Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Fuse (PS3)

After playing through the Resistance trilogy, I decided to revisit one of Insomniac's follow-up games, Fuse, originally released in 2013. When I first played it after finding a used copy, I thought it was okay for what it was, though I wanted to see if my opinions changed at all. Following a second playthrough, I thought it had some interesting ideas, though I realized this time how generally forgettable the game is.

After the arrival of Senator William Fable, the top-secret weapons lab Hyperion Base went silent. To investigate this, a specialized black ops team known as Overstrike 9 is dispatched, consisting of four agents (Dalton Brooks, Naya Deveraux, Isabelle Sinclair, Jacob Kimble). Once there, things get more complicated when the team discovers the base contains a mysterious substance known as Fuse, which can prove extremely volatile in the wrong hands.

The story has some interesting ideas, however it lacks the personality seen in other previous Insomniac games such as the Resistance or Ratchet & Clank series. The characters and story, unfortunately, feel a bit generic and are mostly forgettable, with the exception of Dalton Brooks due to having some funny one-liners and being the most involved with the game’s backstory. Naya is a close second in this regard, though I didn’t find her as memorable a character as Dalton was due to her not having as much personality.

The basic gameplay is similar to other cover-based shooters such as Gears of War, though up to four players can participate at any time, both online and offline. I will mention that online play requires an EA Origin account on top of a PSN (or XBLA in the case of Xbox) account in order to function, however since I didn’t have an Origin account and the service has long since been retired, I played the game offline and solo both times. You have a choice between the four different Overstrike 9 agents to choose from (I exclusively played as Dalton Brooks), each with their own abilities, though if you play solo you can swap between them at any time by holding Select and pressing a face button.

Each character can hold up to three weapons that can be freely swapped out with the D-Pad, one each of one-handed, two-handed and Xenotech. There are three different types of one-handed and two-handed weapons that can be picked up and swapped out from enemy drops or weapons lockers, however the Xenotech weapons you pick up early in the campaign are unique to each agent, such as Dalton’s Mag Shield, which creates a portable shield that can catch enemy projectiles and fire them back. Completing objectives earns you XP, also a collectible item, which can level you up to earn Skill Points that can be used on a skill tree, which you have to keep track of for every character while playing solo. XP also fills up a Fusion Meter, which when filled up can be used to heal nearby agents and gain temporary invincibility, during which Xenotech weapons temporarily have infinite ammo and all shots with them are critical strikes. Another collectible is Fuse Credits, which are used for unlocking and upgrading Team Perks that provide different bonuses for your entire team, though only one can be equipped to each character at a time.

Dalton's Mag Shield can use enemy fire against them.

In addition to the cover-based gameplay, Triangle is used as a context-sensitive button, such as interacting with and picking up objects or healing downed agents. The latter can be very crucial, since if any one of the four characters dies, you must go back and restart from the last checkpoint, which can be annoying during difficult sections or boss encounters. Triangle also initiates stealth takedowns on enemies while behind cover, however areas are usually mapped such that stealth-only runs are either difficult or nigh impossible.

Even in single-player, you can tell the game was generally designed with multiplayer in mind, mainly due to some aforementioned mechanics that require interacting with other agents as well as gameplay progression being halted until all team members reach designated waypoints at the end of a section. On solo, this can also allow you to do one last sweep for ammo, XP and Fuse Credits, though I’m not sure how this experience changes in a multiplayer environment. One other thing that ties into this is that there is only one save slot available to the player, which requires additional hoops to jump through if you want a fresh experience, however this also makes level progression easier since your progress carries over between playthroughs.

While the gameplay has some interesting ideas as well, mainly with the Xenotech weapons, it feels a bit by-the-numbers in terms of its cover-based mechanics. There are some interesting enemy types and bosses here and there to change things up, though that’s not enough to bring it up to Insomniac’s usual standard. In a way, along with the story, you can kind of tell it was focus-tested to death once you know about it, which may explain why there was never a sequel to this game despite setting one up at the end.

To give credit where credit is due, the visuals are one of the highlights of the game, with varied and highly-detailed environments for the time, especially considering the implementation of multiplayer. One collectible I did not bring up until now was text and audio-based Intel that expands on the world and characters, mainly so I could mention that the text isn’t fully legible on a CRT, preventing me from reading up on what the Intel was saying. I also ran into an issue in Chapter 6 where the subtitles doubled, with identical subs displayed above the actual subs, though this quickly resolved itself.

The voice acting is generally good, with some good talent such as Brian Bloom as Dalton Brooks and Jennifer Hale as Naya Deveraux. Unfortunately, some voice actors such as Khary Payton (Jacob Kimble) and Ali Hillis (Isabelle Sinclair) don’t get many lines to work with for their characters, especially the latter, though their performances are still good for what they are. At one point in the game, I had it where the audio for Dalton being out of breath while running kept looping, even after I stopped and reached the pause screen, though I was able to fix this by exiting the game to the title screen and continuing from there.

One interesting thing about this game's development is that it was originally going to be a completely different game altogether. In 2011, Insomniac Games announced a new IP called Overstrike, which centered on a group of spies. Since then, however, a questionable bit of focus testing occurred, in which the focus groups wanted more “maturity”, leading the game to go through a major overhaul. The result was a different IP called Fuse, a shooter which centers on a group known as Overstrike 9. I will admit that, when I heard about this IP change, I was not aware of exactly how drastic the change was, since I had not seen trailers for either iteration, only box art. When I finally did see the original Overstrike trailer years after playing Fuse for the first time, however, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the original concept getting scrapped.

On its own merits, Fuse is a serviceable shooter with some intriguing elements that don’t get explored to their full potential. In the context of its development, it’s a good example of how focus testing can potentially ruin a great idea. As it is, I might recommend this to those looking for a multiplayer-based cover shooter with some interesting ideas, though aside from that, it not being one of Insomniac’s better games makes it harder to recommend for fans of the developer.

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