By bigsocrates 9 Comments
Fuse is a very late 7th gen 3rd person shooter (May 28 2013) with a reputation for being aggressively bland. This reputation is well earned. How I came to play it in 2022 involves my own neurosis. I bought a copy of the game in 2014 when Microsoft was blowing out Xbox 360 games and I somehow lost it between then and this year, 2022. I discovered this when I was doing a survey of my remaining Xbox 360 physical games to figure out which ones I wanted to beat and which ones I either didn’t care about or had obtained in some other format (like with Far Cry 3, where I got a remastered copy for Xbox One as part of a season pass.) I couldn’t find my copy of Fuse no matter where I looked, and became frustrated to the point where I decided that it was better to spend the $20 to buy a new copy than to continue to fruitlessly search for it or deal with the constant compulsion to try and find it. This worked, and was probably a decent use of $20, but having bought the same version of the game twice I felt compelled to actually play it, rather than just replacing my missing unopened copy with another one. So I put it in my 360, hit the little power button, and…
Fuse isn’t a horrible game. From a design perspective it uses the tried and true Gears of War formula with just enough of a twist to make it feel distinct. From a technical perspective it’s actually a pretty impressive late 360 game. It’s not up there with the spectacular Grand Theft Auto V (how did they accomplish that wizardry?) but it looks good and the frame rate is surprisingly solid considering how much is going on in the game. This is a reasonably polished piece of software.
However that that technical proficiency is in service of a game that is uninspired in almost every respect. Fuse famously started as a goofier and more over the top game called Overstrike before the head honchos at EA ordered Insomniac to make the game more of a brown and grey military shooter, as was the style of the time, or at least had been the style a few years earlier. Insomniac dutifully toned everything down and the resulting game feels profoundly uninspired. The plot is a cliched story of a team of mercenaries who get drawn into a plot by a secret organization that, gasp, wants to destroy the world. There’s a dude who talks to you on the radio and gives you new objectives from time to time while filling in events happening off screen. There’s boring, strained, banter between the team members. One of the team members discovers that her father is involved with the evil organization and processes some daddy issues after he helps you. It’s all done at a reasonably professional level with decent voice acting and no clunky or overly cheese writing, but it comes off as seasoned professionals just putting in the work to get it over with rather than anything with a real creative vision behind it. Of the four main characters only Dalton, the amoral lunkhead, and Naya, the sexy spy girl, are memorable at all. Jacob, the black guy with a crossbow, appears to be the nominal leader of the team but has no personality beyond “intermittently cranky.” Izzy, the medic, seems to have no personality whatsoever.
The gameplay has a little more identity to it, but not in an entirely positive way. Beyond the standard third person cover shooter controls the ‘hook’ of the game is that each character has a special weapon. Dalton has an energy shield that can absorb bullets and return them to sender, as well as being able to detach shields to create cover. Allies can shoot through the shield, allowing them to attack from safety. Naya’s gun ‘paints’ enemies with energy which can build up until it explodes, killing them and setting off chain reactions of any other enemy who has also been painted as in the vicinity of the explosion. She can also cloak, which is required for certain segments where you need to sneak past cameras to disable them and can also be useful for thinning out enemies before starting a fire fight. Izzy’s gun crystalizes enemies, which can then be shattered either by her or another team member, and she can also throw med beacons that revive and/or heal teammates. Jacob has a crossbow that acts like a sniper rifle but can also embed bolts into walls. He can detonate the bolts stuck into walls or baddies in order to harm nearby enemies.
Naya is by far the most fun character to play because her chain reaction are pretty satisfying, as is cloaking up and stealth killing enemies. Jacob’s crossbow feels pretty generic but is probably the most effective weapon in the game, allowing you to kill enemies quickly and making even your missed shots effective. Izzy’s crystalizing gun looks cool but is functionally just a machine gun. Dalton’s shield is basically unusable in single player but seems like it would also be kind of boring in multiplayer because it's so passive and has a short range. Your characters can also carry a standard weapon like an assault rifle or sniper rifle and a sidearm, either a pistol or a submachine gun, so you aren’t totally defenseless when you run out of ammo for your special weapon, which will happen quite a bit because the enemies are all massive bullet sponges.
Fuse was clearly designed to be played in co-op and it shows. It’s not a very hard game in single player but it is exceedingly frustrating. In the second half of the game you will face massive swarms of enemies, all of whom soak up a lot of ammo, which is in limited supply. This will force you to switch characters regularly just to have something to shoot at the baddies, especially because the game fudges the ammo count for the AI controlled companions, so you can drain a character of ammo, switch to someone else, and come back to the first character during the same fight only to find they have miraculously found some extra ammo in one of their pockets somehow. Your characters are also very fragile and will go down but not out all the time. It is a pretty common experience to pop out of cover to aim at a bad guy only to have a sniper shoot you, locking you in a flinch animation, and then another sniper hit you, knocking you down but not out. Fortunately the AI is pretty good about reviving you, so this generally does not force you back to a check point, but you can’t switch characters while you’re down, and it’s not fun to spend 2-3 minutes of a 10 minute firefight crawling around waiting for a revive. AI characters will also go down pretty regularly, and they revive each other (or you can revive them.) It’s a mechanic that seems design to promote co-ordination and make Izzy’s beacon more useful, but it’s extremely annoying.
