Things That Make You Go Boom

Fuse strikes a G.I. Joe pose but forgets to pack a personality with the guns.

By Anthony John Agnello • May 29, 2013

Fuse comes close to being a great G.I. Joe game. (In spirit, that is—there’s no official connection here). Within minutes of firing up the latest from Insomniac Games, all the basic components of that old military fantasy fall into place. Overstrike, a badass clandestine military corporation, is in conflict with the even more shadowy group Raven. In this cooperative multiplayer game (you can also play solo), you and up to three friends command a colorful, specialized squad. There’s the bulky-white-boy ex-marine, the black ex-cop, the redhead hacker chick, and the vaguely Asian daughter of a storied soldier. Zany vehicles, exaggerated villains, and outlandish guns are the orders of the day. The Raven soldiers are all generic dudes wearing facemasks, just like Cobra! If you tossed in a PSA about not swimming during a lightning storm, Fuse would be the complete package.


Anyone who remembers the old G.I. Joe cartoon with any degree of clarity knows that this isn’t necessarily a compliment. G.I. Joe made for some decent toys, but it was never the deepest pool in the park. Hell, it wasn’t even the kiddie pool. G.I. Joe is mostly about awesome toy guns. Insomniac has a history of making video game guns that are more than blunt murder machines, and they live up to it here. As the first of six chapters gets underway, with your team infiltrating an underground research facility, you stumble on prototype weapons powered by Fuse, a dangerous energy source.

Even as we get a trickle of flashbacks that illuminate the team’s histories, the guns remain the stars of the show. Izzy, the hacker, gets a machine gun that freezes people in shiny rocks, Han Solo-style. Ex-cop Jacob’s sniper rifle shoots liquid fire. The best weapon belongs to Naya, the army daughter. Her gun shoots what’s basically gravity. Shoot someone a lot, and it creates an exploding black hole—or a cacophonous chain reaction of black holes.

At its best, Fuse feels like a sweet experiment in arcade-style immediacy, boxing everyone in arenas where the four guns are used in a concert with each other. Izzy freezes some leaping snipers on a ledge, Jacob pops them and sends incendiary shrapnel everywhere. Naya follows behind, creating black hole swarms that boom like a Debussy score. And so on.


This symphonic chaos is even more impressive since it works regardless of whether you’re playing alone—switching between characters on the fly—or with friends. These sorts of pyrotechnics have all been seen before—variations on all these blasters appear in Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank and Resistance—but there’s novelty, even a whiff of genius, in how they’re mixed and matched here.

Insomniac mucks it up, though. For no good reason, these characters have to gain experience points in order to unlock new abilities for the guns. So you dutifully raise your characters’ level by offing bad guys, completing chapters, and finding little bottles in the factories and jungles of Fuse. The resulting points are spent to unlock another tier of “skills.” Why can’t I just use Izzy’s healing beacon from the start, making for more interesting strategy? Because my number isn’t big enough yet. It’s a system made for people who are hopelessly addicted to the arbitrary progression in games like Call Of Duty, and it spoils what could have been a beautifully clearheaded game.


Fuse is never militaristic enough to be troubling, nor funny or surreal enough to be memorable. Even the entertaining bits are easy to forget as soon as you turn it off. The game makes fitful attempts to give the characters a personality outside their physical traits, but the rare quip in a firefight doesn’t exactly make these fighters into people. It doesn’t even make them particularly good action figures, and that’s the rub. Insomniac has always made great action figures, whether in the confectionary Ratchet & Clank games or in the outsized melodrama of the Resistance shooters. In Fuse, the studio forgets that knowing your creative strengths, not just the ability to make fun guns, is half the battle.

Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: M

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29 Responses to “Things That Make You Go Boom”

  1. Ian Maggs says:

    I couldn’t even make it through the demo, crazy guns doesn’t make it any less of a solid, but samey third person cover based shooter. Surely at this point we’re  bored of the games that do cover based shooting well?

  2. boardgameguy says:

    Completely unrelated, but I just downloaded the Humble Indie Bundle 8 and am looking forward to giving Proteus a spin.

