PREVIEW: Insomniac Games' upcoming shooter, Fuse, started its life as a different beast.
The company has been working on the game for three years, but it first made its debut on the stage at EA's E3 showcase in 2011. Back then, it was called OverStrike, and the trailer had a light-hearted, comic feel about it - it felt, in comic style, similar to Borderlands.
Fuse has changed more than its title since then, and many of the people who were excited for the game... well, they aren't anymore. When the game was rebranded it lost much of the comic style that interested parties were looking forward to. The art style also changed from one that was bright, colourful and cartioonish, to they greys and browns we're all used to seeing in shooters.
We spoke to Fuse's creative director, Brian Allgeier, over the phone on a recent trip down under. Despite the concerns of gamers, Allgeier says there's still "a lot of OverStrike in Fuse".
"When we began developing OverStrike the inspiration was Mission: Impossible and we felt like we really weren't breaking new ground - that we were developing 'Mission: Impossible: The Game', essentially," he says.
"And so we started to look into the alien substance that was part of the story and thought it would be really cool to integrate it into the gameplay and make it part of what happens."
Focusing on the alien substance, called fuse, didn't mean that there were no elements of Mission: Impossible left, but it did mean that Insomniac looked elsewhere for influences, as well.
"We started looking at movies like District 9 which had this really crazy alien weaponry. So we thought, 'What if we just took Mission: Impossible characters and setting and combined it with the alien technology of District 9?'" says Allgeier.
The result is a class-based shooter, where you can play as one of four characters on a team or agents called OverStrike 9. The US Government has been developing prototype weapons that use the substance, and when OverStrike 9 is sent to investigate a break-in at an R&D facility, they come across this fuse weaponry.
Each character in Fuse has his or her own special skills powered by both fuse and an earthly substance. Dalton Brooks, for example, uses a shield that's powered by a mix of fuse and ferrofluid, a magnetic liquid. The shield is liquid, and can protect allies while also allowing them to fire through the shield from behind it.
Naya Deveraux, on the other hand, has a warp rifle that can create black holes. Izzy Sinclair can freeze enemies so allies can shatter them, and Jacob Kimble combines fuse and liquid mercury to fire bullets that cause burn damage.
The varying skills of the characters are a reflection of their individual backstories and personalities.
"Dalton Brooks solves most of his problems with brute force, and of course he's the guy who has a giant energy shield that can blast enemies up close," says Allgeier.
"Naya Deveraux tends to be a bit of a loner, and she oftentimes will cloak and stealth around and go invisible."
The characters' histories will also come into play as you play through the game, Allgeier says. Dalton has worked for the "bad guys", an organisation called Raven, in the past. Naya's father is a member of Raven, too.
Perhaps the most inteeresting thing about Fuse, however, is what the developers call the 'leap' mechanic. The whole way through the campaign, whether you're playing single-player or co-op, you'll be able to switch characters on the fly. Press a button, go into the leap menu, switch to Izzy instead of Jacob.
"So I might be Dalton Brooks with my mag shield and realise that I need to snipe a few enemies from a distance. And I can then jump into Jacob Kimble," explains Allgeier.
The only limitation on leaping is that you can't leap into a character who's already occupied by someone else. ("Because that would just be rude!") If you're playing four-player co-op, you're stuck in your current character's body. However, if you're playing two- or three-player and your buddy leaps from Dalton into Naya, you can immediately switch and play as Dalton yourself. You only gain experience for the character you're controlling, though, so if you switch a lot it may take a while to fully level one character.
However, you can level one character both in the campaign and in a secondary, horde-based game mode called Echelon. Your levelling progress will carry over from one game mode to the other.
"There's a lot of games out there now where you'll start the campaign and you'll pick a character, you're stuck with them and you have to upgrade that character. And if you want to upgrade a different character you have to reset the campaign," says Allgeier.
"That's not the case. No matter which mode you're playing or where you're playing it, you're always going to upgrade your characters."
Fuse is a rare thing: a new IP, coming out at a time when everyone else is winding down to prepare for a new console cycle. With the noteable exception of Dishonored, most IP's haven't done so well lately. But is Allgeier worried? Not really.
"There are over 100 million PS3s and Xboxes out there," he says. "People aren't going to start throwing them out the windows when a new console comes in."
Fuse will be released in March 2013.