Last year at E3, Insomniac Games released a teaser trailer for Overstrike. While the trailer didn’t show any in-game footage, a number of things could be gleaned from it: It was likely to be an action oriented shooter; there are four unique characters, each with their own combat styles; weapons and mechanics, and there would be an emphasis on cooperative gameplay with the combination of weapon effects and abilities. Until last week, however, the developers have been fairly tight lipped about the game. The reason for this is that the game has changed from the initial teaser. At a recent preview event, we got some insight into the design process and the reasons for the changes with hands on time with a demo of a level and a boss fight. Overstrike is now titled Fuse, and I have to admit I’m a little conflicted about it. The gameplay is certainly up to Insomniac‘s high standard and pedigree, but some of the changes since the original teaser are disappointing.
The biggest issue for me is the change in tone, setting and aesthetics; Fuse seemingly strips away all the charm we saw in that original trailer. What was outlandish and light hearted has become more gritty and grounded. Perhaps it’s a lesson in curbing enthusiasm, but I was genuinely excited for Overstrike and it filled a current gaming void. We are certainly not wallowing neck deep in games with a stylized and campy setting that’s evocative of film series like James Bond. Sure there’s No One Lives Forever and Evil Genius, but these are hardly recent. So it’s a real shame that the premise has been ejected in favor of what on the surface appears to be utterly derivative of a dozen other titles. To be fair we only saw a small portion of the game and very little of the story, but the Modern Warfare-esque mission briefings and new gritty visuals have changed a standout into something that could be mistaken for any number of games, like Inversion or Binary Domain. I mean, come on, a super-villain-led organization with colorful henchmen and, essentially, terminators is far more interesting than another paramilitary group.
Many of the changes are centered on the restructuring around “fuse” as it exists in the game, which originally was going to be a magic-MacGuffin of sort but not a primary focus. In game lore, fuse is an alien substance that while extremely unstable also demonstrates some impressive properties. In order to exert some degree of control over it, scientists have been fusing (yes, we get it already) with other materials, and this forms the technological background behind the agent’s fantastical arsenal. For instance, the mag shield used by Dalton is the result of combing fuse with ferrofluid, whereas the shattergun used by Isabella is fuse combined with a specific kind of crystal. The agents themselves will be familiar if you’ve watched the trailer, though the personalities have been dialed back. Dalton is still the mercenary tank, Naya the stealthy character, Jacob the crossbow sniper and Isabella “Izzy” is the spunky one. Overall think more elite team now and less the “crazy but gets the job done”.
I guess what’s baffling to me is that in an industry where Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands can find such pervasive or unexpected success for ditching safe aesthetics for more stylized realities, Insomniac Games would voluntarily turn a 180 on that. Then again, perhaps I should accept that I’m not the intended market. I overheard one person at the event who appreciated the divergence from “cartoony graphics.”
Fuse actually has quite the developmental backstory. Three years ago, the developers were trying to drum up some ideas for a new IP. The notion of a Mission Impossible meets James Bond spy game bubbled to the surface. The original premise was for a four player stealth game, until that idea proved frustrating due to the pass/fail nature of stealth and how a single player could ruin it for the other three. An early premise even saw the game without any guns at all.
So the game gravitated towards being more actively action- oriented, and in this regard Insomniac makes me conflicted since Fuse has some great cooperative gameplay. There were several genuine moments of elation during my time with it. The action is oriented around the unique fuse weapons and how Fuse rewards players for working together. Each of the four agents has their specific weapon and powers. Dalton’s mag shield can block attacks and release stored up energy blasts, and Jacob’s arc shot fires incendiary bolts that can be trigged to melt and explode anything unfortunate enough to be nearby. The two weapons I found most interesting though were Naya’s warp rifle and Izzy’s shattergun. The warp rifle fires rounds that charge up the target and upon hitting critical mass they are engulfed in a miniature black hole. There’s also a trick to charging several opponents and cascading a black hole across them all for some serious AOE damage. Somewhat similarly, the shattergun also charges up an enemy, but when it detonates it crystallizes them and anyone nearby. It also lifts them into the air making them easy targets.
This is where the team and cooperative aspect comes into play: Izzy’s shattergun does relatively low damage so it can take her a while to shatter the crystallized opponents, but Dalton can break a whole group with his mag shield blast. This frees up Izzy to move on to locking down the next group. Each player is also rewarded with the fuse points, used to upgrade your character, for killing them. There are other combinations as well, like firing through Dalton’s shield. You’re getting kills, but he’s also getting points for assisting you with shield cover. Cooperation is also encouraged by the environment and opponents. You might need to work together to get past sentry turrets, flank riot shield equipped enemies and rescue a teammate from being bound up and blasted to smithereens by a nasty combat robot.
The constant adage is that gameplay trumps graphics, so it will be interesting to see how Fuse continues to progress. The gameplay is certainly there, but I for one wish they hadn’t turned away from the charm initially presented. If Insomniac can find ways to breathe some of that life back in, then Fuse will be worth keeping an eye on.