    • Kyle O'Reilly says:

      Make sure to use Headphones and don’t give up or quit if you feel like you’ve seen it all or are stuck.  It’s worth it.  Trust me.

  3. For the most part, I like when games have some sort of skills progression. It can ease you into the complexity of the game, and it’s satisfying to have your character grow stronger over time.

    That being said, it’s very easy to screw up. No one wants a 20-hour tutorial like Final Fantasy XIII. Games like Mass Effect 2 aren’t much fun until you learn some abilities and can survive a few hits.

    There is something to be said for games that rely on a simple, immutable skill set like Ducktales or the original Jak and Daxter.

    Character progression is such an ingrained part of game design today, that people rarely question its inclusion. There’s no pretence for why a person suddenly learns a complicated new sklll in the middle of battle. It would be like a person suddenly learning how to skate after spending hours practicing their algebra skills.

    Can anyone think of any games that give you a full set of complicated abilities up front (and that don’t take them away after an intro level)?

    • NakedSnake says:

      That’s a really good point, and no, I can’t think of any. That’s crazy.

      • They are there, but they are few. Uncharted and Halo may well be the last surviving blockbusters where you just have to play rather than level up a character.

        I just think numerical progression like this isn’t a universal tool. I’d rather see something like Yakuza, where you have to physically do something to learn new skills, like having to shoot pictures of new fighting moves on your cellphone before you can use them. Just saying, “Boom, you’ve killed enough people to make your gun shoot webs!” is dumb.

      • I suppose fighting games are an obvious answer. The skills are always available, but they take time to learn and master.

    • Fluka says:

      Only one I can really think of is Mass Effect 3, BUT when you import a new character.  You start at your previous ME2 level while having access to a lot of ME3’s fancy new powers.  Doesn’t really count, since it practically comes under the heading of New Game Plus, but still feels a hell of a lot better than just being some dope with a pistol.

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      Taking them away is such a jerkass move. They did that in Prototype: you have an initial, confusing level in which you can kick everything’s ass and then you go to the start of the story. They never explain what the purpose of that little intro is except that it’s fun. Not that I’m surprised – explaining just what the hell is supposed to be happening was not that game’s strength.

      • WarrenPeace says:

        I thought that worked well enough in Prototype. They give you a glimpse of what’s in store, then jump back to the beginning to see you develop your abilities. It might have made more sense to start from the very beginning, but as a teaser for what you’ll be able to do if you keep playing, it’s a pretty good hook.

    • RidleyFGJ says:

      Recently, Batman: Arkham City.

      • Superhero games are a good example, I agree. Most players would cry bullshit if Spider-man couldn’t shoot webs until he killed thirty burglars.

        • WarrenPeace says:

          Spider-Man 2 did the progression thing, having you gain points by beating up bad guys and whatnot, then spending them to unlock new moves. He could always shoot webs, but he has to learn how to do flip-punches or something. Whatever.

      • The_Tender_Vigilante says:

        Really?  Perhaps I’m misremembering but i seem to recall both Arkham City and Asylum relying alot on upgrades and new moves/equipment to advance past certain points.  In both cases I felt as though the game ended just as my character was reaching his full potential.  Both are good games, but I would have liked to have spent much more time with fully evolved and equipped Batman.  The need to handicap him out of the gate seemed arbitrary and contrived into the storyline. 

        That frustration was compounded by things like the “Riddler Trophy” challenges which struck me as transparent attempts to wring more length/content out of the games by using the upgrade paradigm.  There are alot of areas within the games where the trophies are not at all accessible until you unlock certain equipment at some future point.  I found little entertainment value in backtracking to scour previously covered ground so that i may obtain previously inaccessible widgets using my new technology.  I’d much rather the resources for side content like that be channeled into the main storyline.

        • RidleyFGJ says:

          Of the gadgets you had by the end of Arkham Asylum, the only one you don’t have immediate access to is the line launcher at the beginning of Arkham City. They do wind up doling out incremental upgrades to the hacking device throughout that game, and a ridiculously awesome traversal aid like grapnel boost had no business being locked off in a side quest chain, but that game does a good job early on of making you feel like The Goddamn Batman™.

