Fuser launches today across PC and console, so we grabbed a crate of confidence and took to the main stage to drop our very own breakbeats in this review.
With the summer season rapidly receding, it seems almost fortuitous that the publishing team at NCSoft would reveal a rebellious new party anthem right now. Developed by the musical veterans at Harmonix, Fuser is a bold attempt to take on the preconceptions that so regularly accompanies traditional rhythm titles and bring a little bit of festival season home. Available now on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC, Fuser is, at its core a rhythm game set front and centre on an unimaginably large festival stage. The backdrop to this musical adventure is a non-stop music parade with an eclectic set of themes. From the corgi and ice cream flavoured stage where you learn to handle R&B mixes for the first time to the imposing presence of the rock set, Fuser is full of light and colour, screaming PARTY from the off.
Thankfully this visual and auditory assault isn’t asking anybody to enter with a fully-fledged DJ set in their back pocket. Unlike Rock Band, you’ll get to play this one with just a keyboard and mouse or a compatible controller, neither of which feels particularly out of place. Harmonix has done a fantastic job of melding the complexities of on stage management with the need to actually play a game.
Inerted onto a massive stage, gamers can press play on a set of four interchangeable discs. This represents the fundamentals of Fuser and easily maps the bass, melody, countermelody, and vocal sections of any available track to one of four action buttons. This provides easy access for fledgeling DJs to scroll through a range of melodies and simply drop in components as a tempo ticker tracks across the bottom of the screen. Staring out with this direction, the campaign mode in Fuser is the best place for new players to begin their ascent to stardom. This introduction to the decks ensures that up and coming DJs are instructed on how to keep a baying crowd happy by regularly swapping and changing the basic four elements of any mix, all in time to the tempo. As this campaign mode continues, you’ll progress through a range of time slots across each of the themed stages, all while learning a plethora of new tricks from a variety of mentors.
This introduction can, at times, make the campaign system might be seen as something of a long-running tutorial but the time investment does pay off. The simple control systems gradually unlock a whole new chest of tricks and progression feels constant but never overwhelming. Fuser is more than just swapping the bassline and breakbeats of two songs. Tempo modifiers, key changes, instrumental add ons, plug-in effects, flanges, light shows, and more are all part of your toolkit as an expert DJ. While this means there is a ton of time to invest in learning the ropes, that doesn’t make Fuser unreasonably difficult to pick up. While images of DJ Hero’s controller might spring to mind, Fuser keeps menus easy to click through and drills more complex actions, like adding effects filters or playing an instrument mid mix, to just a few button presses. Fuser doesn’t beat the drum for accuracy, instead focusing on the artistic process rather than the mechanics of how to bring the bass.cratching and switching. It’s all about making music.
Honing Your Craft
Just as expanding the number of filters, effects, and options can change how a set sounds, your library of available music is invaluable. Starting off with just a few available tracks in your personal crate of songs, progressing through the solo campaign unlocks currency which can be spent to pick from a catalogue of licenced music to take on stage. You’re bound to recognise something in this list, from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way to Take on Me, and all the way back to Megadeath, yes Megadeath! If you pick up the VIP Edition of Fuser, and it’s highly recommended that you do, you’ll pick up a total of 25 extra tracks to chose from and slot into your on stage selection.
Of course, more is always better but you might not realise that right away. Fuser offers up some options at first and what might seem like a very limited range of licenced music at first glance is still too much choice for the uninitiated. I might have said that Fuser focuses on the artistic process, but new DJs will find that they largely play the game mechanically. Early stages will sound like a musical mess. You’ll arbitrarily swap out discs when it doesn’t sound right to meet crowd demands or to catch a bonus beat drop as it ticks along the bottom of the screen. The clash of genres that comes together in the early stages is as much about keeping the crowd happy and following instructions, only distinguishing itself from other press the button interactions with the random cocktail of sounds that sometimes works and sometimes sounds utterly drunk. Still, keeping to the beat will reward you with a glowing success bar on the side of the screen and some time to learn what you are doing.
This feeling does eventually begin to change as tracks become familiar and the gameplay allows you to develop your own style. As crowd demands become less persistent and you spend less time trying to decipher which tracks mesh well, Fuser begins to give its players room to breathe and build their own sound. It inevitably means that even with a huge back catalogue to pick from, you’ll almost always fall back on your own personal preference but the entire game starts to reward your efforts on the decks with a cool mix of genres that feels utterly inspired.
Unlock Your Sound
Grabbing those tracks that you already know from Fuser’s library requires, much like the games’ cosmetic systems, its own virtual currency. By playing stages and completing campaign quests you’ll grab this currency. It’s a fair and straightforward progression track that allows players to customize their avatars look and the overall sound in preparation for going public. How it evolves over time, we will have to see.
Playing For Real
Before bringing the noise, you’ll need to create an avatar for your superstar DJ and the choices on offer for your in game persona are all suitably outrageous. Playing the lead piper in this humongous party means that the entire character creation screen is cluttered with bright hairstyles, exuberant outfits,a nd more outlandish accessories than a dress-up store. This fits the lighthearted tone that Fuser is aiming for and even manages a few really nice inclusive touches too.It’s unusual to find that the body types and facial features aren’t immediately gender locked and the option to build a body that isn’t a picture-perfect poster child feels like a choice that is somehow obvious yet decidedly missing from too many titles. Still, despite this, it would be great to see less emphasis on the closet full of accessories and more on granular management of physical attributes when piecing together your very own you.
Once you’ve created your own avatar, adorned it with enough neon cyber streetwear to light a dark alley, and filled your music crate it’s time to play for real. Fuser’s online and freestyle modes are where the game begins to really excel. Freestyle is largely a show and tell scenario where players can perform for the general public and their friends. The entire affair rests heavily on the community aspect of games like Fuser and while it’s not usually my first choice, there’s definitely going to be some appreciation for it. Where I took my tracks was the online battles and co-op. Like you might imagine co-op play is largely the same core concept disassembled and reconstructed for more than one DJ to deal with.
Battle mode is, however, an entirely different beast. Given your own set of disc decks, it’s up to you to keep the crowd hyped. Mixing many of the tools and trials that campaign mode revels in, online battles bring an extra problem, another DJ. As you both try to keep time and build your crowd into a surging wave of excitement, the player with the disc choices that please the crowd most, will begin to win. It’s an odd genre-bending idea that mixes competitive fighting concepts with a massive sound stage, and somehow it works. Rewarding players with their own ranked mode, this battle of the DJs is just incredible fun once you have an ear for your own deck of discs.
Fuser is a game that, strangely, reminds me more of Occupy White Walls, than Rock Band. It’s a genre mashing experience that bursts out of the screen, borrowing ideas where ever it needs to but rarely confining itself to the preconceptions we might have from another rhythm game. Once you’ve pushed past the tutorials and evolved your own style, Fuser reveals it’s real intent, music. Fuser is the nearest Harmonix has come to present a title that is all about creating your own sound, stepping up on stage and discovering what works. As you master your art, Fuser rewards you with more than just cosmetics because it’s simply a joy to play. grab Fuser if you’re ready to fend off the dreary autumn blues with a burst of colour and a blast of bass to boot. Fuser is available now on PC, via Steam, and console. Check out more over at the official Fuser website.