Remember Borderlands 2's reveal? Stark opposite to the bold-lined and rainbow-hued aesthetic that the game adopted late into development, Gearbox's shooter started life as the world's most generic-looking game, layering brown upon brown and with little to set it apart. Of course, it came good in the end. Worryingly, Fuse follows the opposite trajectory.
Its 2011 E3 trailer revealed something called Overstrike, a friendly, squad-based actioner taking its visual cues from a Dreamworks movie. A year later and Overstrike's transformed into an entirely different beast.
For one, it's not even called Overstrike; the name's Fuse, and the bold colours and soft textures it bore in a previous life have been lost to unspecific realism, the kind found in mid-tier adult games like Prototype or Singularity. Put Fuse next to them and it would be hard to even tell it apart. Where Gearbox breathed life into Borderlands by way of a visual spruce, Insomniac are, at first glance, taking life away.
It may look less distinctive, but for Insomniac CEO Ted Price the change was essential. "We weren't where we needed to be with the weapons. We had some cool concepts on paper and in the video, but ultimately, when we started playing the game, the weapons lacked heft, they lacked impact, and they lacked that fun factor that we believe is at the core of every one of our games."
Overstrike 9, the group you're a part of, needs to recover a volatile alien substance called Fuse...
That core is Overstrike 9, a misfit team of tech-loving agents who combine powers to take down shadowy corporations. There's Naya Deveraux, a thief packing a singularity gun and cloaking device (she's played by nerd favourite Jennifer Hale); Dalton Brooks, a dry commando with a gun that fires shields; Izzy Sinclair, who unleashes freezing blasts from her shattergun; and Jacob Kimble and his super-heated liquid mercury sniper rifle. They're central to the US government's hopes of recovering a volatile alien substance called Fuse, stolen by a rogue paramilitary group with grand plans to weaponize it. Too late - Overstrike 9 is already dripping with the stuff (hence the name). It fuels the squad's rather unique talents.
SLINKY AND PERKY
So, soldiers with weapon perks. It doesn't sound all that enticing without the welcoming appearance it had a year back, but it's in four-player co-op where the concept really shines, seeing players combine abilities to devastating effect and discovering dozens of potent combinations. Like using digital camouflage to flank a mob, immobilizing them with Izzy's shattergun, then exploding the lot with a singularity.
Another example sees Dalton deploying his transparent portable shield, allowing teammates to shoot through it. Each kill awards FP points. Rack up enough and you can unleash a mode called Fusion, which powers up abilities for a short while. During Fusion, Jacob can, for instance, set foes on fire, while Izzy's crystallize attack has a broader area of effect.
Ironically, this class-based conceit mirrors Borderlands' own, but it's from Insomniac's own brands they've learned from - Resistance 3 and Ratchet & Clank. Both focus on an array of weaponry so varied that each combat scenario could play out hundreds of ways. "It took a lot of us learning about who the audience is halfway through," Price says. Violence "has such a freeing effect, in terms of doing cool stuff with the weapons, compared to the more restricted... T-rated game."
Few will know how Fuse played before the change, but when it plays this fun after, the change can't be all bad. Weapons and powers pack a new heft, and killing enemies in a bloody mess offers newly intense and impactful thrills. You can decide if the move is the right one when Fuse launches early next year.