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21

Windows Phone Xbox Live Review: Fusion: Sentient

WP Central

When Microsoft announced that downloadable Xbox 360 title Fusion: Genesis would receive a Windows Phone companion game, Fusion: Sentient, my eyes lit up. Sentient comes from Wahoo Studios, makers of some charming and creative XBLA titles. And what gamer doesn’t enjoy the promise of cross-platform connectivity? Imagine my surprise then when I finally played Sentient and discovered it to be a dull, arduous cash-in of a game.

Fusion Sentient

While Fusion: Genesis on XBLA is a twin-stick shooter/RPG hybrid that takes place entirely in space, Fusion: Sentient attempts to flesh out the shared universe at ground level. The story involves a man, named Player - yes, that’s what they call him instead of using the player’s GamerTag or even just an interesting name. He’s an up-and-coming Machinist, a fellow who specializes in raising Sentients. In the Fusion universe, Sentients are living robots who can walk around and interact with people or fly alongside their spaceships. As the story progresses, an evil robot-faced lady continually tries to assassinate the hero and his personal Sentient, Cogita. It seems there is a secret weapon capable of destroying the universe, and she wants to unleash its awesome power.

Sentient’s story makes less and less sense as the game goes on. First, it’s told entirely through some of the most poorly-drawn digital comic panels ever – think Dead Space: Ignition bad. Not only is the art hideous and amateurish, but it poorly conveys the action between panels, resulting in frequent confusion. Worst of all, the story has next to nothing to do with the game itself. Player and Cogita work alone almost the entire time, and yet in the game, players always control a squad of five nameless Sentients. Player and Cogita are nowhere to be found. The disconnect between story and gameplay makes it hard to care about anything that happens in the game.

Perhaps if Fusion: Sentient’s gameplay was above par I could ignore the irrelevant narrative. It does initially show promise. Beards & Beaks previously adapted the real-time strategy genre to mobile phone, to mixed but enjoyable results.  Sentient takes an entirely different approach to the same genre. Players control a squad of five mechs, battling other mechs over a series of missions. Along the way, your mechs level up, plus you gain new loot and mechs. Unfortunately, none of it works very well.

Sentient’s main problem is mission variety. Specifically, the complete and total lack of it. Every mission consists of three phases. In the first, players must capture the enemy’s ‘heart’ – basically a flag. In the next phase, you capture a generic artifact while defending the heart. The third phase is just like the second, but with two artifacts instead of one. Multiply that times 44 missions and you have the entire game. While there are eight different environments, maps never have any distinguishing characters to differentiate one from another, so every mission on a map looks and feels just like every other.

Fusion Sentient

The developers throw in a few modifiers now and then in an attempt to alleviate the monotony: endless enemies, a time limit, reduced healing, or reduced field of vision. Every single modifier is a nuisance, decreasing the fun instead of enhancing it. Endless enemy missions in particular can be extremely unfair as the enemies overwhelm your small squad of robots.

Winning the more challenging missions usually comes down to grinding until your Sentients become strong enough to survive. Sentient includes some RPG elements, as your mechs gain experience and levels by defeating enemies. I’m all for RPG mechanics, and grinding can be fun when it’s done right. But the units in this game are completely disposable. There are only three classes (DPS, Tank, and Healer), each of which comes in five levels of quality: common, uncommon, rare, epic, and legendary. Once you gain the next level of a class you’re using (as a post-mission reward), you just sell or auction the old one and start leveling up the new guy. It’s hard to become attached to characters when the majority of the time you’ll just be getting rid of them anyway.

The main benefit of leveling up is gaining access to better weapons, as every weapon is locked to a minimum level. Equipping Sentients with new guns is a complete pain though. To equip a gun, you select one of the 2-7 equippable slots on a mech. Some slots can use certain weapon types while other spots can’t; it’s never explained to the player. Once you’ve chosen a slot, all of the possible weapons it can use appear in a huge list. Scrolling left to right through the list takes longer and longer as you acquire new weapons. There are absolutely no sorting options, so every time it’s a slog through hordes of weapons as you search for a level-appropriate one. If you could auto-equip the best weapon for the mech’s level or at least jump to level-appropriate weapons, things would go much more smoothly. It seems like the developers put absolutely no thought into inventory management.

Fusion Sentient

Fusion: Sentient is also a fairly unattractive game. The problem stems not from the mech models, which look good enough for a mobile title. Instead, the fog of war keeps things ugly. Unexplored areas are simply black. The majority of the time you’ll be pushing back the blackness as you explore each map in search of artifacts. There’s never a map that’s just filled in, nor do you spend much time on a map after filling it in. The pervasive blackness creates a sense that the maps are floating in the middle of nowhere. Games like Final Fantasy Tactics handle floating maps far more attractively.

