Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (version tested)
Developers: Insomniac Games
Publishers: EA Partners
Let's be honest; we actually rather liked the look of Overstrike - a quirky, colourful, Saturday morning cartoon of a shooter, with wildly innovative weapons, deliciously inviting and truly complimentary co-op action, and plenty of cheesy one liners. But, as Insomniac's Ted Price noted, that E3 trailer back in 2011 was more of a tantalising series of vague promises more than anything else. It was an attention-grabber, though the prospect alone would have been more than enough. Insomniac Games being given complete freedom and autonomy over their very own, completely new IP - a four-way co-operative extravaganza with unique weaponry from the people who brought you Resistance. Yes please.
But, of course, Overstrike is no more, and instead we are presented with a title that appears to have had its available colour palette dominated by greyscale, and an altogether more serious tone brought to the table. Fuse - the phoenix born from Overstrike's ashes - revolves around the same concept: four-way co-op shooter action, with plenty of outlandish weaponry upon which to feast. But it's not just a simple name change for the sake of it - which frankly we'd have disputed anyway, Overstrike is so very badass....OVERSTRIKE! - but rather a reflection of the one thing at the heart of this game. Fuse, the alien element that powers the weapons and abilities of A-Team wannabes Overstrike 9, is no longer simply a MacGuffin; it's the foundation upon which everything in this game rests.
"When we developing Overstrike, we reached a point where it became really apparent that the gameplay and the story were two completely separate entities, and we didn't want that," Insomniac's CEO Ted Price told us last week. "We believed it was important, and we still believe, that the two be meshed seamlessly so that players have a more meaningful experience. So we were trying to figure out what to do; how to create a stronger identity for the game. The story really did fit with what you were doing doing in the game, so we seized upon this alien substance, which originally something of a MacGuffin, and realise that we'd had something that could start driving a lot off the gameplay: Fuse. And that's when we started calling the game Fuse. We used it to power the weapons, to form the core of the progression system, and used it as a feature to weave directly into gameplay, and everything started falling into place."
"At the same time, we were dissatisfied with our weapons. Overstrike had been this rather cartoony, campy game for a while, and we were struggling with giving the weapons impact. We demonstrated one of them in our trailer back in 2011, which was more of a promise piece than anything reflective of gameplay. Izzy's glue-gun, for example, looked really cool, like something straight out ofThe Incredibles. It all seemed really neat and interesting, but in reality playing it wasn't that much fun. So we've had people say, 'What? You could totally make that awesome!' and the fact is, we've tried! But we've been making weapons, innovative weapons in games, for a long time, and you get to a point in the creative process sometimes where you realise that a certain approach just isn't going to work, and we felt that way about almost all of the original weapons. And it was that sense of the visceral: the over-the-top satisfaction that you get from using Resistance weapons against the Chimera. So making that choice, making turning Overstrike into Fuse and making it a more grounded, mature, and visceral experience, that actually really freed us up to do some badass stuff with the weapons."
That "badass stuff" comes in four packages, defined by the characters of Overstrike 9. Dalton Brooks is the leader - a chisel-jawed powerhouse armed with the Magshield, a nifty defensive device that can also hurl enemy fire back into their own faces with a devastating kinetic blast. Izzy Sinclair is the maverick of the group, an ex-intelligence broker who wields the ShatterGun - a firearm that can crystallise and freeze enemies, levitating them, providing the opportunity for smashtastic melee attacks. Oh, and she can dish out healing crystal with it too, making her excellent for crowd control and support play. Jacob Kimble is a former LAPD detective with a penchant for dishing out justice on his own terms. His Fuse weapon is the Arcshot - a snazzy crossbow that can pin enemies to walls, and also be used to set traps with linked arrows that will then incinerate anything in the near vicinity. Finally, there's Naya Deveraux, an ex-assassin with a complicated family history. She comes pacing the Warp Rifle, which can create chains of singularities, and also has the ability to deck her out in active camouflage, useful for flanking manoeuvres.
We had a chance to check out an early chunk of the game that sees Overstrike 9 called in for damage control of the highest order. A super-secret base called Hyperion - a base that houses the source of the mysterious alien element Fuse - has been compromised by a rogue PMC called Raven. The mission objective for Brooks and his team is to destroy Fuse and get the hell out of there. Of course, that doesn't quite go to plan, Fuse gets revealed to the world, and Overstrike 9 get decked out with some sweet weapons and abilities.
Those abilities are handled by a progression system, with skills trees for each character. Busting caps will earn you Fuse points, more so if you work in tandem with the characters around you: Firing through Dalton shield, teaming up with Izzy for a freeze and smash, using Naya's flanking ability, or finishing off foes with Jacob's fiery sharpshooting. There are four upgrade strands to each tree: Xenotech covers the experimental Fuse weapons, Survival will deck out your character stats, Firearms will cover your ability to handle regular weapons, and then there's a mysterious strand for Fuse abilities.
Jumping into the fray, we were tasked with infiltrating an enemy base. One or two players went a little gung-ho to begin with, and quickly wound up being gunned down by the impressive AI, although not before we'd shanked a couple of guards with a pleasantly visceral melee takedown. We learnt one lesson very quickly, though: if one person dies, that's it for the team. There's a downed state that allows for recovery and revival, so players need to be vigilant, but it was clear that although the game doesn't explicitly railroad you into working together, everything is very much set up for co-operative play.
Quickly understanding things after that early minor setback, it wasn't long before we settled into almost MMO-esque roles. Dalton is your stereotypical tank, taking point, and providing a focus through which to attack but that Magshield blast is a cracking feature, and immensely satisfying if you time it right. Izzy provides a precious support function with her healing crystals, also proving excellent for turning the tide in a firefight when pinned down, particularly when her freezing powers are combined with Dalton's blast. We spent most of our time playing as Jacob, whose weapon promotes sniper play, and had a lot of fun pinning enemies to crates, and then turning them into incendiary traps for other foes.
After a mini battle with a helicopter, the demo jumped forward to a boss battle with a 10-foot mech, named the Enforcer. Here it was a case of divide and conquer, with each member of team taking up spread positions in a courtyard, using the game's robust cover system to remain out of danger while peppering the robot with distracting fire any time another team member was taking too much heat. With its defences weakened, the team regrouped to throw everything we had. Once you've built up enough Fuse points, you can deploy Fusion mode as a team, which auto revives anyone who's been downed, and decks each team member out with unlimited Fuse power for a short time. After blasting the thing with black holes and corrosive arrows, a Dalton Magshield blast finished it off for good.
We'll need more hands-on time with Fuse to see just how deep the gameplay goes, particularly considering that there are only three tiers for each of the four upgrade branches. But Insomniac have clearly succeeded in providing a compelling foundation for co-operative gunplay, and with their history for crating unique weapon-based experiences, we're reasonably hopeful that Fuse will deliver. What we want to see now is simply more. More locales, more abilities, more bosses. Overstrike might have changed its name, but as Price noted, the mission statement has remained consistent, and we had an utter blast in the short time we spent with the game.
We'll have our full interview with Ted Price up onsite later today.