Ted Price is a CEO somewhat rare in the world of video games. For the most part folks in management at development studios may suffer the foibles of disparate skills. Either, highly creative and a little lacking on managerial knowledge due to the traditional move up the ranks of a development studio, or skilled in managerial know-how but find it difficult to apply to a creative culture.
Price seems to have been able to manage both, and has help grow Insomniac Games from its initial roots, through its period of Sony focussed franchises such as Ratchet and Clank and Resistance titles to today where the company is embarking on its first multi-platform title; Fuse.
We first saw Fuse back in December 2012, and to be honest it was a somewhat disappointing encounter. The game-play felt derivative, clunky and in-short un-fun. This despite Insomniac Game’s Creative Director Brian Allgeier’s vision for the game presented at the time
“All of us in ‘management’ are involved in some aspect of game creation process, and that is important to us as a game developer”
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And that is true this time around; we settled in to attack the first couple of chapters of Fuse’s single player campaign. Trepidation was the main emotion as we chose one of the four in-game characters, but Price is at hand jumping from journalist to journalist giving advice and pointing out new nuances to the games mechanics.
Chief amongst these is the work that has gone into the single game balance and thoughts behind the weapon systems. In December the demo presented was initially confusing, and then confronting as the difficulty of the level was overwhelming to a player on their own, the AI companions at the time, and the non-stop hoard of enemies destroying any success.
There is still some confusion about the next thing to do, but with split screen co-op it is relatively easy for my journalist cohort and I to work it out (thanks Dan from GameSpot.au). As the mercenary team Overstrike 9 we move through a research facility that has obviously had something significantly go wrong. It isn’t long before we are battling troopers from the evil Raven Corporation intent on making off with the facilities technology.
The work Insomniac Games has put into solving some of the games December limitations is obvious.
Insomniac does weapons well, that is most evident in franchises such as Resistance and Ratchet & Clank, and that experience has been brought to, and refined for Fuse. There is plenty of ‘ordinary’ weapons in this game, but it is the fun Fuse weapons that add to each in-games character make up.
Where Price talks about the labels that appear in the game, this is in reference to the Fuse weapons that are found, and how they can be both wielded and combined to bring down foes. So Izzy and her Shattergun can ‘paint’ enemies that can then be exploded by Naya’s Warp Rifle shot from behind Dalton’s protective Mag Shield. The combo’s feel expansive and both satisfyingly strategic and enjoyable.
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It is all good fun and flows quite well. There are still some rough edges to the game, some refinement needed graphically and scripting before release, but generally the gameplay is solid. Elements such as when your character is down the choice to either jump to an empty AI character or crawl to a fellow team mate for revival (ah-la Gears of War) works fine.
The RPG elements are a little different to the norm, each character has a unique skill tree, where choices made have large in-game ramifications, unlocking new weapons, devices and abilities that transform the battlefield. One quirk we noticed, and I like it, is that AI characters will not level up themselves, you will need to ‘leap’ to that character to manage skills.
The variety of enemies are challenging, along with standard and sniper troopers we faced exploding suicide robot bugs, a number of ‘heavies’ requiring team work when it came to positioning and out-flanking and invisible foes bent on dragging team members away. Then there is the giant boss battle at the end of a drug-induced second chapter. Sovlenko is a fuse-injecting mad-man able to control the minds of the Overstrike 9 team, so much so that he appears gigantic and powerful and in a form rarely seen in this type of game.
It is all told within a framework that requires some basic tasks to be completed and some trademark Insomniac Games humour. It was funny, reminding me a lot of the Ratchet & Clank series as well as Gearbox Games’ Borderlands series (including a reference to the Hyperion Corporation!)
This injection of ‘trademark’ Insomniac material outside of the companies pure Sony based franchises provokes a question about the developer: “We haven’t changed much, “ Says Price “but I think the gaming audience has changed, it has branched out significantly, whereas [in the past] we felt that the world of games was very PC and console focussed, but now with the rise of mobile we have a new influx of gamers that are interested in very different things to hard core console and PC players”
Even so, players will always appreciate fun in their games, and there is plenty to be had with the rejigged Fuse – that is, until you get to the multiplayer co-petitive Echelon maps. Here we play against waves of computer controlled opponents with random objectives appearing at random points on the map. For example, round one might be ‘carnage’ requiring the team to simply attack and eliminate enemies, which might be followed by ‘High Value Target’ requiring – as you would expect – the elimination of a particularly tough foe.
It is tough, the enemies are numerous, and it is a struggle for a newly formed team to make it past round two, let alone survive to face a ‘prime threat’ at round 6.
“And it is a good place to be as well, the hardware manufacturer is promoting your game as much as its console, so it is win-win for both sides. At the same time we as a developer are trying to reach more audiences, that’s why we are continuing to experiment with mobile [gaming].”
Fuse is due for release on Xbox 360 and PS3 in Australia on May 30th and New Zealand on May 31st