A few more complaints: Fusion: Sentient’s loading times are excessive, ranging from 30 seconds to a minute at the start of each phase of a mission. That would be too annoying in a console title and it’s just ridiculous for a portable one. Out of my 12 or so hours of gameplay, at least 66 minutes of it was spent staring at loading screens!

Last, the unit pathfinding is extremely bad. The player’s own mechs cannot walk through each other. Whenever the lead mech walks into a corner, the four robots following him will box him in and keep him from moving. You have to manually select one of the obstructing robots and move him out of the way, and then quickly move the lead mech before one of the other guys fills in the place you’ve just cleared. Lots of times an individual or group of mechs will take extremely roundabout paths instead of the shortest route, too.

Connectivity

Fusion Genesis

Fusion: Genesis

As mentioned before, Fusion: Sentient connects with Fusion: Genesis on Xbox 360. Mechs from the phone game can be auctioned or gifted to console players. It’s necessary to do so (or just sell them in-game for a much lower amount), as you can only hold a limited number of mechs at one time. I go into greater detail about the connectivity and its benefits here. I’ll just add that during my playtime, the auction server was frequently unavailable. This often forced me to stop playing and come back to the game later since I didn’t want to just sell my Sentients for scrap. Players of the now-delisted Crackdown: Project Sunburst will remember its similarly inexcusable server woes.

Achievements

Fusion: Sentient has that most dreaded thing: glitched Achievements. ‘Repo Man’ and ‘Reaper’s Understudy’ require players to complete 10 missions by collecting all artifacts and 10 missions by defeating all enemies, respectively. Unfortunately the game’s tracking of progress towards these Achievements is broken. Some players have managed to get ‘Repo Man’ (not me), but ‘Reaper’s Understudy’ remains completely unattainable at present.

Overall Impression

Given Wahoo/NinjaBee’s previous track record of quality XBLA games, I can only assume they weren’t given enough time with Fusion: Sentient to make a decent game. Hopefully they will at least fix the broken Achievements and add Fast App Switching, which would alleviate loading times upon resuming. But even without those problems, Sentient would still be a long, boring grind with horrendous inventory management. Fusion: Genesis, on the other hand, comes from a different developer – Starfire Studios – and is far more worthwhile. To learn more about the XBLA game, check out my full review at Co-Optimus.

Fusion: Sentient costs $2.99 and has a free trial. If you value your time or money, try to avoiding picking it up here at the Marketplace. Fusion: Genesis for Xbox 360 costs 800 Microsoft Points ($10) right here.

Update

Ater more than a year, the game finally received a patch in early 2013 to fix the broken Achievement and add Fast App Switching support. Thank goodness!

Fusion Sentient

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Comments

There are 21 comments. Sign in to comment

Couldn't have agreed more. The training alone made me regret my $2.99. I can't be bothered to continue lol

1jaxstate1 says:

I started and quit right after the training too. LOL.

Paul Acevedo says:

You guys are lucky! I had to beat it in order to review it.

1jaxstate1 says:

Oh my, I feel sorry for ya! 

Dormage says:

This review seems far from objective. I guess there's some emotion involved. I can't understand how a good game like this can get such a bad review ? The graphics are amazing, the amount of work on effects and models must have been enormous. The gameplay is a bit boring but to be honest I've seen much worse games getting better reviews on the marketplace.
This one even made me laugh !!
"Unexplored areas are simply black. "
Seriusly? Its called fog of war !
Ever played games before?
This review is bull !

Paul Acevedo says:

Sorry you disagree, guy, but you should learn to respect opinions that differ from your own.

I did complement the look of the robots, but otherwise I don't find the graphics to be amazing at all. I acknowledge the fog of war in the review (which you seem to have missed), but it's still ugly and brings down the look of the game.

It's good that you enjoyed the game (apparently), but I certainly didn't and I don't expect that most WP7 gamers will either.

Nataku4ca says:

id rather watch a movie than play a game that looks good but boring... 
 
technically, fog of war = explored area that you can't currently "see", no? unless this game acts differently (i haven't played it) usually unexplored area != fog of war

Dormage says:

I might have missed a few lines. Apparently all of them were acknowledgments.
I always respect other opinions, at least i think i do. But they are usualy not so much apart with mine.
As I said I simply can't understand how such a game got such a bad review.
I just feel like you were too hard on the developers...
"and I don't expect that most WP7 gamers will either"
The game is fifth on the TOP list !

Paul Acevedo says:

Sure, it's on the top list because it came out within the last month and Xbox Live titles always sell strongly right at first. It's also tied to a well-reviewed XBLA title, which generates some automatic interest.

