This was not a fuse worth lighting.
Insomniac CEO Ted Price explained that his studio wanted to do more with the awesome weaponry the game is based around, and to do that a complete overhaul was needed. He said the cartoony style didn’t fit with the story they wanted to tell.
Armed with the benefit of the doubt, Insomniac turned Overstrike into Fuse, referring heavily to the Generic Gritty Shooter schematic in the process, and turning a promising game into, well, a generic gritty shooter with a despairingly stereotypical story and cliché-riddled dialogue.
Here’s the premise: there’s an alien substance called Fuse which behaves in ways that make governments want to utilise it and terrorists want to steal and weaponise it. A group called Overstrike 9 (despite numbering only four) are called in after the latter occurs, and set off on the terrorist’s trail with the help of some prototype Fuse-powered weapons.
So begins a six-hour campaign that sees players mowing down groups of faceless soldiers in the usual locales inhabited by terrorists like underwater bases, snowy mountain lairs, and ostentatious mansions.
Overstrike 9’s members are at least distinct due to their weapons: Dalton Brooks carries a Mag Shield – an energy shield capable of catching enemy bullets and firing them back; Naya Deveraux scored the at-times game-breaking Warp Rifle which creates tiny black holes that can be chained for devastating effects; Izzy Sinclair wields a Shattergun which can crystallise and shatter enemies for effective crowd control; and Jacob Kimball totes an Arcshot, a crossbow that liquefies enemies in a fiery blaze.
Those playing alone can switch between each character with relative ease to try out the different Fuse weapons, and the enjoyment of the game is found in the combinations of effects that these weapons create.
However, after each weapon’s effects are known, every enemy encounter feels like déjà vu. Each lowly grunt is exactly the same and their hit points – while alarmingly high – don’t progress as the story does. Rather, the game just spawns more of them to eat the player’s bullets and be blown apart by black holes and boiling hot magma.
This, coupled with bosses reappearing in battle with alarming regularity, cloaked units annoyingly grappling Overstrike members to the ground, and shielded units healing the grunts, and Fuse quickly becomes an exhausting, repetitive slog. There is no difficulty curve – instead, players should expect to be smothered every time Overstrike rounds the next corner.
When the last bullet for each level has hit home and a few eye-roll-inducing quips have been exchanged by the mouthy mercenaries, each character can be levelled up via their skill tree, and ridiculously expensive team perks can be bought with in-game currency. Then it’s time to be shunted along to the next cover-based shoot-out with the same grunts, bosses, and cloaked and shielded units.
There is more co-op to be had playing Horde – ahem, Echelon mode, wherein players fend off waves of enemies for money and experience that carries over into the main campaign. This alone makes it a worthwhile undertaking, although when playing with the AI, character swapping is not possible. And unfortunately, regardless of mode, the AI is cumbersome.
Fuse is a sort of Frankenstein, pieced together from parts of many better game franchises that implement its mechanics in a more cohesive way. Franchises that feature better stories, fleshier characters, and varied combat. The only thing Fuse has going for it is the inventive weaponry.
It says something about a game when its players are thankful to have the primary draw that are its firefights broken up by a banal task like hacking a turret, or a bit of clambering and monkeying about Nathan Drake-style to find an alternate route.
Trying something new can be scary for developers, especially with money-hungry publishers requesting they reproduce and package the successful components of comparable games.
Insomniac appears to have fallen prey to those fears in the development of this game, and thus the same old tried-and-tested formula has won out. As a result, Fuse is another lifeless shooter that fails to produce the true fireworks it promised to set off.