If you discovered an energy source as potent as Fuse -- a combination of alien and human technology that promises unlimited power -- how would you use it? Would you deliver electricity to poor countries? Or try to end humanity's dependence on polluting fossil fuels? Or just build a decent cellphone battery?
Don't be silly. You'd use it to kill other people.
Each of the four protagonists in "Fuse" (Electronic Arts, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99) has a different Fuse-based weapon that can disassemble human flesh in creative ways. Jacob's Arcshot sets enemies on fire, while Izzy's Shattergun turns them into crystal. Naya's warp rifle sucks the bad guys into black holes. And Dalton's Magshield can blow them off their feet while protecting his partners.
Combining all these techniques leads to some spectacular mayhem. And the heroes, who comprise an elite commando unit called Overstrike 9, also gain individual Fuse powers like temporary invisibility and the ability to quickly heal teammates.
Overstrike 9's initial mission is to prevent Fuse from falling into the hands of a rogue defense contractor -- although, by the end of "Fuse," you'll be so confused by the proliferation of freelance armies that you'll have no idea who's on whose side. The hackneyed plot bounces from the Nevada desert to the ocean floor to outer space, but never takes the leap into somewhere truly imaginative.
One of the most disappointing aspects of this travelogue is that no matter how exotic the next locale -- say, a jungle compound or a snowy mountain range -- you're almost immediately dumped into a bland interior space. Perhaps you'll be surprised to discover that an air duct in an undersea lab looks just like an air duct in a space station.
More egregious, however, is the repetitious combat that sets in across the six "Fuse" missions. The rhythm quickly gets predictable: walk into a room, find cover, then blast away at waves of faceless troops. There's the occasional flamethrowing robot or missile-firing helicopter, but even their appearances become predictable. Once you've downed all the enemies, you take a breath, restock your ammo and maybe solve a rudimentary puzzle before trudging toward the next firefight.
If you're playing solo, the other three Overstrike agents are controlled by unreliable artificial intelligence that too often leaves you hanging when you're in trouble. You can leap among characters, which lets you sample all the different weapons, but "Fuse" is designed for four humans to play together online.
It's fitfully amusing to tackle a level with three friends, but most of the time I found myself wishing we were playing something more inventive. (Like 2K Games' "Borderlands 2," which pulls off multiplayer gun battles with much more style and wit.) And the separate "Echelon" mode, in which your team fights increasingly deadly waves of enemies, doesn't have anything to distinguish it from the standard-issue horde mode found in almost every multiplayer game since "Gears of War 2."
The blandness of "Fuse" is dispiriting, given that it was created by Insomniac Games, developer of the endlessly inventive "Ratchet & Clank" series. I do hope Insomniac can find that spark again, because "Fuse" just fizzles. One-and-a-half stars out of four.
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