I don't relish being hard on a game, but I'm a critic. I can't just ignore all the issues I pointed out. Are you honestly telling me that 30+ second loading times (per phase, with 3 phases times 44 missions), a complete lack of inventory management, all 44 missions being almost identical, and the story having nothing to do with the game are just minor problems?

lumic says:

I think they are minor problems considering you guys give sparkling reviews to non-XBL games which are a combination of zero replay value and visual diarrhoea. I'm quite frankly annoyed that the podcasters and reviewers alike talk up indie development that is clearly at a lower level than the XBL titles. If what's bugging you is the exclusivity of XBL, hate of large developers and their often slower update schedule, or even high pricing - put it in your conclusion. Don't skew your whole review.

For the record, my Omnia has never suffered from the loading times that WP Central has made its task to emphasize since this game's launch.

Paul Acevedo says:

Hey Lumic. Glad to have so many people in on the discussion today! :)

It's not that we hold indie games and Xbox Live games to a completely different standard, per se. I mean, Xbox Live games are usually bigger budget and go through a far more rigorous certification process, so it's fair to have slightly different expectations of them.

The issue you're pointing out simply comes down to the fact that we have more than one reviewer here. As you may have noticed, I review almost every Xbox Live game. I have little interest in indie games, though I do review them occasionally (Vanessa St. Pierre Delacroix, MonsterUp, etc.). Whereas George tackles most indie games and has a completely different reviewing style than me.

You can fairly compare reviews written by me and see what kind of standards I hold, my writing style, and what issues I tend to criticize. I don't have any problem with Xbox Live game pricing, though obviously the slowness and difficulty of publishing updates is indeed a great concern.

Yann Best says:

It's probably worth noting that Paul isn't the only reviewer who didn't think a great deal of the game - I reviewed the game for BestWP7Games, and I too felt the game was a big disappointment.
 
Quite simply, it's a strategy game which doesn't require strategy; an RPG with a dull story that doesn't fit with the game at all, which features only passive levelling-up and then makes changing weapons a massive hassle. It doesn't so much fall between two stools as smash both of them up for kindling.
 
And the worst thing is - this is being marketed as a premium title, and it ties in with a great little XBLA title; we had every right to expect more. I suppose we can at least be thankful it's not as bad as Farm Frenzy 2, but that's not exactly the greatest praise I could heap upon a game.
 
So, no, I don't think Paul's criticism was misplaced. This is a very flawed game, which is a real shame, as it had potential - a great interface, decent production values, and one of the more useful pieces of XBLA integration I've come across (when it works).

athix says:

You have some good points about the load times, that sounds aweful.  True seems like should have been the next WOW game/storyline, but meh, its mobile.  What cell phone games out there have more than one thing over and over and over with minor variations and power ups?  That's the way they all work in a limited resource environment.  For heavens sake I love swipy man and 7Cave.  Of course not as good as Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds but those get old too after 12 hours.  In the end, as the load times are the deal breaker for me..

Paul Acevedo says:

For an example of a strategy game with much greater variety, just look at Beards & Beaks. That game has at least 4 wildly different types of levels, plus even when the same type repeats, it shows far more creativity and variance in the design of each level.

Even if we expand to different genres, I'd say that MOST phone games (excluding Twin Blades) have more variety than Fusion: Sentient. Level design is pretty important, and that's just one place they dropped the ball here.

1jaxstate1 says:

I've tried to play the game and I agree with him. They are pretty much dead on with their reviews, this is pretty much the only place I go to find new games. 

theefman says:

Cant say I disagree with the review, it is extremely boring and tedious exactly in the ways described. Unlike The Harvest which really gave you the feeling you were upgrading your character to a mean, butt-kicking machine upgrading Sentients is just too involved. Didnt know about the glitched cheevos 'cos I cant bring myself to play the game, guess i'll just keep it installed and hope for an update to the gameplay and bugs.

RayWP7 says:

Will the trial provide enough playtime for me to judge the issues presented?  I hope so, the graphics appear hot but if the game is boring its boring. In the PC world I work for a MMO publisher and there are plenty of beautiful grindfests. But they are still grindfests (for example, see AION, etc). I think mobile phone game players should be less tolerant of this (even if the excuses are valid).  The form factor already reduces the possible comfort of sitting in front of a full PC + mouse or even console.  I'm still excited the platform is growing - here is hoping the developers are reading these reviews!

Dormage says:

As mentioned before, opinions are different but its nice to see so many comments. It shows more people folow the development of the platform.
Keep the the reviews comming !!
Thanks !

z33dev33l says:

I found it to be the single most enjoyable game in the wp7 xbl lineup thus far. The only one worth the man hours anyway, I got a set of 2 of each not perfected.

Gemini Ace says:

I've been enjoying it so far.  I agree with some of your issues, like the pathfinding and occaisional grinding.  Otherwise I think it's on par with The Harvest as far as that goes.  I currently have a bunch of level 30ish mechs and I'm on the planet now.  Anyway, I'm looking forward to trying out Genesis.  Any game that tries something in respect to console/phone connectivity gets my support.  I just hope this review doesn't turn too many people off of the game.

Paul Acevedo says:

You'll have to let us know how you feel about the game after you beat it.