Fuse preview: less is more for Insomniac’s new shooter
Following on from the first Fuse screens and info here’s our first look at the actual game.
To sum up Fuse, creative director Brian Allgeier says this: “[It] asks the question, ‘What happens when you put alien technology in the hands of humans?’” The answer, predictably, involves death, screaming, people on fire – the usual. But it also explains why the game, originally announced as Overstrike, has changed so dramatically.
As Insomniac president Ted Price explains, “Fuse drives the story and the gameplay,” hence the shift from the stylised colour of Overstrike to the slightly darker save-the-world tone of Fuse. So what is Fuse? “It’s an alien substance discovered by the government in the ’40s in a crash,” explains Price. “It’s been kept secret for decades. It’s been tested and controlled and ultimately weaponised by the US government.” Of course ‘weaponised’ – never ‘safely put away’.
It’s that last bit where things get interesting. While Overstrike was about a bunch of mercenaries with the keys to Ratchet’s gun cabinet, this is about Fuse and its specific ability to mutate Earth materials into dangerously unstable weapons of mass Jesus-I-just-melted that-guy’s-face-off. There are only four and Fuse is all about how they work together.
These guns are based on combinations of Fuse and real-world substances. There’s the Mag-shield, a mix of Fuse and ferrofluids (a metal sludge that can be shaped by magnetic fields). The Warp Rifle, a combination of Fuse and antimatter that can cause guards to implode into singularities. The Shatter Gun, which uses black melanite to crystallise enemies and, finally, the Arc Shot, a crossbow that shoots super-heated mercury to incinerate its targets. The key concept behind all of this then is that these weapons interact – as well as look really, really cool. During my presentation Ted Price emphasises that, “At the core is deep four-player co-op. It encourages players to work together.”
The clearest example of ‘how’ is Dalton, who wields the Mag-shield. Anyone who shoots though this portable, deployable barrier scores points (as does Dalton for the assist). “One thing we learned was that our weapons need to have a selfish action but selfless benefits,” says Allgeier. The classes were part of the reason behind the redesign, he adds, “We were coming up with tons of prototype [weapons]. What worked were ones that fit into archetypes. The healer, the sniper, the tank, the stealth character – all made sense in terms of teamwork.”
That said, it currently feels like the Shield is a dominant combo lens through which all the other interactions focus. There are more combinations – people can break enemies crystallised by the Shatter Gun, for example – but they’re not as immediately obvious.
While different co-op interactions between weapons may not be as clear, the weapons themselves are excellent individually. A maxed-out Shield unleashes a massive concussive blast to obliterate enemies, basically wiping out anything on screen infront of you. The Arc Shot’s molten metal bolts have a very nasty effect on people generally, incinerating individuals at higher levels and acting as triggered explosives if stuck in the environment.
The Shatter Gun’s probably the most unpleasant overall as it lifts enemies out of cover, encased in twisted crystalline shards that can be shattered by any gunfire. Maxed out these also release tendrils that do the same to anyone nearby, creating small forests of unhappy-looking shiny people crystals. In a perverse twist it also provides a healing ability. Finally, the Warp Rifle uses antimatter to created singularities when you coat someone in enough of the goop it fires. It might take a while to make a single person reach a black hole-tastic critical mass, but it lets you coat several enemies before setting off a massive chain reaction.
Played with three other people, Fuse is immediate, chaotic and explodey fun, mainly because there are no duff guns (although the obvious combo potential of the Mag-shield meant everyone wanted to be Dalton when we played). Characters clearly have co-op roles, but you’re not forced into niches – the Arc Shot’s just as lethal up close as it is at range, for example. It means you’re never running around looking for situations that suit your character’s skill. That’s something senior gameplay programmer Doug Sheahan says was realised early on. “We didn’t want to have a lock and key setup,” he explains. “We didn’t want you to have you saying, ‘Well, I’m playing Naya right now, but this is Dalton’s moment.’ There are areas where you go, ‘That’s perfect for Dalton’s shield.’ You’re going to have areas where one character or the other really shines but within a large combat setup [it’s] a toybox.”
You’ll also be able to tweak the characters. “Each operative has a complex skilltree,” says Price. “It’s not so much a stat game,” adds Sheahan. “It’s not like an RPG where your character has strength and agility, but it does things where you can get plus damage for a weapon, things like that. There are [upgrade] tracks for everything: Fuse weapons, survival, standard weapons. It’s not just your Fuse guns you’re upgrading – it’s your character as a whole.”
So, a third-person military co-op shooter seems a change from Ratchet or Resistance at first glance, but that Insomniac touch is obvious the instant you pull the trigger. The real change this time is that instead of a box of guns for just about every occasion, this pares it all down to four core weapons and how they encourage teamwork (there are other normal weapons, but when you’ve got a gun that creates black holes, assault rifles are just… meh, icky).
Crucially, as you’d hope considering the developer, weapons feel great and the variety of locations is promising (we saw beautiful Indian palaces, Skyrim-style mountain ranges and more). In fact the only issue is whether Insomniac and EA can make it stand out enough. Having played I can definitely vouch for the gameplay. It’s good shooty fun and the co-op interplay works well with alternate routes and interactions that can can split the team up or provide a choice of tactics. However, as a new IP that has to prove itself, it does feel like one good trailer could make all the difference between a mass market breakout hit, or gamers’ cult favorite.