Overstrike was announced during EA’s 2011 E3 press conference to much fanfare. Insomniac Games, a studio most known for working incredibly closely with Sony on numerous first party titles like Spyro the Dragon, Resistance, and Ratchet & Clank, was now branching out with their first multi-platform title. The trailer showed off snarky one-liners, cartoon-styled graphics, and a bombastic Hives song, getting everyone pumped for a new intellectual property from a studio well known for their lush, colorful worlds and exotic, over-the-top weaponry.
And then – nothing. Not a peep for over a year. No announcements made at E3 2012, no mention from EA. Nothing until a brief tease from Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games, at PAX Prime for a game called Fuse. Was this the same game they showed off last year, or some new idea? What happened to Overstrike?
To unravel the mystery, I made my way to Insomniac Games in Burbank, California. It was a gray, overcast day, and a light rain began to form as I walked from the airport to the building that housed the independent studio. As I exited the elevator, I was greeted by glowing blue walls covered in screens showing off clips of all of their great achievements, a veritable shrine to their creations. Moving through the entryway adorned by a life-size statue of Ratchet, I made my way to a meeting room with several other journalists who were all probably wondering the same thing I was: what exactly were we going to see here? Ted Price entered the room, dimmed the lights, and showed off the first mission briefing from their new game. This one video summed up the tone and concept for their game. Gone was the campy dialogue and cartoonish atmosphere, and in its place was a much more serious game. One thing was clear: Overstrike, as we knew it, was dead. In its place, Fuse.
A Different Direction
[singlepic id=8935 w=320 h=240 float=left]To learn more about Fuse, we need to know how it morphed from Overstrike into its current state. When Overstrike was first being designed, it was going to be a four-player co-op stealth game, inspired by 1960s spy thrillers like Mission: Impossible. While this idea was great in theory, they found that when they were playtesting, there was always one player who ignored stealth altogether, ruining the game for everyone. This caused the developers to rethink the scope of the game, and work on making it more action focused, while still retaining the co-op elements that they were working toward. As the focus shifted, so too did the tone of the game. Ted Price said that Fuse will most likely be an M-rated game, and the designers found that the campy style actually detached players from the characters and story, so they decided a more serious tone fit the style and action much more appropriately. While some may wonder if the serious tone will detract from Insomniac’s distinct style story-telling, I was reassured that Insomniac’s DNA is evidenced throughout the game. The graphics maintain the highly vibrant, varied, and colorful style that Insomniac is known for, and the story will be a twisting road from beginning to end, with each character getting their own backstories and subplots that will play out over the course of the main storyline.
This still doesn’t answer the million dollar question: Why change the name to Fuse? The titular Fuse is an alien substance recovered back in the 1940s from a crashed UFO; a swirling, writhing, gold blob being held in an underground research bunker. It is a highly volatile and incredibly destructive substance. An evil organization known as Raven has stolen the substance, and it is up to the Overstrike team to retrieve it before certain global destruction. Originally a MacGuffin to drive the plot along, Overstrike became Fuse the moment Insomniac decided to integrate the substance throughout the entire game. Fuse permeates the weaponry, the story, gameplay mechanics, special abilities, everything. Also, never one to shy away from double entendre, Fuse represents the concept of working as unit of four unique and capable special operatives.
[singlepic id=8938 w=320 h=240 float=right]“Selfish First, Selfless Second” is the mantra for the design behind the weaponry in Fuse, and each of the four operatives players can take control of get some incredible weaponry that allow the player to cause some major damage on their own, as well as help their teammates out of numerous jams. Dalton is the tank of the group, capable of deflecting shots with his Magshield. The Magshield combines ferrofluid with Fuse to create a giant shield, virtually encompassing the screen that prevents shots from entering, while allowing the player to shoot at their enemies through it. As it absorbs bullets, it builds energy which can be released to shoot enemies with a shotgun-like blast. Dalton can also drop cover on the battlefield, allowing him to move around while other teammates can use the dropped cover to flank enemies. Naya is the stealth specialist of the group, and can cloak herself to sneak up behind her enemies and take them out. She is also equipped with a Warp Rifle, which combines Fuse with antimatter to create singularities, sucking bad guys into a black hole. Naya can even chain black holes together, creating multiple explosions. Jacob fills the role of the sniper, using his Arc Shot which combines Fuse with liquid mercury, and can melt enemies over time with burning long-range shots. Finally, we have Izzy, who is equipped with the Shattergun. This gun combines Fuse with melanite, and can crystalize enemies after several shots, popping them up out of cover, freezing them in place. She can also revive your comrades with healing crystals, and can fling them across the battlefield to assist players that are bleeding out. As each Fuse weapon is used, they become unstable, and once a weapon reaches critical mass, a player can activate Fusion mode, which causes every player to go into overdrive, maxing out firepower and reviving all players who have fallen.
