FUSE – Hands on Preview
At a recent demonstration event put on by EA Games I was able to get some hands on time with FUSE, the latest property from Insomniac Games. Ted Price (CEO of Insomniac) introduced the game and outlined four features that the studio was proud of: the focus on co-operative gameplay, crazy weapons and blowing stuff up, the skill tree progression system and the ability to leap between characters. These features contribute to making it a stand out game in a heavily populated genre.
FUSE is a third person shooter that is driven by the story of Overstrike 9 (mercenaries for hire when confidentiality is paramount) and their quest to stop Raven (a rogue paramilitary group) from obtaining the alien substance ‘fuse’ and using it for nefarious purposes. Fuse was discovered and manipulated by the US government who hire Overstrike 9 to investigate what has happened to Hyperion Base, the secret laboratory that was working with fuse. The four members all have their own reasons for joining the team and you learn their history as the game progresses.
The four controllable characters contribute certain skills to the group, borrowing from RPG archetypes. Dalton Brooks leads Overstrike 9.Tough and focused, as leader he is the designated tank of the group and utilises the Magshield to protect the others, while allowing him to deal devastating damage. Naya Deveraux also has an interesting history. Her xenotech weapon is the Warp Rifle that causes enemies to be trapped in a black hole before exploding. She later gains a cloaking ability that allows her to commit stealth attacks. Jacob Kimble was a cop who went rogue and he controls the Arcshot, a crossbow styled weapon that can take down enemies from long ranges. Izzy Sinclair, a former DJ and intelligence broker, rounds out the team. Her Shattergun crystallizes enemies and she is also the designated healer of the group.
In the solo campaign the player can choose to start as any character, but the game’s leap function allows the player to change characters at any time during the game. This is great if you get knocked down or want to make strategic choices during a fight. You can still leap in multiplayer mode as long as there is one AI character in the field.
After a short intro scene it’s straight into the action when your helicopter lands at the base and you are soon joined by Raven. There is a nice mix of action and short, well integrated cut scenes during the first few minutes of the game to get you familiar with the controls. As you fight past enemy soldiers you find the base has been wrecked, where machines and weapons have apparently taken on minds of their own. It’s not too long until team find and pick up the fuse infused weaponry that is the feature of the game.
These xenotech weapons are character specific and have been designed to be used in unison. Using these weapons to kill enemies earns you experience points and combining them increases the number of points earned. For example, Naya, Jacob and Izzy can all fire through Dalton’s Magshield. However, the xenotech weaponry is still subjected to an ammo limit so you need to choose when to use them. Resupplies of ammo can be found around the world, and you can also swap your conventional firearms with others found around the world.
The ability to select from your weapons cache via the directional buttons was extremely useful in combat at the start when your ammo supply is slightly limited. I found myself easily chewing through the Magshield ammo when first entering a room with multiple enemies so being able to quickly switch to another weapon during a fire fight was very useful. There are also plenty of desks and crates around for cover while you execute a long ranged attack, stealth kill or to hide behind while you recover from injuries. Although Izzy is the designated healer of the team, any character can run up to a downed team mate and revive them which was very useful during my play through as we kept on being knocked down by enemy soldiers while familiarising ourselves with the controls. And watch out for those crazy cyber-cockroaches! They have a tendency to sneak up on you and explode when you’re focused on shooting Raven troops, and managed to take Dalton completely down a couple of times.
The visual detail in the game is impressive. Debris litters the offices that have been blown up, and the orange chambers of fuse that line the walls contrast well with the otherwise neutral décor of Hyperion Base. The game offers you the choice of looking closer to important action on occasion, yet still allows you to move around if you wish. The art style is more gritty and realistic than what was shown in the 2011 Overstrike preview, but the game is not worse for this change and I’m really excited to explore the other areas of the game. The sound design adds so much to the experience as well, and the voice actors have done a great job with these characters.
FUSE incorporates RPG features beyond archetypes with the skill trees. The experience points you build up when using your xenotech weaponry go towards upgrade points to increase various abilities and customise the combat style of all the members of Overstrike 9. Each tree has four branches and some of these are shared between characters while others are specific to only one. You start the game with one upgrade point and I found that it was easy to build up points at the beginning of the game, especially when combining attacks. Another feature of the experience points is how they are shared across the team members, so if you find a pile of points in the world everyone benefits.
Insomniac’s emphasis on co-operative play lead them to develop numerous ways players could play together. The game supports a multiplayer function where you can play with others on the same console and online simultaneously, and even allow for individuals to drop out and pick up during the same game. There is a fixed split screen system for those playing on the same console.
Along with the main story campaign there is Echelon mode. Unlike the player vs. player modes of other shooters, in Echelon mode the team work together towards various common goals in different waves, such as defeating groups of minor or major enemies or defending a fuse source. But Echelon is not completely devoid of competitiveness, as fuse credits found here are not shared among the team, you keep what you find. Because what happens in Echelon does not simply stay in Echelon but also carries over into the main campaign you’re racing against your friends to earn upgrades and customisations.
I found that there is more to FUSE then just running around shooting and blowing enemies up (although it is so visually satisfying to take enemies down with the Warp Rifle and Shattergun). Insomniac’s focus on story and character adds to the gameplay experience. I cannot wait to see the further unravelling of Overstrike 9’s story and if we find out just how the US government got their hands on fuse in the first place. But it’s going to be one great ride on the way there.
Editor’s Note: Save Game would like to thank EA Australia for the chance to preview FUSE. FUSE releases on PS3 and Xbox360 on May 28th in North America, and May 31st for Europe.