After many months of hassles due to scheduling and network errors, me and two of my friends managed to complete FUSE (2013) on the PS3. For those of you who don’t know, FUSE is a 4 player cooperative shooter with both first and third person gameplay from Insomniac Games. It’s by no means the worst game I’ve ever played. In fact I won’t even say that it’s the worst shooter I’ve ever played. But at the same time I would absolutely never recommend it to anyone now that I’ve completed it . . . unless they wanted to play it cooperatively.
FUSE received mid-level review scores across the board. IGN gave it a 6.5/10 and Metacritic shows it at 3/5 just for reference. Now personally reviews almost never affect my decision to buy a game when a demo is available, which there was for FUSE. I didn’t even look at the reviews till I decided to write this post. I played the demo with 2 other friends and I had a really great time. So much so that I purchased the game and then didn’t play it for almost a year because I really wanted to play it with other people. Up to that point I had never actually played a 4 player cooperative game that wasn’t an MMO. Note that I am not counting Destiny because it’s more of an MMO in my book. I actually had purchased FUSE long before Destiny, but hadn’t gotten to start it until after I had started Destiny, again because I was waiting to recruit other players.
Now that I’ve played through the entire game, I can give an honest critique. Also note that I have played just about every other title by Insomniac Games except for Resistance and Sunset Overdrive. And as soon as Sunset Overdrive finally makes the move to a PlayStation console, I’ll play that too. The reason I’ve stated this is because it made me go into the game with a certain level of expectation because of my experience with the developer.
FUSE is not a great game. Lots of server issues experienced by me and both of the other players I played it with. Inconsistent damage and scoring, not a great selection of effective weapons, average at best writing, and really unbalanced boss fights. Not to mention a horribly slow team development system. Especially for a hard playthrough. Personal character development was fine, but the team bonuses had little to no effect on our playthrough because there were so few that we could actually afford. Essentially it was a game that I don’t regret playing, but had I not been playing it with friends I would probably have left it with nothing but disappointment and a decision never to play another FPS title by Insomniac Games.
Even though it was quite an underwhelming gameplay experience, I realized something very important about FUSE. I had a blast playing it . . . with my friends. When I first played the demo, I thought it was a great game, but after thinking about it in hindsight I came to the conclusion that what I actually really liked about the demo was that I could play a multiplayer campaign with people that I usually only play PVP with. By the end of the game, I felt that it was terrible because it wasn’t just 20 minutes of gameplay in the middle of the game that only sort of let me experience it in the best of conditions. It was 8 – 10 hours of gameplay and storytelling that allowed me to have a full helping of everything the game has to offer. And the truth is that it wasn’t much.
This all got me thinking about a very important question. If the game had been better would I have enjoyed playing it with my friends more or less? I don’t know the answer because I have yet to play a more than 2 player co-op game online that was noticeably better than FUSE. I have played Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, which is better by leaps and bounds. But it lacks the same commitments and expectations that a campaign does. I’ve played Destiny, which does have better gameplay, but it’s not really the same type of experience. The story isn’t really better either. Maybe it’s a bit more interesting, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s told in a way that’s better. It’s also quite repetitive since I’ve played every mission multiple times, most of which before I even played with friends. I would say exactly the same thing about The Division. So in many ways it doesn’t really count because it’s not the same experience as playing a linear campaign with friends online (including the use of mics). I’ve also played the Souls series but that has always been without headsets and honestly those games suck for true, interactive co-op in the first place in my opinion.
While I can’t truly answer my own question, due to my lack of experience, I believe that the answer is no. I believe that a better game would not have provided a better co-op experience. In fact, I think it may very well have made for a worse experience. Obviously this is all subjective speculation, but hear me out. When a game is good, a true gamer takes the game seriously. A game with good writing and dialog makes you want to pay attention and actually listen to what’s being said and what’s going on. A game with good gameplay makes you want to really focus and try to do the best you can. You seek to improve your performance and you really care about your stats and improving them overall. A game with a strong character development system will make you want to take the time to figure out what the perfect skill tree looks like for you and how you should go about crafting a player that will best bring out your greatest performance. It takes time and care. Often lots of reading and pausing. Many extra minutes of thought and focus. Good games pull the best out of players. Bad games leave players simply wanting to finish them if even that in today’s ADD ridden world.
Yet a good game doesn’t sound like a good time for a group of players to experience together for a first playthrough. Let’s be honest. Those headsets aren’t really there for coordinating gameplay. That does happen quite a lot, but really we have them because we want to talk to our friends while playing the game. Yes at specific points when things get difficult you will coordinate your attacks. And when you’re playing something intricate like Pay Day 2 where organization is key, those headsets become a necessity. But on average you’re just shooting the breeze while doing your own thing, because most games just don’t require super high levels of coordination to complete the bulk of the game.
But if the game was really good, having both great and challenging gameplay and excellent story/writing, then I wouldn’t want to talk to my friends most of the time. I’d want to hear the story. I’d want to read the lore or whatever. I’d not want to just move forward as quickly as possible because I would want to take the time to study the character development and skill trees intently to make sure I was building the best possible character. I may want to talk during normal combat, but only if I feel that it’s not negatively affecting my performance by a noticeable amount. Granted if the game is something like a normal shooter, which is what FUSE is, talking probably won’t affect my performance that much. But the point still stands that if I’m playing a really good game then chances are that I’ll want to focus on the game and not my friends. But if the whole point was for me to have a good time playing a game cooperatively with my friends then that game has failed in that respect.
This has made me really curious as to how other people feel about this issue. Especially those who have a lot more experience playing cooperative games with friends online. Note that when I say friends I mean actual friends that you would talk to even if not gaming. People who you only know or play with for the purposes of gaming don’t really count in this discussion. At least not those who you only game seriously with anyway. Your clan members in a game such as Destiny may not be people that you actually talk to about anything outside of Destiny. The friends I played FUSE with are people I actually know and went to school with.
My second question, which is highly contingent on how you answer the first, is how should developers go about making cooperative games if their goal is to make the best cooperative experience? If you believe that a “bad” or at least average at best game makes for better co-op than a good game then what does that mean for development? If I’m a developer and my goal is to make a game that people will really enjoy playing cooperatively does that necessarily mean that I should be trying to make the best game from a critical standpoint? Or should developers with this goal in mind be striving just to make something ok that really encourages players to interact with each other more than the game itself?
These questions really intrigued me and I wanted to see what other gamers' thoughts were on the correlation between the quality of a game and the quality of the cooperative experience when playing it. Thanks for reading and please comment with your thoughts.