse Credits’ you pick up which are used for buying team perks such as experience or health boosts, as well as character and weapon skins, although these are only useable in the game’s Echelon mode until you completed the campaign. It could have been a potentially cool idea, but the costs for things and the rate at which you gain credits, leeches much of the appeal. In my first play through I managed to gain around 60,000 credits, enough to upgrade just one of the 16 available team perks to its maximum level, but that’s it. Character skins are 20,000 each and they are character specific, meaning you need around 80,000 to unlock one skin for the entire team. It’s just too much time needed for too little gain, as if the game expects you to play it over and over, but the motivation for doing so just is not there unless you have friends who actively want to play with you, which is somewhat unlikely given how rote Fuse often is.
The Echelon mode is another example of this in that it is a very obvious choice in terms of alternative game modes and it all feels very standard. Its 6 maps are all pulled from the campaign, and unless you have friends to play with, it becomes an impossible slog to get past the 12 waves as the ally AI is just not good enough and will ultimately undermine your progress. It has some neat ideas, such as creating little mini objectives each wave, such as defending X etc., but it all feels done before, and better.
In the end, Fuse is just not good enough. It is competent, has flashes of something special, but all too often feels like a game made by committee to meet all the genre tropes without actually doing anything with them. It’s akin to another EA published cover shooter, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, in that its gimmicks just do not do enough to suppress the cloying averageness of everything, and only has you entertained by virtue of being able to somewhat replicate what other games have been able to do so much better.