Perhaps keeping Fuse as a “Ratchet & Clank with humans” would have helped it stand out more. Too late for that now. Luckily, Fuse is still thought to be a more or less a fun shooter, even if it’s not without flaws.
The forgettable story and bland setting are oft-mentioned low points, along with the perceived repetitiveness of the gameplay — although some were bothered by that more than others. Here’s a sampling of what the critics are saying.
Fuse has a story, I think. Something about a group of mercenaries (maybe) called Overstrike, on the trail of some terrorists, or maybe a rogue military company. The villains — all helmeted future soldier types — have access to some space age technology they’re using for weaponry, maybe. The trouble with summarizing Fuse’s plot is that it’s very easy to start describing one of the thousands of similar near-future sci-fi stories from which this game is utterly indistinguishable.
You’re free to play Fuse by yourself, during which you can quickly swap between characters to utilise their unique weapons and flank groups of enemies. For the first couple of missions, setting up warp chains or dropping a magshield to take cover behind is pretty interesting, but since each character is stuck with the same primary Xenotech weapon the entire game, the novelty wears off faster than it should. Each agent has a skill tree that you can put points into as you level up — and the way experience is doled out encourages you to use your weapons creatively, so you level faster — but the skill trees don’t offer a meaningful level of customisation. Instead, they really only offer you the choice between crit effects on your Xenotech weapons or increased damage on your regular ones, and aside from a few weapon-specific secondary abilities, each tree merely gives the same generic abilities to each agent.
At least the guns are cool, regardless of their confusing origins. Each has a tactical purpose tailored to different play styles, and when a coordinated co-op team uses them together, Fuse’s standard stop-and-pop cover shooting graduates to a boisterous bit of strategic action. Dalton’s protective Magshield is a great piece of mobile cover for his teammates, and also acts as a shotgun with a barrel the size of a barn door. (Tactical players should love looking out for their friends with him.) Cloaking as Naya lets her get the drop on enemies before using the Warp Rifle to transform men into explosive black holes. (She’s a terrific mix of quiet and loud, and succeeds at both.) Izzy can crystalize enemies with her Fuse bullets, freezing them in place (the least climactic skill in Overstrike 9’s arsenal). Jacob’s delightful crossbow creates remote mines out of magma bolts, allowing him to melt his enemies individually or in groups. (It is, hands down, my favourite gun of the lot, because it makes Jacob the most effective combatant of ’em all).
Fuse is a third-person, cover-based shooter, and you do spend a fair amount of time moving in and around cover. Fortunately, the controls respond adroitly and make you feel nimble when manoeuvring around barriers, allowing you to remain shielded from enemy fire. Movement out in the open can be a bit sluggish, but on the whole, the core action feels crisp, if very conventional. That is, until you start flexing your character-specific skills.
The best way to describe Fuse’s action is that it’s like a third-person bullet hell. Every weaponised projectile you can think of is constantly flung at your characters, filling the screen at times and making teamwork and cover a must — especially against the bullet-sponge bosses. This frantic, panicked pace gives the action an addictive quality I haven’t experienced in quite a while.
At roughly seven hours long, it seems like a game that should be ripe for replayability. There are four different characters to level up, and plenty of collectibles to go back and find. Unfortunately, you can’t skip cutscenes, even if you’ve seen them plenty of times. I’d be much more inclined to jump into a quick mission with some friends if I knew I didn’t have to watch the same scenes over and over again. If you’ve beaten the game and want to level your characters without rewatching these cutscenes, the Horde-like Echelon mode is the perfect arena. With several maps that feature huge waves of enemies, it’s a great way to hop in and blast baddies without being saddled with the mediocre story. However, it doesn’t add any innovation to the basic Horde mode formula; its main use is just grinding levels.
So many of Fuse’s elements — from the squad-based co-op play, to the role-playing elements — seem like the ingredients necessary to make a Good Shooter (according to the almighty focus group, anyway). And indeed, many shooters see adding these same features as a way of keeping up — resulting in very samey titles. Fuse’s familiarity is not surprising, although in Fuse’s case, the feeling is particularly potent. It’s almost like you need more than a palatable feature list to have a worthwhile game.
Top picture: Gergő Vas