For too long, the talk about Fuse hasn't been focused on what it is. Rather, the talk has been about what it isn't.
Formerly known as Overstrike, it wasn't a PlayStation3 exclusive, as had been the case with Insomniac's previous titles in the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance series. Being published under EA's banner meant a multiformat presence but as is the way with angry forum dwellers with grammatically incorrect forum names, some were furious at Insomniac for this apparent betrayal.
Nor was Overstrike present at E3. While we saw Halo 4, God Of War: Ascension, Wii-U, Beyond: Two Souls and others strut their stuff, Overstrike was notable by its absence. Insomniac was quiet. Speculation began to grow as to what had happened to Overstrike.
Now Overstrike is back and reborn as Fuse, ditching its colourful, fantasy look for something more grounded, more realistic, more sober. Yet this too has seen talk focus on how its new look isn't as appealing or as 'Insomniac' as its previous identity was.
But now we've played Fuse and it all makes sense. This is why.
Back For Good
"We defined our characters, we defined a lot of our locations but we really hadn’t quite defined how all of our weapons work or how all of our class-based weaponry functions in terms of progression and the special fusion mode."
So begins the explanation on where Overstrike was during E3, when the title went dark. We're one of the last people to interview Brian Allgeier, Creative Director on Fuse, following Insomniac's presentation of this title but he tells this story as though we're the first to ask what happened to the title.
"So as we developed that, that’s something that a lot of time comes later in the development cycle as you get the chance to try out lots of weapon ideas," Brian explained. "We wanted one thing to really unify everything. Originally we had more of a story device called fuse, which kind of drove the story and acted more as a MacGuffin and I thought, this is really something that could tie into all of the weaponry and the progression and everything.
"So it made a lot of sense just to call the game Fuse and base everything around that. Once we realised that, we knew it was time to go dark for a bit and develop what this Fuse technology is. Once we had fully realised it, that’s when we knew we could come back out with the new name and the new gameplay features."
And this is where Fuse is at today. It's still a four-player co-op shooter and each character has their own specific role. Dalton Brooks is the tank with an energy shield to protect the crowd (that sends out force blasts if enemies keep shooting at it), Jacob Kimble is the damage dealer with a crossbow that can be fired through the shield, Nya Devaro is the sneaky one with a Warp Rifle and a cloaking device while Izzy Sinclair can heal the group and also packs a Shatter Gun to freeze guards.
The unique abilities ensure that every player in the group will find a different way to contribute, which naturally encourages co-op among the group.
But point bonuses for working together is what will really bring players together to focus on teamplay. Killing someone through Dalton's shield doesn't just give that player points but also whoever is playing as Dalton. This bonus XP goes towards your skill tree, with further weapon and skill upgrades than can be unlocked.
There's also the Fusion meter, which fills during battle. There's a strategic element to the Fusion meter. Triggering it changes the attributes of your weapons but can also be used to revive any fallen players.
There are also environmental challenges that require co-op - one security grid requires team members to hop up onto the ledge and shimmy across, before they hit the buttons in sync to switch off the laser beams blocking their path.
The four end up face to face against an Enforcer, a huge mech enemy which flies around the tight arena, smashing through concrete cover and firing missiles at anything that moves. It's a brilliant encounter because the small areas forces the players to work together and uses their unique abilities in smart, inventive ways - distracting, healing, sneaking and attacking. It's a battle that shows off the feedback of the weapons - it's really satisfying seeing the Enforcer rock following the impact of the guns - and promises great things ahead.
So Why The New Look?
This is all a long-winded way of saying that co-op blood flows through Fuse's veins. Even when playing on your own and jumping between different characters, the AI will work to support you rather than fight to steal the glory. The entire game has been tailored to bring out co-operative spirit rather than competitive, something we've only really seen on a large scale with Gears Of War and Borderlands.
The main question that remains is why go for a new look? Why not do all this but with the old, fantastical look of the cartoony Overstrike?
"We’ve gone through lots of phases of what Fuse looks like before we ended up with the one we were happiest with," explained Brian. "Essentially it connects unifying elements. That’s the key we always look for. If we have a particular colour or style for the weaponry, it makes everything fit together. At one point we had different colours for every weapon before we settled on Fuse and it looked like a party. It looked like fireworks going off. It just didn’t quite gel."
Now, it does gel. The look fits Fuse and enhances the impact of the weaponry, which feels brutal without feeling gratuitous, has impact without becoming tiresome.
And when it's released, Fuse looks strong enough that it'll be talked about for what it is rather than what it isn't.