Each player must take advantage of their unique abilities to work together and make their way through the game. Fuse points are awarded for each kill, with the person who actually makes the kill receiving the most experience. Assisting your teammates also grant Fuse points, rewarding players who work together, and working together is the most interesting part of the game. Lets say, for example, that Dalton uses his Magshield to block incoming fire. Izzy uses her Shattergun to shoot through the shield and freeze the enemies and pop them out of cover. Jacob then uses his Arc Shot to to melt the frozen enemies. Jacob gets a bunch of experience for killing them, but Izzy gets points for freezing them, and Dalton gets points for assisting Izzy. As players gain Fuse points, their character levels up, allowing them to unlock skills and improve stats. I wasn’t able to delve into what skills would be available to players as of yet, but from what I’ve seen so far, there are three skill trees for each character, and each skill will increase the firepower of your chosen operative. Fuse points and levels earned are persistent, meaning that your abilities will carry over from the campaign mode to an as-yet-unnamed “other” mode (most likely some kind of other multiplayer option, but no details were given during my visit). Players will be able to play with up to four human controlled players, or players will be able to leap to other characters that aren’t being controlled by a human, allowing one to three players to handle any situation the game throws at them.
Thrust Into Battle
[singlepic id=8941 w=320 h=240 float=left]After getting a rundown of the basics, I was thrust into a playable demo of the game. We got to choose our characters (I chose Dalton), and we came upon a military base, which I assume was evil due to the fact that it was filled with bad guys. I ran to the left, set up a shield, and ducked around cover to the right to flank enemies as my team fired upon them from behind the shield. After removing the opposition, we tried to find a way in. Two teammates found a path to the right at a cracked wall, and one other teammate and myself made our way through an underground duct to the left. We entered the main room as the other teammates breached the wall, working together to take out the enemy soldiers on both levels of the facility. Once we cleared the room, we found the entryway to the next room was locked, and it required time to open.
Suddenly, alarms sounded, and the base was overrun with Raven soldiers. I made my way to the entrance and set up a shield near the front, throwing grenades at groups of enemies. The guy playing as Izzy kept firing her Shattergun, popping enemies up in the air, while Naya launched singularites, sucking each of the enemies up and shattering them to pieces. After taking out a couple waves of bad guys, the door unlocked, and we made our way to the next room. This room was beset on both sides by two enclosed offices, the path to the elevator was guarded by two giant turrets. Two of our teammates kept the turrets busy while another teammate and I climbed onto the glass wall on either side of the room, shimmied around the corner, and dropped into one of the offices. We both hacked the terminals at the same time, shutting down the turrets and removing the final obstacle to the elevator.
The game jumped forward at this point to an outdoor patio. At this point, a giant mech leaped out of nowhere and began attacking our group. I set up shields and took cover behind a planter while the rest of the team attacked the mech from all sides. It began launching rockets and grabbed Naya and opened its chestplate, preparing to fire a laser at her. I ducked from behind cover, switched to my assault rifle, and began firing into its chest. After taking a ton of damage, it dropped my partner. The rockets it had launched hit me though, and I was down. Luckily, Izzy was ready with a healing crystal, threw it my way, and revived me. Jacob had enough Fuse built up to launch our team into Fusion mode, we quickly mopped up the mech, and the demo concluded.
[singlepic id=8939 w=320 h=240 float=right]The stakes are pretty high for Insomniac, as Fuse is not only their first game in a long time that hasn’t been published by Sony, but it will also be their first multi-platform title. While the general tone of the game may be different than the original idea we saw last year, fans of Insomniac’s games shouldn’t be worried; the iconic, explosive weaponry, vibrant, colorful environments, and interesting and well-made stories and experiences fans love all look to be present and accounted for. Every single person at Insomniac I spoke to about Fuse felt so much passion for what they were making, and I left the studio in high spirits, ready and waiting to see what surprises were around the corner. Click through the screenshots below, and make sure you find your co-op buddies now, because Fuse will hit Xbox 360 and PS3 in March of 2013.