All four one

Nowadays, it seems that whenever a developer wants to make a shooter, they have to include four-player co-op. Some franchises simply make controllable clones that fade away whenever a cutscene or button-prompt event triggers. The better ones, like Borderlands or Gears of War, actually try to create unique individuals for each player. But rarely does the core experience ever deviate, whether playing alone or with friends.

With Fuse, Insomniac Games wanted to mix things up. Instead of giving us the same streamlined co-op experience in a shooter, the Resistance developer wanted to add elements that promoted co-op play as much as possible.

Fuse begins when a covert, four-person team working for an off-the-grid mercenary contractor named Overstrike takes on an assignment to destroy items left behind in a compromised military installation. These four agents quickly meet resistance from a rival gun-for-hire organization called Raven, which has been tasked with extracting the items. Only by tapping into some of the experimental weapons found at the bunker—powered by an alien substance called “Fuse”—can the Overstrike team hope to escape the now-botched operation with their lives.

Fuse’s story is as generic as they come. You’re given four characters who you learn about over the course of the game—but not enough to actually care about beyond the fact that if they die, your mission ends and you need to restart from the nearest checkpoint.

In fact, if you asked the three of us in the EGM office who played Fuse what the character names were, maybe through a combined effort, we could come up with all of them. Whenever we tried to use the actual character names, we just ended up confusing each other, especially with gender-neutral Izzy. It just became easier to call the protagonists “Shield Guy,” “Crossbow Guy,” “Stealth Girl,” and “Healer Girl,” because they were more defined by their weapons than the paltry character development Insomniac attempted here. Couple the forgettable characters with your standard “save the world” story, and Fuse won’t be winning any awards for its script, that’s for sure.

But where the story falters, the gameplay comes through. The best way to describe Fuse’s action is that it’s like a third-person bullet hell. Every weaponized 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.

This gameplay doesn’t just permeate the campaign either. In order to wedge in some replayability and give you an alternate way to reach the game’s level cap, a Horde-like mode called Echelon is featured. Twelve waves of the campaign’s hardest enemies will come after you and your squad as you attempt to accomplish a variety of random objectives. It’s not exactly something we haven’t seen before, but the Fuse flare for fast paced action and the objective randomization is a nice touch.

The unique weapons Insomniac has crafted­–continuing to hone what many have called their forte for quite some time now—also complement the action. Dalton’s shield isn’t just a defensive barrier for the team, but it can also give boosts to friendly fire, and the shield can dissolve enemies if they get too close to it. Jacob’s crossbow can act like a sniper rifle, but should your shots miss or not kill, they can be strung together to envelop nearby enemies in liquid fire. Izzy has a special healing grenade that she can toss around the battlefield, and her assault rifle can encase enemies in crystal, stopping them in their tracks. Finally, Maya can create miniature black holes with her rifle and turn invisible to perform stealth kills. When you start finding ways to combine these powers, not only is it more effective at wiping away your enemies, but you also gather more experience.

Aside from the story, there’s one other huge flaw here: The action comes at one speed—no matter how many AI characters you have. This turns a 7-to-8-hour experience with friends into a 15-to-20 hour grind by yourself. It’s not that the AI is bad; it’s just that their priorities aren’t properly balanced. The AI is great at getting you back on your feet if you go down, but if you’re facing a room full of tough enemies or one of those bullet-sponge bosses, the fights become drawn-out and tiresome, as the AI will barely pull the trigger. Sure, you can bounce from character to character with just a press of a couple of buttons—but you’ll still only have one gun firing at the bad guys and actually hitting them, which seems like a torturous way to make you want to play with your friends.

Fuse has a fantastic foundation. The game looks and sounds great, while the RPG systems and frantic, arcade-like gameplay mechanics really pull you into the experience when playing with buddies. But I know how hard it is to get a crew of guys together to do most anything nowadays—never mind play games. Keeping that and the lackluster story in mind, Fuse makes a strong showing but falls short of being an elite shooter.

Developer: Insomniac Games • Publisher: EA • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.28.13
It’s a technically solid game, but Fuse lacks a soul; the story and character development are bland beyond belief. The gameplay is a saving grace, though, and the experience can get quite addictive when working with a few friends—but it can also become a tiresome grind when playing solo.
The Good Fun action sequences and one of the best four-player co-op games available.
The Bad Poor story and character development; not as well-balanced for single-player romps.
The Ugly Arguing with friends over who takes control of which character.
FUSE is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.