Review: Fusion: Genesis

Platform: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)

Developer: Starfire Studios

Publisher: Microsoft

# of Players: 1 (1 – 4 online)

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Official Site

Score: A (90%)

For a first game, Fusion: Genesis is outstanding, but what would you expect from four ex-Rare team members who got together with the express purpose of making great games? Starfire Studios’ beautiful, addictive and deep space combat game combines elements from shooters, MMO’s and RPG’s in a solid blend of twin stick action, loads of loot and a nice range of customizable spacecraft. It’s too bad this is a 360 exclusive, as what’s here would do well as a Games for Windows title or even a cross platform and handheld release. Nevertheless, if you have an Xbox Live account and want something deep and thrilling that won’t be over in a weekend and has replay value to spare, this one’s got your name all over it.

Initially, the game can be daunting, particularly if you go into it “expecting” something simple or looking for a game that will gently hold your hand throughout its entire running time. There’s indeed a great, intentionally funny tutorial here that gives you enough of the basics to get by, but Starfire knows that enjoying their game means PLAYING it more than watching it be played for you. Once you get the basics down and get into the game proper, don’t be surprised if you find that half hour or so you set aside turning into longer stretches of gamplay that extend into the wee hours and beyond.  The game is quite complex and extremely rewarding if you’re into more than just shooting holes in enemy ships or teaming up with other live players to do the same. Granted, the combat here is always solid and fun, but the game also has a storyline that takes you through each of its six factions and covers a few deep topics from assorted angles.

Controls are straightforward in terms of navigation and combat, but getting around the user interface will be a tiny bit daunting for some new players. I’m a old fart that’s played a ton of Star Control II (on the 3DO) and even more Armada (on the Dreamcast), so what’s here wasn’t too tricky to figure out. In addition to following the story that takes place in and around the 23 massive space levels, you can also spend inordinate amounts of time mining resources for money, running escort missions and generally enjoying the galaxy as you see fit. As the game is an always online experience, it’s quite cool to be out and about and see other players zip by in their own ships doing their own thing. The persistent universe here also means you can team up with some of those live players to complete missions and take that experience back into your own game.

Personally, I’m more of a solo play guy because I love exploration and seeing how far I can get using my own resources and pacing. Still, you’re not totally alone – you’re able to raise and use “sentients” to assist in combat, mining and other tasks. Fusion supports raising sentients in the main game or through a Windows 7-enabled phone game: Fusion: Snetient, but I currently don’t have a WIndows phone, so I can’t report on how that game add to the overall experience. I can safely say that decently leveled sentients make the game even more enjoyable, particularly when you’ve got one multitasking away as you’re working through a mission. Also awesome are the ship designs and the fact hat you can trick them out and store a bunch for use in specific missions. It’s flat our amazing to go from tiny fighter class up to a deadly cruiser bristling with firepower and beefy sentient aid as you go up against a tough boss battle against a fleet of enemy ships.

In case you haven;t guessed, the game looks spectacular and features quite a variety of wonderfully realized levels full of color, gorgeous, massive planets and swirling asteroids. No matter how much is onscreen, the game runs smooth as silk and looks absolutely fantastic. Starfire has an amazing engine here and consistently shows off how many ships, asteroids and lovely lighting effects they can produce without a hint of slowdown. In addition to the scope on display, the game also has a great soundtrack courtesy of Steve Burke that fits the action perfectly and is worth downloading to listen to even if you don’t own the game. Even though I don’t review game music on a regular basis, I’ll still say this is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard all year.

Overall, the actual negatives are few. Sure, it would have been great to see this game get a retail release as well as a digital one (so more people could play it) and yes, if you have a short attention span, you probably won’t dive deeper into the factions or main game and uncover some of the more compelling stuff (your loss). Other than that, Starfire has a real winner here that at a mere 800 Microsoft Points, is one of the best deals you can get, period. As for the future, I’m hoping the small team at Starfire is able to keep the Fusion:Genesis universe going for some time while expanding to other genres in the future. They certainly have the talent there to cook up some truly stellar game experiences, so it’s up to you folks out there to support them in whatever they do down the road. Fusion: Genesis is a great way to start that process, I say.

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