Fusion: Genesis is the first title coming out of Starfire Studios, a development studio primarily comprised of ex-Rare employees that includes members from the development team behind original Killer Instinct. What makes Fusion: Genesis unique right away is simply that it’s a twin-stick space shooter Massively Multiplayer Online game for the Xbox 360. No game on the marketplace today is like Fusion: Genesis, which is a shame, as Fusion: Genesis is one of those great titles that reminds us that just because a game is available as a $10 download, it does not mean that the game cannot be great.
There is not enough space here to properly explain all of the alliances, backstabbing and long-lost artifacts that fill the 40 hours of gameplay it takes to unravel the entire story, but here goes an attempt to do so. In order to discover the complete story, you must join five different factions: The Consortium, which is a group of intergalatic traders; the Sunshadow Syndicate, a criminal organization that enjoys living life on the edge; the Preatorite, whom are the self-styled police force of the universe upholding law and order; the Revenant Order, a religious group following their Matriarch toward the grand “Unification” and finally, the Dominion of Allied Planets, a fascist government attempting to impose its iron will on the rest of the galaxy.
The basic gameplay arc revolves around you playing main story missions until no more are offered, thus forcing you to play faction missions. In order to unlock faction story missions, you need a certain level of Faction XP, which is earned by completing generic missions for the faction. While that sounds incredibly tedious, you can complete missions in groups of up to four players and there is a decent amount of variety in the missions for each faction. Missions fall into common variants such as escort missions, item collecting, seek and destroy enemy ships, scouting an area, or either repairing/destroying satellites.
In addition, each faction has unique actions that reward small amounts of XP, such as hijacking ships for the SunShadow Syndicate or scanning trade vessels for illegal goods as a member of the Praetorite. Helpfully, the game includes a constantly scrolling information bar at the bottom of the screen alerting you to possible actions in the region. The first time I entered a region as a member of the SunShadow Syndicate and saw “Potential Victims: 9” scroll across the bottom of the screen, I cracked up. As you level up your Faction Level, you can also earn unique “Faction Skills”, which could be a cloaking device, the ability to do a barrel roll or an increased cargo hold.
It’s good that each faction adds their own unique twist on the gameplay, from unique actions to unique skills, as the core of Fusion: Genesis is classic twin-stick shooter gunplay. Move with the left stick, shoot with the right, hit the face buttons for special skills and the right trigger for locking on with missiles or beam weapons. It could get old very quickly but the variety of weapons, ships and missions keeps it intriguing for at least the twenty hours I have spent with the game.
If the single-player missions do get boring, you can take part in a “Military Warzone”, which is a PvP zone filled with its own side objectives or a “Dark Legion Invasion” which is essentially Horde mode. You can take part in either of these modes and most normal missions with up to three other players, making life easier for you. There is a third special mission, entitled “Ark Raid” that only opens up after you have completed all of the story missions and was unavailable to me as of the time of this review.
The reason I have spent so long explaining the gameplay is not only because it is deep and involved, but because it is the best part of Fusion: Genesis. The graphics are very nice but require the caveat of “for an XBLA title”. Backgrounds can get too distracting and sometimes it is hard to tell what can be flown over and what will impede your progress.
The music is entirely forgettable and in fact, you will forget it is even there. This is a shame as the orchestral score that plays over the main title screen is quite good and evokes classic John Williams. The problem with the music is that unless you drastically alter the initial settings, sound effects of the countless weapons involved in a standard mission will drown out the score.
Another reason so many words were spent on the gameplay because there is an awful lot to digest and the game does a poor job explaining things to you. It can be hard to figure out which menu screen allows you to access which options. At one point early on, I was told to access pilot skills and level up my skills. The problem was, nothing in the game told me how to access the pilot menu. Through trial and error, I figured out the portrait of my character accessible through the “quickmenu” would lead me to the pilot menu, which then involved two more sub-menus in order to adjust my skills. Those gamers that remember gaming on PCs in the mid 90s will feel right at home with these layers and layers of menus, but today’s gamers may not have the patience.
The auction house, where gamers can sell Sentient A.I.’s, whom are shipboard systems that have their own special skills to augment a player’s particular playstyle, was unavailable at the time of this review. Given how a properly leveled Sentient A.I. is essential for completion of some of the harder missions, I expect the rarest of Sentients to be sold for a lot of credits. If you were wondering where the “Diablo” aspect of Fusion: Genesis is, it’s right there with an online auction house straight out of World of Warcraft.
Finally, for you achievement hunters, take note that Fusion: Genesis has 20 achievements, all worth 10 GS. There is one achievement for joining a faction, one for completing all the story missions, and then a few more achievements for winning in all of the special missions. From my time with this title, I'd estimate the full 200 GS will take at least 25 hours.
20 hours into the game, and one thousand words later, I feel like I am just now getting into the meat of this title. The length and depth of gameplay found in Fusion: Genesis is rare for a downloadable title. Twin-stick shooters are in danger of becoming a bland, generic genre but with the emphasis on such unique factions and wide customization options, Fusion: Genesis manages to make the twin-stick shooter exciting again. For only $10, you can do a lot worse than taking Starfire Sutdio’s debut title for a rather lengthy spin.
Fusion: Genesis has earned a 5/5 rating, as it stands at the top of the XBLA marketplace as a perfect example of what the digital medium can accomplish.