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Fusion: Genesis – XBLA Review

Posted by on November 9, 2011 at 8:02 am

By proxy, making games in space is really boring. Even the most hardcore of PC gaming houses gave up on it fifteen years ago because the options are really quite limited despite the literal universe of possibilities. As time has marched on and hardware has allowed for greater, better looking universes, few have sought to actually render them. Again, boring. So it was a breath of fresh air when a few ex-Rare guys (Donkey Kong Country, Banjo Kazooie) tasked themselves with a rags-to-riches space adventure. Unfortunately, Starfire Studios bit off a bit more than they could chew and for all its ambitions, Fusion: Genesis just can’t reproduce the simple joy of being a ship in a massive, opportunistic galaxy.

A long time ago…

You start Fusion: Genesis as the assistant to a crazy, cheekily condescending British scientist, working from ship to slightly bigger ship a la Spore. At a point, The Man steps in with their crazy battlecruisers and start ripping up the place, forcing you to flee to an independent, post-tutorial life in which you work for the game’s various factions. Doing missions gets you access to bigger and better ships and, y’know, money. This in turn can be used to purchase weapons and sentients, which are independent bots that ring your ship and cause havoc.

The freedom would be paralytic if it weren’t merely an idea in this game. There are rocks to mine and ores to transport, but rarely does this net you much cash. No, this isn’t Privateer. No, there’s no overarching market. You aren’t going to be taking advantage of commodities pricing and running supplies between sectors. There will be no commercial empire. Instead, the thrust of the game is to wade through the game’s (admittedly bountiful) faction missions which range from heading into instances to find old allies, space station defense missions, and your typical escort missions. A problem comes up pretty quick however: the mission formulas here just doen’t mix it up often enough. You’re not going to spend longer than three to five minutes on a particular outing before you’re back to HQ for the next one. As you progress through the ladders of shallow, repetitive missions, only one active at a time, your excitement will simply drain out. There’s sadly little more to do in the game.

Far, far away…

For all of the chatter about the game’s factions and sheer amount of game included, you’ll never find yourself connecting to the thin line of a story that sends you from one Zelda-shaped chunk of the galaxy to another. Instead, you’re going to find miniature portraits, a rare use of voice over, and text to guide you. Lots and lots of text. (It’s unfortunate that indie space games get burdened with the most exposition.) Joining various factions is easy (and oddly hidden) as you simply abandon the faction you’re currently with (as well as the vehicles you accumulated during that time, albeit not permanently) and find your new bosses in their fortress/ice base/asteroid belt. Here, you start a whole new thread of missions that aren’t dissimilar to the ones you did for those other guys. Your enemies are now your friends and vice-versa, although no particular faction presents any clear advantage over any other.

A big disappointment is the game’s multiplayer. The ‘persistent world’ aspect is pitched as a great place to meet people and start games, but it’s a red herring: the cooperative mode is completely uncooked. Sure, Xbox Live allows for easy parties, but there is no discrete mission sharing and no obvious, actual cooperation. Rob and I only found each other in one of the early starting zones through voice communication. The game makes absolutely no effort to allow players the ability to track each other down (also, these spaces are BIG). We were unable to join each other in missions and in fact, at a point we jumped into separate mission instances and completely lost the ability to chat with each other, forcing me to drop him from the game and invite him back again. In essence, you’re playing two single-player campaigns in parallel: when we were able to keep within eyeshot of each other, we could pull off cool stuff, but the effort required was enormous. There are a score of modes that unlock when you beat the game, but I honestly don’t think I have it in me to get that far.

Dun! Duh duh duh, duh duh duh…

The game does really show off its varied universe well. Clouds are used just right, ruined planets fill backgrounds, explosions and pyrotechnics work fine, and space stations sprawl beyond the game plane, lending aesthetic wonder. Ships are inspired and numerous, ensuring that you’ll rarely get tired of any particular design. The ships between factions are different enough that you may sign up based on the marketing brochure alone.

This is partially undone by the various glitches and the interface. The UI is your typical sci-fi fonts, geometric boxes, and weird “chrome” details busying screens that already have plenty of options. Menus also had a habit of getting incredibly laggy by way of standard maneuvering. While the game loads, various elements pop in out of order as missions begin and end, coming off as incredibly janky. It seems odd to say, but I think the game needs a certain ‘Zynga-fication’ in terms of emphasizing character portraits, shiny details, and a cleaner, less sci-fi cliched look. The game spends a lot of time trying to explain how its various components work, but you’ll find that it’s the more obvious stuff that it skips over. Oh, and that guide arrow? The one that’s supposed to show you the way to various objectives? We couldn’t count how many times it simply wigged out like a compass at Magnetic North trying to point us somewhere.

The game controls fine enough, although there’s a perceptible eighth of a second lag moving your ship around. It’s weird as a design decision and pervasive as a bug; I don’t quite know which one Starfire intended it to be. Most weaponry fires from the right stick in the direction you point in true twin-stick fashion, although certain beam weapons require you to lock on with the right trigger and release to fire, which is something that takes some getting used to.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

In my mind’s eye, I had dreamt of this game being so very different. I imagined a game where I could start as no one and eventually amass my own fleet at my own tempo by my own means. I imagined meeting unique characters on strange planets and getting in crazy adventures. I envisioned a universe that felt so much larger and intermingling, that of great empires, war zones and blockade runs. Sadly, Fusion: Genesis only delivers on some of these in a superficial sense. Science fiction enthusiasts are going to be the only ones who can put up with the lack of variety after so many runs. Rather than doling out six factions with dozens of hours of content, Starfire should’ve focused on building the root of an amazing space experience, one that they ultimately failed to deliver here.


6/10 FleshEatingZipper

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