A lot about the game is irritating. The sheer number of enemies and the amount of damage they soak up can be exhausting. It’s not unmanageable but it makes every firefight in the back half of the game into a test of patience. One fight in the last chapter pits you against two of the game’s 10-foot tall robot suited minibosses and a limitless supply of fodder enemies and I ran out of ammo for all four characters, having to swap between them for the cheap ammo replenishment and getting knocked into down but not out probably 20 times. I never died on that checkpoint but I seriously considered quitting the game because it was just so tedious to slowly chip away at the bad guys. You can do more damage if you flank them but your AI companions neither take advantage of that nor assist you in attempting to do so. At least there’s a cool E-Swat like visual effect of the armor breaking apart and revealing the pilot as you whittle them down. The game also loves nothing more than having enemies grab you or one of your companions and initiate a struggle button mashing QTE, which results in a game over if you fail it and are killed. The most common type of game over is probably one of your companions falling victim to this so you need to make it a priority to free them, but of course you expose yourself to being grabbed by another of those enemies while you try to get to your companion. The most common type of game over I experienced was when all my characters were grabbed by these enemies and I wasn’t able to break free in time to help one of my companions, who will never break free on their own (though other characters will free them.) One type of these enemies are cloaked so by the time you spot them and start shooting it’s often too late to do anything to stop from getting grabbed, since they will happily walk right into a face full of assault rifle bullets just to grab you and start the dumb QTE.
The game also really offers no break from combat. The boss fights change things up a little bit, but they’re all just variations on the core gameplay without anything truly novel. There are cut scenes, of course, and some very basic Uncharted style climbing, but other than that it’s all combat and walking around the environment looking for worthless collectables. You can find bonus XP, always worth exactly 500 XP (later levels can take up to 30,000 to level and killing an enemy with your special weapon generally nets around 250, so these feel pretty insulting.) You can also find “Fuse credits” that can buy you team perks like 5% bonus health for all your characters, but these cost 10,000 for the first rank and 10,000 more for each additional rank (so to buy the second rank costs an additional 20,000) and you get 500 per collectable so, again, they feel pretty worthless. There are also intel objects that have flavor text or recordings, and you know what they’re like because you’ve played literally dozens of games with pick ups like this in the past. As for leveling your character, you only get one skill point (no other benefits) per level and most of the skills are pretty irrelevant (10% extra health is fine but not exciting) but a few of the skills are critical. Each character’s special skill, like Naya’s cloaking, is locked behind a pretty early part of the skill tree so you’ll want to level up each character to at least that point. AI controlled characters do gain XP from pickups you find and from completing objectives as a team, but not from enemy kills, so characters you don’t use much will always lag behind. There’s a late game ability called Fusion that makes you invincible and gives you unlimited ammo for your special weapon (which leaves it full after the effect wears off) but I only unlocked that for Naya, including the upgrade that revives all your companions and refills their ammo too, showing just how big the level differentials are. Fortunately after you unlock this ability the AI will trigger it, and also fudges the number on the gage, so if you can get it unlocked on all your companions it would likely alleviate many of the ammo woes.
I’ve written almost 2000 words here and I haven’t really gotten into the specifics of the plot, about a substance called Fuse that’s used to create the special weapons your characters use. That’s because it really adds nothing to the game. Ultimately the bad guys want to use the substance to create weapons of mass destruction that seem to function almost entirely like nukes, and massive robotic gunships that function like helicopters but with glowing weak spots. It’s such an unimaginative use of a sci fi premise that it adds almost nothing to the game. Whatever Insomniac wanted to do with this game EA forced it into the modern military shooter box and it just ends up terribly dull. The locations are all generic military bases of one sort or another, full of faceless soldiers and high tech facilities. This game may have led to Sunset Overdrive (similarly based around a powerful orange liquid), which is one of my favorite early 8th generation games, and the contrast between them shows just what Insomniac was capable of when their creative vision was supported rather than shackled. Sunset Overdrive is an extremely memorable game that remains unique a decade after its release. Fuse was generic and boring upon release. In the last few years I’ve played both Binary Domain and Inversion to completion on original Xbox 360 hardware, so I’m not looking back at third person shooters from that time with rose colored glasses. Binary Domain is way better than the other games, but even Inversion has more to offer at this point. At least that game has a truly bonkers story that isn’t good but is at least impressively audacious, and its gravity powers are fun to use and give the gameplay more identity than Fuse has. The environments in that game are much more interesting too. Fuse has a couple short zero gravity sequences that reminded me of Inversion a bit, but the game does much less with it. Again and again Fuse chooses to approach each situation in the most generic and boring way possible. Heck, it even has one of the worst video game shotguns ever, meaning that basically every encounter is best taken at long range.
Fuse is a competently made game, so if you love third person cover shooters it’s not the worst choice out there. It’s nowhere near the trainwreck of something like Blood Knights or The First Templar, both games I have completed in the last year because I’m a stupid person who can’t manage his time. But there are so many better games available it’s just kind of pointless. You’re probably better off just replaying a game in the Gears of War or Uncharted series than bothering with this. You may already know those stories and levels, but trust me, you’ll feel like you’ve already played Fuse even if you haven’t. EA took the servers down last year, without warning, so it doesn’t even work as a co-op title anymore. All that’s left is the offline campaign. It’s not a miserable experience, just a very mediocre and kind of boring one. Play something else. Even Insomniac’s other lesser games like Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, are better than this. And that’s not a good game, but at least it’s pretty unique.
I beat Fuse on the medium difficulty setting but the achievement didn’t trigger because the game somehow recorded me as having beaten the last checkpoint on “easy.” This is a bug others have experienced and you can go back and replay the last bit and the final boss to get that Cheevo. I have zero temptation to do so. The last boss isn’t even that hard (he took me 3 tries) but the idea of playing more Fuse is absolutely exhausting. This game is every bit as bland and boring as you’ve heard.