In case you haven’t noticed, this November has been a pretty big month for gaming all across the platforms. Between the slew of triple-A titles released in stores, it’s easy to miss the downloadable ones that slip through the cracks. However, this can be good news for those looking to save some bucks but still want plenty of bang with a good sleeper title. For instance, check out Fusion: Genesis, the first major release from Starfire Studios on Xbox Live Arcade. This ambitious online game takes the classic overhead twin-stick shooter formula and injects a healthy dose of action RPG elements, resulting in a title worth adding to your queue.
Like any shooter of this type, movement and directional weapon fire is done with both analog sticks. While this is the meat of the controls, there are plenty of auxiliary weapons and functions that are custom mapped to the triggers, bumpers and face buttons. With an impressive set of available ships of various sizes and strengths comes a wide variety of missiles, lasers, boosters, mining tools, stealth tactics and lots of other goodies at your disposal.
Controls have a comfortable and classic feel with a small touch of flight sim physics. Flying freely in a large sprawl of outer space and engaging in firefights feels like a mix of the 80’s arcade hit Time Pilot with sub-quest heavy games like the Mass Effect series. The action aspect is solid, sporting good functionality without being overwhelming, which is something I wish could be said of the menu layout. From leveling up to weapon and skill selection, cumbersome and non-intuitive real-time menus take some getting used to before the flow of the game becomes natural.
Fusion: Genesis is pretty ambitious in conveying large scale with huge overhead maps of various environments across several solar systems. Icy caverns, molten lava, massive space stations and nauseous gas areas are all impressively on display with crisp detail. While not going outside the box or breaking new ground, the ship design and accompanying artwork is as intricate and diverse as any legit sci-fi material around. Solid orchestral music and sound design along with bits of decent voice acting round out the space-epic presentation. When the action gets heavy, the sights and sounds easily stack up along with the heavy hitters of the genre.
Like many an adventure quest, Fusion: Genesis features a hefty story campaign involving interstellar civil war, alliances, betrayals and other webs of deception that I honestly had a bit of a hard time wanting to follow. I think it was when an evil general told me I was “like a fly… caught in a spider’s web” that I stopped paying attention. The bottom line is that you shoot the crap out of almost everything in sight for cash and experience points. With the spoils of classic shooter combat, your pilot can level up and obtain new ships, skills, weapons and sentients (AI assist sub-ships) customized to fit your liking. It’s a successful formula of gameplay that works very well even though I wasn’t fully invested into the story driving it.
Progression is made by selecting and completing missions while docked into one of the game’s many space stations. A good number of sub-missions offer plenty of variety, which ensures you get a taste of every ship available by giving you temporary control of them. For example, escort missions will have you plow the road with quick and fast ships while defensive missions auto-pilot a giant cargo ship as you control the heavy guns and lasers to swat incoming enemies like “flies… caught in a spider’s web.” Working for different factions within the storyline lets you open functions and options exclusive to their class of ships. Who do you want to be? An earnest worker of free trade or a total thieving Syndicate asshat? The choice… (*echo*) IS YOURS!
Fusion: Genesis is set to keep you busy for quite a long time. Attempting to coast through the primary story line can run you a good 15 hours, but with five different factions to fly and gun freely for, each with its own unique storyline and sub-missions, you can lose track of time and easily put in over 30 or 40 hours. As if this game didn’t have enough scope, the potential is opened up with online multiplayer supporting up to eight players. Friends can team up as a squadron and work together under the same faction or players can stumble upon opponents who are working for a rival faction inclining them to shoot at each other.
This component is rather seamless as friend or foe drop in and out of your playfield without breaking the flow of your own objectives. Well, that is until rival ships of a higher level pummel your puny craft into dust. Without smart matchmaking that teams up pilots of the same level, getting bum rushed by more experienced players is sometimes unavoidable. However, since it’s optional, leveling up and getting a beefy ship before turning on the online components may be a good idea.
There are other unlockable multiplayer co-op and versus modes that may get lost in the shuffle of menus in the primary campaign, but they are there. (Why not in the main menus and why not from the get go?) Playing these modes earn unique PvP points that can buy exclusive items, sentients and weapons. Another interesting feature is the ability to participate in online auctions of powered up sentients between both Xbox 360 players and Windows Mobile 7 owners who are playing the mobile counterpart, Fusion: Sentient.
Starfire Studios may not win gamers interest with their tale of space trading gone sour, but they’re damn sure going to catch attention with their fusion of classic shooter and role playing. Fusion: Genesis is an addictive title packing some serious shelf life for 800 MS Points. Solid gameplay and controls blended with smooth online co-op and versus elements makes this sci-fi shooter one to try out!