The trick with Fuse is that the four-person squad is always present: whether you're playing with friends, computer-controlled bots, or a mixture of the two. Fuse features a "Leap" system, allowing players to jump quickly between each character to command their unique skills. Insomniac says its goal is to give players the opportunity to fill every role.
"We've built this game from the ground up with that in mind," Insomniac president and CEO Ted Price tells Joystiq. "We wanted to make sure that there are always four characters in the game but you can have just as much fun by yourself, or with one friend, two friends, or three friends. So that's been our design mantra from the very beginning." Price adds that Insomniac has "spent a lot of time" to ensure that AI-controlled bots are intelligent and "do what you expect them to do," which is a typical concern of characters a player must rely on. "They're helpful," he says.
"Or if you're playing with friends, that it's balanced for the number of humans you're playing with, because things can change when we have drop-in/drop-out co-op. We spent a lot of time tuning for those various scenarios," Price explains.
With its latest playable preview of Fuse, Insomniac attempts to prove its system functions correctly, sending us to an enemy stronghold with three allies, one human- and two AI-controlled.
The mission sets us toward the enemy base in Jodhpur, India. Bright sunlight illuminates a lush environment filled with planters, palm trees and an elaborate network of buildings. Vast, open spaces offer numerous points of cover. In one scenario, our squad enters one side of a courtyard with a heavy enemy force established at the other end. Pushing down the middle is the most obvious route, with evenly placed stone planters shielding us from enemy fire. A lightly defended building on the opposite side of the courtyard offers a flanking route, one of two.
The AI ally responds smartly as we split off from our human co-op partner, jetting over to the building with one bot in tow, while the other automatically remains behind to lay down covering fire. Dalton Brooks, leader of the Overstrike 9 squad, turns out to be useful in this scenario, with his Fuse-powered Magshield that blocks bullets and sends out a blast to insta-kill nearly anyone at close range. Support-focused Izzy Sinclair's Shattergun also aids in backing up my two-man team, immobilizing enemies in crystal.
Price says the weapons were built to work together. "They're all completely different, but when you work as a team and utilize their class-based archetypes, you get these moments where it feels like you really are working as a team."
The results can be satisfying. Getting in close with Dalton for a Magshield blast against a group of crystallized enemies results in a pleasing wave of mass disintegration, with combo info and XP rewards popping up where the group once stood. "That's the kind of combo you just won't see in other games, and it gets a lot more complex from there. There are a lot of ah-ha moments in the game where players discover these cool ways of working together, and we reward it by giving you more points when you do these things," Price adds.
Price acknowledges the connections Fuse has with the studio's past, as well as the frame of mind that tends to dominate any design discussions for its various games. Fuse steps in a somewhat different direction, but it's one that the team decided it could put a new spin on.
"First, it was wanting to do a four-player co-op game and take that particular gameplay design aspect further than other games. Second, we love creating worlds at Insomniac that are just different. That don't have any restrictions that, say, a military sim would have," Price says. "That's why we came up with the Chimera and the alternate history in Resistance. That's why Ratchet is all about traipsing through a made up universe. And that's why Fuse involves a world that is very Insomniac. It's a world where alien substances power weapons and you have big bags of cash falling down in Echelon [Mode]."
"I think that the DNA of this game is derived from both Resistance and Ratchet. I'd even go back to Disruptor to, where we were coming up with crazy weapons back then and coming up with a really alternate science fiction story. Those passions have run through Insomniac since the very beginning."
Echelon Mode is Fuse's twist on wave-based survival. Price compares it to the coin-op classic Smash TV, "but it's offensive versus defensive." Over 12 rounds, players take on a variety of objectives picked from a randomly rotated set of six. Some involve fighting a boss or just a bunch of enemies, others involve defending a point or transporting a volatile container that also charges your fuse ammo. The idea for Echelon grew over time, after much testing.
"We tried a lot of different modes for the game. Early on we decided not to do deathmatch or capture the flag because there are plenty of other games where their bread-and-butter is... your more traditional competitive modes. We decided that doesn't feel right for Fuse," Price explains.
"We wanted to come up with a mode that uses the skills you're building in campaign in a way that feels natural. We also wanted to go back to our original desire to create a deep, four-player cooperative game and apply that as well to this mode. That's why you are playing together, that's why you're using the same weapons that you do in campaign, and that's why we have a unified progression system [between the Echelon and campaign]."
Price concludes, "We tried other modes and they just didn't feel like they fit with the core gameplay that we created for campaign. We want these two to feel tightly integrated."
Adam Rosenberg is a writer and dudebro academic based out of Brooklyn, NY. He's a full-time freelancer who has contributed to a wide range of outlets, including G4, Rolling Stone, MTV, and Digital Trends. You can follow his and his dog's exploits on Twitter at @Geminibros.