Whether you like it or not, we’re still deep in a golden age of superheroes that shows no signs of slowing. In fact, the video game world is only just now catching up to movies, with big-budget Marvel games coming from studios like Insomniac and Firaxis. Despite that continued growth, it feels like we’re seeing less original superheroes as the industry focuses on adapting existing ones.
That’s going to change with Superfuse. The new action RPG from developer Stitch Heads takes the dungeon crawler setup of Diablo and replaces fantasy archetypes with superheroes. While it draws inspiration from darker properties like Invincible and The Boys, it’s a totally original concept that brings games like City of Heroes to mind.
I went hands-on with the game at this year’s Game Developers Conference and was impressed by what the game had to offer. While its dungeon crawling action is familiar, it has an ingenious approach to character builds — one that let me create a truly overpowered superhero that could kick any Avengers’ butt.
Superfuse isn’t a light superhero romp. It’s a dark game that’s set in a dystopian future destroyed by capitalism. Rich corporate elites have essentially transformed themselves into Gods by augmenting themselves with powers (all while the poor suffer in the streets). Long-story short, monsters emerged, dubbed The Corruption, and the elites decided to fight back by creating superheroes in their own image. Thus, the Enforcers were born.
It’s easy to see that the team drew inspiration from satirical shows like The Boys, though it’s not a pitch-black game. Visually, it reminds me of the Borderlands series with its bright colors and cartoon-like visuals. My first hit of sadistic glee came when I attacked an enemy and bright goo splattered out of it in a geyser-like particle explosion.
Anyone who’s familiar with the Diablo series will feel right at home here. I begin my demo in a hub area, but quickly head out into a procedurally generated series of rooms and hallways filled with enemies. I click on the map to move and attack with different abilities that each have their own power cost. The enemies I smash drop various loot, like armor and weapons, that I can equip in different spots.
Toss in four-player co-op, and you’ve got all the makings of a classic dungeon crawler with a superhero face-lift.
The game really starts to get exciting when it comes to actually creating an Enforcer. Superfuse features five distinct heroes, all of which roughly map to a standard RPG class. In my demo, I played as The Berserker, the equivalent to a heavy-hitting barbarian. The Stitch Heads team didn’t reveal the other classes, but key art hints at a ranger-style class, among others.
Each character has their own skill tree, but it doesn’t work in the way you might expect. Unlocking skills means that players essentially get a module that can be used to augment abilities. The act of customizing a superpower almost feels like programming — and it’s a delightfully powerful tool.
Characters start with basic attacks. My Berserker had a simple projectile blast that shot forward, for instance. As I unlock augments, I can start attaching them using “if/then” statements. For example, if my attack kills an enemy, then they fire out shrapnel when they die. Or I can program it so that when I fire my projectile, it splits into two shots.
Things get wild when I start stacking augments on top of one another. I could split that same shot four ways and then add an augment that mirrors it so I’m shooting projectiles in every direction. I could add elemental damage onto those shots — multiple kinds, if I wanted. The hitch is that the more a player buffs their attacks, the more energy it will cost. Even with that balance, I was still able to make an absurdly powerful build that could squash a small horde of Corrupted in a few button clicks.
It’s one of the most impressive customization systems I’ve seen in a game. Rather than feeling linear or tied to specific gear, character customization feels limitless. My second ability gave me the power to slam enemies and I could have spent a half hour in menus tweaking it to make it as devastating as can be. I experimented with having my character dash forward when he slammed, making little adjustments ,and popping back in the game to test how it works in practice.
The developers understand the joy that comes when you create a build that almost feels busted, and they’ve given players a satisfying tool to let them accomplish that.
While powers are fully customizable, the characters themselves aren’t blank canvases. This is a narrative-driven game that’s split up into acts, spanning multiple planets and cities. Each hero has a specific backstory and Stitch Heads still wanted to make sure that their personalities weren’t lost in the shuffle.
The Berserker, for instance, isn’t just a generic create-a-character. He’s a fully fleshed-out hero voiced by Eli Harris. In establishing a Black hero (there are no sliders to change his skin tone), Stitch Heads wanted to make sure it was creating a voice that felt natural. The studio worked closely with Harris, allowing him to give his input into how to make the character sound authentic — not a common practice in the industry, according to Harris. The actor is particularly enthusiastic about the character as a result, as the studio gave him the chance to do some customization of his own.
After years of playing live-service games like Destiny 2, I sincerely appreciate that detail. Many modern games have taken personality out of characters by trying to make them empty avatars for players to project onto. Superfuse finds a better solution. It gives players full control when it comes to customizing the action, but still presents a cast of heroes that feel distinct. I want to have control over my powers, but I’m still a sucker for a good, authored origin story.
Superfuse has a ton of potential thanks to its deep customization and co-op multiplayer. The developers note that it’ll have plenty of endgame content outside of the main campaign, so the team is ready to give the game the support it’ll need to survive. Players can start tooling around in Superfuse when it launches into early access sometime this year.
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