"Gears of Ratchet & Clank" is probably how many will describe Fuse, Insomniac's first game for Xbox 360, and while that tells us plenty, it says nothing about the tactical alchemy which makes this such an interesting shooter.
At its simplest, Fuse is a co-op intensive cover-shooter with a taste for sizeable bodycounts and Bond Movie spectacle. It deploys all the tricks and techniques you'd expect, a decade into the subgenre's operational life - cover-mounting, headshots, roady runs, KO revivals, blindfire and cornering - aided and abetted by a fancy, user-friendly proprietary engine which enables rapid iteration by artists and designers.
Glancing over the screenshots below, you may be hard-pressed to identify what makes this combination any more essential than, say, Gears of War: Judgment - also down for release in 2013, also sopping with polish. That's where the Ratchet & Clank references come in.
Fuse offers a familiar array of shotguns, rifles, pistols and the like, but these purposefully generic firearms are no more than a fallback option. Insomniac's silver bullets are the four, upgradeable xenotech weapons - each invested with the titular "Fuse", a weird alien gloop which reacts with earthly matter to create highly eccentric implements of destruction.
Each Fuse gun is exclusive to one of the game's four mercenary leads (you can switch between them freely in single player) and the game's potential greatness rests on both their strengths and their weaknesses. There's a full preview coming up in issue 91, but here's an introductory anecdote which should make a little of the aforesaid alchemy plain.
Meet Naya. In the right circumstances she's the wrath of Apollo, but these are not the right circumstances. There's a wall of bulletproof riot shields ahead, trundling slowly towards her position under cover of fire from individual troopers tucked behind concrete tank barriers to left and right.
When it comes to base survivability, Fuse is one of the more generous shooters out there - downed players take a healthy 15 seconds or so to bleed out. But that doesn't mean Naya can stroll out into a barrage. Her grenade cache is dry, and blindfire isn't going to do more than irritate the advancing pack. She's toast. But fortunately, she's brought a few friends.
One of those friends is Dalton, a scruffily-shaven Anglo Saxon hard man, and he's got a special toy. That toy is the Magshield, a portable emitter which spews an enormous, forward-facing barrier of liquid iron. The barrier guzzles down bullets like popcorn, but what it takes with one hand, it gives back with the other in the form of a powderising short-range energy blast. Dalton plonks down next to Naya, raises his weapon, and begins a slow counter-march. Some damn fool tries to rush the shield, and is buffeted to gobbets of crisping protein and Bulletstorm-style XP pop-ups.
Dalton can't push far, however, as the enemy is too widely spread. Before he can close with the riot troops, somebody needs to thin out the flanks. Jacob is happy to oblige. His Arcshot is a steely scoped crossbow that fires splinters of white-hot mercury. The effects of a positive impact are, needless to say, dramatic, but given a few helpings of XP, the Arcshot also serves as pretty nifty mine layer - bolts lodged in surfaces can be remotely detonated with the right bumper. Jacob nails one man to a shipping crate, then triggers the bolt just as another runs to take his place, dousing both goons in boiling metal.
Dalton pushes into the breach. The riot troopers are within range. A Magshield blast at this point would knock them all off balance, but Dalton has other ideas. He overarms a grenade, dropping it directly behind the pack. They swivel efficiently and suicidally to block the blast, exposing their rears and finally giving Naya her chance to shine.