I’ll admit to praising Insomniac’s Resistance 3 probably a little more than it rightfully deserved. the single biggest reason for that was the game’s weapons, and the incredible agency that accompanied them. Inventive weaponry seems to be Insomniac Games’ forte – because that’s the only thing that sets its latest, multiplatform effort FUSE apart from its myriad competition.
It didn’t have to be that way. Once upon a time, FUSE was filled with the promise of an interesting and unique aesthetic characters who weren’t cookie-cut combative contemporaries. Focus testing by EA and Insomniac told them that people didn’t want to play things that were different, or remotely cartoonish. What people wanted instead was the same generic, gritty and realistic shooters they’ve all been playing for years. And that’s what they have in FUSE – except of course, for all that wonderful weaponry.
Set in the not-too-distant future, an alien technology pilfered from Roswell’s famous UFO crash is finally made stable. The eponymous stuff, FUSE, is able to give the world an unlimited and free supply of energy. And it is of course put to despotic ends – as a way to end the arms race and enslave humanity. Seemingly at the root of all of this is the the paramilitary corporation Raven who’s attempting to steal all the FUSE, using its extra-terrestrial abilities to create an otherworldly arsenal. A mysterious client has sent four elite mercenary agents from a rival gun-for-hire group called Overstrike 9 to keep this all at bay, and make sure the FUSE doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. That’s entirely as much of the narrative as you need to know, because that’s very nearly the entirety of the narrative. you’ll learn a little more about each of the agents as the story plods along, but certainly not enough to care about them in any way.
Playing as any one of the four Overstrike agents – none of whom is imbued with any quantifiable amount of personality – you’re soon in possession of an agent-specific bit of FUSE-powered ordnance. And its these guns that have so much more character than the people wielding them – and the only thing that’ll keep you playing through this any longer than you have to. Team leader Dalton Brooks gets a gun that enables him to project a semi-liquid shield in front of him,soaking up bullets. Once sufficiently upgraded, it also allows him to create a pulse that knocks enemies on their feet. Obligatory black guy Jacob gets a long-rang crossbow that fires explosive bolts. Assassin Naya gets a cloaking device and warp rifle that creates mini singularities, while medic Izzy gets a healing beacon and and a shattergun; a weapon that temporarily crystallises enemies. in the end, each character ends up being defined by the guns they carry – and that’s telling.
When it’s at its best – as a four player co-operative game – there’s genuine fun to be had in the dynamic interplay between all of these weapons. Shooting at enemies through Dalton’s shield increases their damage; hitting bad guys caught in Naya’s black holes with Jacob’s Arc-bolts causes a chain reaction of explosions – ands it’s in experimenting with these combinations with a group of friends (or even random strangers on the internet) that gives FUSE its raison d’être. a rudimentary XP and upgrade system keeps it slightly interesting – but It becomes insanely frantic once the fusion skill is unlocked – granting temporary team-wide invulnerability and unlimited FUSE ammunition, turning the whole thing in to a veritable fireworks display of relentless on-screen carnage.
And though you can leap from agent to agent when playing alone, pretty much all of that magic disappears if you’re playing the game alone. Much of that is down to some disastrous AI; when you’re playing with yourself, you can’t rely on your partners to do anything, leaving you to do all the dirty work. It’s not that the AI is terrible – just that it has its priorities completely out of order. Worse though is that when you’re alone you’re given time to notice just how bland everything is. Everything, from the artwork, to the handful of repeated bullet-sponge human and robot enemies, to the locales is just dull and uninspired. You can see that it wasn’t meant to be this way, and there was some sort of glimmer of originality somewhere. You can tell from the tone; the out-of-place, infrequently witty banter between the Overstrike agents that hints that this game could have been so much more.
In fact, here’s a reminder what it could have been.
Play through the campaign, and you can do exactly the same thing over and over again in the game’s co-operative multiplayer mode, called Echelon. Set in the same locales you’ll visit in the game, you get to face off against wave upon relentless wave of enemy – but be warned, it’s unflinchingly difficult, and dying every couple of seconds is only fun for a while.
FUSE’s core mechanics; third person shooting, basic stealth and a functional cover system are sound, and when paired with a handful of friends, approaching being genuinely, addictively fun – but they come wrapped in very boring, very brown paper. Five years ago, this would have been hailed as revolutionary, but the biggest problem with FUSE is that you’re unable to shake the feeling that you’ve seen and played it all before.