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Fuse Preview: Third Person Borderlands Minus the Craziness

Though they may be more well known for their impressive library of PlayStation exclusives, Insomniac Games made the announcement a while back that they would be moving out of Sony platform exclusivity and developing multiplatform games. Reaching a wider audience was the goal for the developer behind the Resistance and Ratchet and Clank developer, and with the upcoming third person cooperative shooter Fuse, they’re seeing their dream slowly become a reality.

But can Fuse stick out in the crowded shooter genre? And can it hold up Insomniac’s pedigree and deliver a quality game on par with the other great works in the company’s portfolio?

Fuse sees a group of four trigger happy agents seeking to take back a volatile living matter (called, appropriately enough, Fuse) in the hands of military wackjobs whose uses and possibilities with the matter are endless. Of course, this has the potential to spell disaster when taken into the wrong hands, so it’s up to you and your agent friends to stop them and gain control of the alien tech before it’s too late.

During my time with the game’s demo, I got the sense that Fuse is meant to be a much more team-oriented and tactical third-person co-op shooter than your standard Gears of War or Borderlands. Not all classes are created equal in Fuse, and in order to inflict the most damage and truly rule the battlefield,  you’ll need to be smart about what weaponry you have equipped and who you have sitting at different positions. Furthermore, a comprehensive leveling system allows for players to earn skill points when leveling up that will in turn let them purchase new upgrades and abilities in order to make themselves into the most destructive of war machines.

Each of the four playable characters have their own specific weapon that plays an important role in combat. First there’s Dalton, the tank-like rogue who carries around a small handgun that generates cover and delivers slow and powerful blasts. Then there’s Jacob, your standard sniper class with a powerful rifle capable of zooming in and taking out enemies from afar. Izzy is the team’s medic specialist (although all players are allowed to revive fallen comrades) and carries an assault rifle that encases enemies in living crystal that eventually explodes, literally shattering bodies into tiny bits of gross pieces. Finally, Naya brings up the rear with quite possibly one of my favorite weapons in the game: an assault rifle whose primary ammunition generates wormholes and causes enemies to be destroyed in a warping mess of singularity.

Each of the weapons felt distinct and unique, and combat was all the more fun while using them. Which is not surprising, considering Insomniac is the studio behind titles that use some of the most unique weaponry in gaming. This idea carries over to Fuse, and shooting benefits immensely from it.

I was somewhat nonplussed with the enemy variety in the demo, although this is a minor complaint that doesn’t necessarily speak to the overall experience as a whole. And although this is meant to be a game experienced with friends, I found the AI to be completely adequate and didn’t hold me back in any way. Also, for those playing the game alone, you will be able to switch agents on the fly at any point during combat. So don’t feel pressured to stick with one class throughout the course of the game. And honestly, why would you? The different classes are truly distinct and are a hell of a lot of fun to experiment with to find the one that best suits your play style.

Insomniac is a seasoned developer in the shooter genre, and the mechanics of Fuse are enough to prove this. Shooting is tight, with a cover-based emphasis that works beautifully. You can pop out behind cover quickly, transfer from cover to cover seamlessly, and blind fire whenever necessary. It borrows heavily from the control scheme of Gears of War, but manages to do it in a way that feels both familiar and fresh.

Furthermore, there is a fair amount of platforming near the beginning of the demo that I also found to be impressively fluid, feeling a bit like the flexible climbing mechanics of Uncharted or Tomb Raider. While I can’t speak for how much this will be used throughout the course of Fuse’s campaign, I am hopeful that a fair amount of it is opened up to the player, as it’s a blast to control and play around with.

The game’s presentation borrows realistic design elements from others in the same sci-fi vein, but also had a distinct flavor of Borderlands. It’s not cel-shaded in the same sense as Gearbox’s iconic FPS, but it does have a similar look stylistically that really made it stand out to me.

Sound design plays an important role in the game, as each of the class’ weapons are unique and distinct from one another. They all had great sound effects that lent some weight and an air of believability to each of the guns I fired, making the experience all the more satisfying.

Really, the game seems to be shaping up into a solid project that promises hours of fun. I do worry, however, about the repetitive nature of it and whether or not this will be a game to burn out on fast. It doesn’t seem to have a super strong emphasis on narrative, and while there is great potential for strategy to be used in combat, the majority of the demo was comprised entirely of go to an area, shoot the enemies, advance to the next room. Essentially, it’s a lot of wash, rinse, repeat over and over again. Even the sample boss fight in the middle featured two enemies that were merely bullet sponges and didn’t feel as interesting as they possibly could have.

Overall, Fuse struck me as being what Borderlands would feel like if it was a third-person cover-based shooter (and was missing all the crazy characters and open world that made the Borderlands franchise so unique). It’s all about using unique weapons, engaging large groups of enemies, and having fun with a few friends over your online network connection. Is it destined to be the greatest shooter of all time? While I’d love every game to achieve such a status, I don’t see that happening with Fuse. But I do see it being a completely cohesive and fun experience for shooter fanatics and three of their friends.

Look for Fuse on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on May 28th.