After years of developing exclusives across three generations of PlayStation hardware, Insomniac has ventured into multiplatform territory with Fuse, an upcoming co-op shooter in the vein of Borderlands. It's Insomniac's first attempt at multiplatform development as well as its first new console IP since Resistance. Not easy work, and a task made more challenging by the fact that a small army of fans is upset over the stylistic changes made to the game since it debuted last year under the name Overstrike. It's too bad, really. There are so many people focused on what Fuse isn't, when what it is happens to be pretty damn fun.
Spend a few minutes playing Fuse, and it's clear that Insomniac isn't ready to abandon what it does best. Just like Ratchet and Resistance before it, Fuse features an arsenal of wild and ridiculous weaponry. The story goes that the US government has spent years experimenting in secret with a powerful alien substance called fuse, combining it with earthly materials to create a stockpile of devastating (and slightly absurd) firearms. After a rogue paramilitary organization decides to steal this fuse technology, a task force (hint: that's you) is called in to track it down.
Fortunately, the fight is evened somewhat because these four player characters also have access to fuse weapons. Each player uses a different type of experimental weapon, creating a class system where everyone has unique abilities to help the team out in his or her own special way. You've got Dalton, who can fire massive short-range energy pulses and put up barriers to block enemy fire. Naya can activate a stealth cloak and use her warp rifle to coat enemies in a substance that triggers a lethal singularity (which can bounce from one enemy to another like a freaking pinball). Izzy can use her shattergun to freeze enemies into crystals ripe for shattering as well as fire healing rounds to help her teammates. And finally, Jacob has got a crazy crossbow called the arc shot that can pin enemies to walls and (when properly charged up) melt those enemies into gooey puddles of lava.
These varied weapons lead to an interesting system where players are using their abilities in unison (like Jacob firing face-melting bolts at a turret gunner from behind the protection of Dalton's shield) while still racing each other for the kills necessary to build up their own unique skill trees. The usual co-op mechanics are there, like reviving fallen teammates, but it's that way of toying with enemies as a team that sells the co-op experience. There are a lot of combinations to work with, and figuring them out in the heat of battle is a lot of fun.
Of course, not everyone will play through the campaign with a full roster of four players, and that's where the character-swapping, "leaping" mechanic comes in handy. Rather than choosing your one character at the start of the campaign, you can hit a button at any point during the action to instantly jump into the shoes of another character of your choice. As long as there's one open slot on the team, you can either jump around by yourself or play what Insomniac calls a "musical chairs" game of three human players constantly leaping around to the one open character.
The whole thing represents the sort of natural progression that you'd expect from Insomniac's increasing emphasis on social experiences in its games. What feels like a larger change of pace, though, is the game's sense of humor. Fuse maintains a focus on humor like the Ratchet & Clank series, but it's a more subtle, almost dry sense of humor. Rather than pratfalls and sight gags, it's dark jokes about how the all-business Dalton doesn't care whether a mysterious Raven device contains "the head of Walt Disney," followed by a disconcerting glow and Jacob quipping, "That…doesn't look like Walt Disney's head." It's an M-rated game, and the humor comes from how the characters react to these dangerous situations.
In that way, Fuse is almost a blend of Ratchet's humor and Resistance's seriousness. The things it shares in common with both those games, however, is its sci-fi nature and whirlwind tour through various settings affected by a powerful threat. In your journeys tracking down Raven, you'll venture all over the world, from a palace in India to Raven's intimidating headquarters in the Swiss Alps. It's almost got a Bond film quality to it in that regard--its heroes are constantly on the run after an elusive organization operating in numerous parts of the world.
One caveat is that the cutscenes Insomniac showed were far from complete, so it was tough to get a full picture of what this game's sense of style and personality will be like. But with that said, I went back and rewatched that original Overstrike announcement trailer, and the general look wasn't that different from the version Insomniac presented. The humor was a bit subtler than what the trailer offered, but it honestly wasn't that far off from what I saw from Fuse.
It's a good thing, too, because Fuse looks great with its brand-new engine driving all the action. This is a game that deserves a distinct personality, and it doesn't seem that Insomniac has forgotten that personality is something it does quite well. Fuse is schedule for release sometime in 2013.'