"Every IP that we've created has gone through massive changes."
Ted Price on Fuse, Insomniac's ever-evolving third person shooter.
In some ways, Fuse is everything that gamers have been asking for - a new IP at a time when we're told such things are impossible in the big budget console arena, and one from a much-loved studio that is, at last, sharing its expertise with the Xbox 360 audience.
In others, though, Fuse most definitely isn't - a third person shooter that's been accused of being generic, it's also a game that's done away with a once vibrant visual style for one that's much less distinctive.
In the sixteen months that have followed since Overstrike's announcement much has changed, though Insomniac's Ted Price insists that it's nothing abnormal. "Every IP that we've created has gone through massive changes," he tells us at a recent EA press event, his trademark baggy striped shirt hanging off his thin frame. "Ratchet was completely different at the beginning. Resistance was something altogether different while we were developing it.
"Fuse has gone through less of a change - however, it's a change that's occurred a little bit later in the lifecycle, and I'm sure it surprised people because we'd already released something about the game."
That something was a brief trailer aired at last year's E3, a colourful dash through a matinee vision of an action game, and one that had more in common with the playful Ratchet series than the gloomier Resistance trilogy.
When it reemerged as Fuse last month, it had been through more than a change of name. Gone was the over-the-top styling, and in its place was a grittier, more grounded vision that came about due to a new emphasis on Fuse, the alien power source that's at the centre of the game's story.
"We realized early on that story wise we were focusing on Fuse - but it wasn't tied into gameplay at all," Price says. "So we shifted the focus of the gameplay to Fuse as well, and started really delving into the Fuse weapons and progression system and figuring out we can have Fuse drive both gameplay and story.
"Then the game's identity shifted to be much more about Fuse than what we had before. Furthermore we also started cutting loose with the weapons, and really going over the top with much more visceral weapons, and at the same time we went a little more grounded with the game's story."
That story's been laid out in precise detail by Insomniac earlier this week. It's po-faced, perhaps, though it's hardly mature - you're in charge of a group of mercenaries assembled by the US government who have been tasked with tracking down the titular Fuse. What follows is a quest to the most exotic corners of the globe in an adventure that's played out by a rag-tag bunch of action archetypes.
"The game does take place in a very stylized universe," admits Price. "This isn't a military sim by any stretch of the imagination. The game still has humour, although it's a more sophisticated humour and we can tell a more sophisticated story with the tone that we have now."
To call it sophisticated may be something of a stretch, and Fuse maintains the same throwaway humour that's defined Insomniac's earlier games. It also, more importantly, shares the over-the-top weaponry of Insomniac's previous output, and no matter where you stand on how Fuse looks there's no question that it plays well.
There's an Arc Shot that spikes enemies before burning through their impaled bodies, a Warp Rifle that paints people in sticky anti-matter that can then be set to explode, kickstarting messy chains of explosions if used well. There's a Shatter Gun that crystalises enemies and lifts them out of cover, while main man Dalton Brookes has a Mag Shield that stops bullets coming in while allowing you to fire outwards, providing a smart piece of moveable cover.
Each weapon's unique to each character, although Fuse allows you to swtich between squad-mates on the fly in the solo mode so you're never tied down to any one in particular. In co-op, the weapons all interlace brilliantly, and there are XP rewards for using characters in unison, all tying into a progression system that allows for customizable load-outs.
It's the kind of thoughtful, over-the-top gunplay that fans of Ratchet & Clank and Resistance will know well, although it will of course be completely new to Xbox 360 owners. The move to multi-platform has been one that's proven time-consuming for the team. "This is our first multi-platform game," says Price, "and we began working on a brand new engine and toolset for this game several years ago. We wanted to make sure that when this game came out it held its own against games that are on their second or third iteration. For us, being a new IP at this point is exciting - because we hear from gamers all the time how they're tired of seeing sequels. It's going to be fun seeing what their reaction is."
The reaction, if comments threads on Eurogamer are anything to go by, hasn't been overwhelmingly positive. There have even been dark mutterings about EA, Insomniac's partner with Fuse, having had a hand in the new look, although Ted Price is happy to play them down. "This is something that we've been thinking about for a long time," he says. "There's been a lot of discussion at Insomniac whether to go super family friendly, campy or more serious. For us, it was a hard decision to make - but it's Insomniac driven. It's our IP, so it has to be."
And Insomniac, a developer who isn't averse to change, may not be done tinkering with Fuse just yet. "What you see will continue to develop visually," Price says of Fuse's current look. "We definitely listen to the feedback from that trailer - what we showed was a very different part of the game, and the characters actually now look different in what we'll be showing next."