Have you ever wanted a game to be better? I don’t mean that in a broad, “this game could be better”, sense. I mean when you’ve been playing a game and actively willed it to be better; a game with real potential that just doesn’t seem to live up to it. If you have, then you’ll understand my pain in writing this review. Fusion: Sentient is not a good game. It is not worth the asking price. But it comes should be.
It gets so many things right. Its interface, for example, is one of the best I’ve used for a touch-screen strategy game. Controlling up to five robots – “sentients” – you simply tap to select, and tap to move, but these limited controls are given finesse through well thought out behavioural options. By tapping and holding on a sentient you pause the game and bring up a clear and concise menu. This menu allows you to have sentients opt for aggressive, defensive and ‘normal’ postures, have them follow another unit either as close escort or aggressive bodyguard, or activate their special ability, defined by their class. Thanks to this system it’s easy to sort your sentients into independent teams operating exactly as you want – allowing you to send a sentient on a ranging mission with an escort, while two others hold the fort , with a minimum of fuss. It’s a refreshingly simple and effective system, and one which other developers would do well to learn from.
So too the clear delineation between units. Your sentients are divided into three types, familiar to players of MMOs (or any party-based RPGs, for that matter): tanks, DPS and healers. Tanks can take a lot of punishment, DPS deal a lot out, and healers, um, heal. Each has a clear role, and their menu-selected special abilities reflect that – the tank can enter ‘Lockdown’ mode, whereupon damage against it is drastically reduced; the DPS can teleport to any visible area, allowing a quick retreat or move to support other units, and the healer can, er, heal a specific target. Okay, that’s a bit less exciting, particularly as it will heal any nearby units automatically, but it’s important to be able to direct it to specific units, I suppose.
The game also features a nice little bonus: released in parallel with its Xbox 360 sibling, Fusion: Genesis, it features simple but welcome integration with that title. Sentients can be used in Genesis (a top-down shooter/RPG hybrid) as support drones, supporting you in combat and bestowing benefits upon you. In both Sentient and Genesis they level up, improving their abilities in the two games, and transferring them between games allows them to level up quicker, thus providing advantages in both. Indeed, this can be particularly helpful in Sentient, where you can avoid having to repeatedly grind missions in order to level your sentients by instead sending them to Genesis and levelling them through there as you play through, even as they make your time as a space pilot somewhat easier. It’s a mutually-beneficial arrangement, and the designers should be applauded for making it work as such.
They should not, however, be applauded for the fact that the game otherwise requires grinding. A lot of grinding. As the levels come and go, the game begins to throw tougher enemies and nastier modifiers your way. So you might find yourself on the receiving end of a level which combines constantly-spawning higher level enemies with a reduction in your healing efficacy, making your current batch of sentients unable to withstand the onslaught. The only option here is to grind them up in levels, or level them up through their use in Genesis – neither of which should be required. Difficulty spikes such as these are poor, archaic game design, and it’s a real shame to see the game falling back on grinding rather than strategy.
Which highlights the biggest problem in the game. For a strategy game with RPG elements, it’s awfully light on the strategy. There are only three types of mission in the game, repeated on a constant loop. In order, they are: capture a base through a small, maze-like level. Retrieve an artefact from the level and return it to said base. Retrieve two such artefacts. That’s it. Which would be fine, if there was then any variety in the way these levels panned out, but there isn’t.
Each involves you ranging around, trying to find the base/artefact(s). Each ends prematurely should you encounter all the enemies first and defeat them (unless you’re in a level with an ‘infinite spawning enemies’ modifier, of course). And each is hugely unsatisfying. Tactics involve nothing so much as leaving your tank at the base (possibly with a healer) to keep it from enemy hands, while sending two DPS sentients ranging with an escort of one or two healers to find artefacts. Unless you’re in the first mission type, in which case you simply send all of your units as a clump on a ramble until you find the base.
And the enemy? They always act identically. They hang around in small clusters, with some waiting for you to approach, and other gradually making their way towards your base. And that’s it. No ganging up on you, no attempts to outflank you – they just follow their set patterns until you stumble upon them, at which point they’ll attack you mindlessly, not even picking logical targets to focus on. A thought-provoking masterwork this isn’t. In fact, it’s nothing more than a tedious, repetitive slog.
A tedious, repetitive slog which fails to be rescued by its RPG elements. As already mentioned, your sentients gradually level up. This increases their attributes, and allows them access to new weapons. Only, each sentient has different weapon slots which allow different weapons to be equipped – without actually making clear what weapon types are allowed and which aren’t. This makes re-equipping sentients a huge chore, as you might pick up a new weapon and have no idea which sentient, or which slot on said sentient, will accept it, leading to trial and error browsing through each model. Moreover, meaningful choices are completely missing, with levelling being automated, and weapons offering no important differences in their use. Go for the slow-but-powerful weapon, or the fast-but-weak one? Don’t worry about it, it makes no real difference – just pick the highest level one that you can find and you’ll be fine.
Even the game’s framing is flawed. The storyline makes no attempt to fit in with the gameplay, treating you as a figure commanding a solitary sentient – a sentient who doesn’t appear in the game, bearing no relation to the anonymous squads of sentients you actually control. And while technically impressive, the game is actually rather ugly. Your sentients are bland looking things, whose upgraded weapons never manage to look impressive, removing even the pleasure of seeing your robots customised.
In short, this is a mess. In trying to create an expansive game of many elements, the developers have succeeded in making a confused, unfocussed title which has mastered none of its elements, resulting in a game which is patently not worth the asking price. If only it had been more focussed, more refined, it could have been something special. As it is, it’s a bloated disappointment. Avoid.
Fusion: Sentient Xbox Live Achievements
- Snatched the Pebble (10 points): Finish training at the Luna Academy.
- Sparta Schmarta (10 points): Defeat 300 opposing sentients.
- Moving Up (10 points): Earn your first roster upgrade.
- Got Them All (10 points): Own at least one of each unit type.
- Through the Grinder (10 points): Complete 20 missions in the Ghost Fleet.
- Boomstick (10 points): Defeat 20 opposing sentients with a shotgun.
- Explosive! (10 points): Destroy more than one enemy unit with a single attack.
- Repo Man (10 points): Complete 10 missions by recovering all artifacts.
- Don’t Tase Me Bro (10 points): Stun all opposing sentients on a level.
- Reaper’s Understudy (10 points): Complete 10 missions by destroying all opposition.
- Moneybags (10 points): Have 50,000 Credits in the bank at one time.
- Estate Sale (10 points): Sell or auction off at least 200,000 Credits of merchandise.
- No Child Left Behind (10 points): Complete a mission on the final planet with a common unit in your team.
- Set and Served (10 points): Knock back an enemy while the enemy is being knocked back towards the unit.
- Speak Softly… (10 points): Equip and use a legendary melee weapon.
- Life Starts at 60 (10 points): Reach level 60 with a unit.
Fusion: Sentient Gameplay Video
Fusion: Sentient Screenshots
Version Under Review : 126.96.36.199
There is a trial version available and the full version is available for $2.99, we are not sure what the limitations of the trial version are.
Our Rating for Fusion: Sentient
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