    • Jackbert says:

      Unlike most sequels, Infamous 2 lets you keep most of your powers from the first game. You lose a few of the outlandish powers received towards the end of the first game, like the ability to call down a lightening storm, but you still have the majority of your toolkit, your lightening bolts, grenades, shockwaves, and hammers. In the first game, you start out with only the bolts, so you get to keep your progression.

    • Boko_Fittleworth says:

      I’m about two-thirds of the way through a ME2 replay on new game plus (or whatever it is they call it) and and although the story and characters are all still great, I’m finding that the actual cover-based shooting side of the game feels really samey without the skill progression to introduce a feeling of forward motion to the gameplay.

      • That’s the problem. Great games without skill progression, such as Portal 2 or Super Mario Bros., work because of the variety of their level design. They have new obstacles and new enemies as you go on. 

        Skill progression often enables very lazy level design. In Mass Effect, you’re constantly fighting the same enemies over and over (for the most part). The optimal strategy remains the same, with few exceptions. It’s only by locking higher abilities that the game provides a sense of progress. 

        Instead of encouraging players to learn how to play better, they encourage players to make their characters stronger. That approach works great in tandem with solid level and enemy design (such as Metroid or Chrono Trigger) but it should be used as a substitute for good level and enemy design.  

        • Canadian gamer says:

          One of the worst offenders in that league is Bioshock. After one hour or so, you had faced every enemy type there was. The rest of the game had you fight the exact same enemies with almost the exact same powers, except both had higher life or hit stats. 

        • Boko_Fittleworth says:

          Games like Half Life 2 and the Portal outings are great examples of gameplay evolving from one chapter to the next but they can get away with it because they’re on rails and so can build mechanics in a logical progression. I wonder what the solution is for the Mass Effects and their ilk, which are so focused on allowing the player to choose the order of play through.

        • @Boko_Fittleworth:disqus : They could take a page from the classic Mega Man games. Each robot master stage has its own distinct kinds of challenges, and then the Wily/Sigma levels bring it all together. 

          The first Dragon Age did that fairly well. Each of the major quests felt distinctive, and could be finished in any order.   

    • WarrenPeace says:

      Just Cause 2 gives you all your abilities from the get-go. You can upgrade your weapons to do more damage, but your actual skills (grappling hook, parachute) are all available right away. You just have to learn how to use them.

  4. Aurora Boreanaz says:

    “Hey, it’s Jacob of Overstrike!  Hi Jacob!”
    “Hello there, random kid.  What the hell are you doing in a combat zone?”
    “Uh, I just wanted your autograph.  Can I have it pl-” *SPAFF*

    *Random kid falls dead from a headshot by a Raven sniper*

    “See kids, that’s why you don’t mess around near active fire zones!  Now you know!  And Knowing Is Half-”
    “JACOB!  That phrase is copyrighted!”
    “Oops.  Uh…Knowing Is Pretty Important!”

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      “Knowing is an amount no smaller than 50% of the battle”

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Reminds me of the Spider-Man reboot’s super-awkward take on “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”.

  5. Merve says:

    This game was originally meant to be a goofy, cartoony shooter called Overstrike – sort of like Borderlands drawn Dreamworks-style – before it morphed into another orange-and-teal festival of mediocrity. I know I shouldn’t be, but in a way, I’m glad this game is bad. Hopefully, that’ll teach publishers not to suck the personality out of promising projects.

    Argh, who am I kidding? Publishers will never learn shit.

  6. regretsecret says:

    Considered that Insomniac created awesome games before, I’m a bit dissapointed on how Fuse turned out to be.

    Although the leap feature is cool when you’re playing solo, you’ll eventually realize that the game is meant for co-op.

    There’s nothing memorable about the game but if you’re a fan of shooting mech enemies and lots of explosions, this game is a must-have.

    And if you’ll need a walkthrough, here’s a cool one: