Price calls Echelon "co-opetitive" because while you're ultimately working together to ensure group survival, the constant money drops – essentially experience points – are something teammates will scramble to grab. With collected cash, players can purchase and upgrade abilities, and progress in Fuse carries across all game modes.
"Part of our goal here is to make this a friendly game – if you've had experiences in multiplayer games before where you jumped in and had your head blown off in the first couple seconds, we don't want that to happen in Fuse," Insomniac CEO Ted Price told Joystiq. "We want Fuse to be a game where you're actually working with players and competing for cash and status. But it's always a friendly competition."
I found Echelon mode to be an improvement over the stale wave-based combat formula, with the interplay between the four main characters' weapons in Fuse providing a seemingly endless variety to the conflict. Those big chain combos when teammates are working together are so satisfying, providing seconds of sweet ignorant bliss as I forgot I was playing a variant of Horde mode.
"It's pretty tough. Keep in mind we're still tuning things," Price told me following my session with three other video game journalists. "As every developer will tell you, you get pretty good at playing your own game and your QA teams get pretty good. What's nice is that even though it is tough, people are using the weapons in the way that we designed them, in some cases naturally coming together to work as a team because you have to."
In fact, one boss wave turned into homicide by disintegration. A massive robot picked up my character and melted him on a molecular level with its chest laser. It was a pretty great sequence – I desperately pounded on the controller to try and get free as I watched its chest laser slowly warm up then fire.
Ultimately my team never survived Echelon mode, but I enjoyed the struggle and would gladly sign up for another tour of duty come release in March 2013.