I started playing this game on a dare. “Hey, Tom,” I said to myself, “I dare you to play whatever this Fusion: Genesis thing is that Microsoft just sent you. If only to see what kind of game it is. With a name like that, it’s got to be awful, right?” Since I’m such an insufferable pest, I finally relented just to shut myself up.

After the jump, the joke’s on me

Imagine my surprise to find out just what kind of game it is: a detailed, languid, weirdly trippy space MMO that plays wonderfully from the confines of my couch and within the limits of my 360 controller. It’s 2D and the basic handling is like a twin-stick shooter. But as an MMO.

Instead of classes, you have factions with distinct ships, components, and skills. Using controls no more complicated than, say, Bastion, you fly around various lovely and inventive space dungeons (open space is so overrated) busy with ships from friendly, indifferent, and hostile factions. Sometimes battles happen that have nothing to do with you. Fly single-player missions and drop into multiplayer arenas, including co-op raids and head-to-head battles. The goal is almost always to go somewhere to blow up stuff or to activate something while blowing up stuff. Some missions drop you into different ships, presumably to teach you how the game plays.

I say “presumably”, because as near as I can tell, this game isn’t interested in teaching anyone anything. A kiss of death for a $10 downloadable time sink like this is being inscrutable. For all the early leveling you get (have?) to do, Fusion: Genesis never shows you the basics. It never says this is a pulse weapon, this is a beam weapon, these are how missiles lock on, this is how the factions work, here is the deal with your sentinel, here is where you plug components into your ship, here is how you grind challenges, here is how the online stuff works. None of those things happens. And what a damn shame, really. This could have been the ideal Xbox Live MMO, laid back and non-demanding, open and welcoming.

Instead, I’d say that literally more than half of the game’s systems are entirely unexplained, if not completely hidden from anyone who doesn’t accidentally stumble onto them. All downloadable games have a “How to Play” section, but few are as devoid of useful information at Fusion: Genesis’. The result is a game that plays like something strange and Japanese made for the people who are already playing it. It’s like a club where everyone is being coy about the initiation rites because, it turns out, no one bothered to come up with any. So they’re just loitering around looking furtive until, by virtue of doing the same thing yourself, you become one of them. At which point, hey, you’re playing a pretty cool online space MMO that’s like something Sony would offer on the Playstation Network.

But it’s a club worth joining if you don’t mind its social gracelessness. Many times I’ve wished that some of the better indie action RPGs were on Xbox Live Arcade or the Playstation Network. Oh, how I’d like to play Din’s Curse or Space Pirates and Zombies in my living room, on my TV, with my surround sound. Until that happens, Fusion: Genesis is the closest I’m going to get.

3 stars
Xbox 360