Harmonix were the undisputed kings of the rhythm action games with the Rock Band franchise released in the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation. Plastic instruments were all the rage for a period of time, but their popularity slowly faded away early into the next generation of consoles. Activision were hot on their tails with the Guitar Hero games and then the first attempt at DJ games with the underrated DJ Hero 1 and 2. Harmonix then had success with the Dance Central series of games that relied on the Kinect sensor but since then no-one has really offered anything new or different for Xbox One or PS4, but Harmonix is back, ironically with a game released on the exact same day as the next console generation is unleashed to the world, sharing a launch day with the Xbox Series X and S. Fuser is the new game, based around being a world renowned superstar DJ, but will it do anything new and exciting to refresh the rhythm action game genre?
The main gameplay loop of Fuser is incredibly simple to a newcomer. Included in the game are a number of songs which are split into four discs , each distinguished by a different colour. The blue discs are mainly the drums (the beat of the song), green and yellow are the rhythm (guitars, keyboards) whilst the red are the vocals. Dropping these discs will start them playing, and quickly you will create your own mix from a number of different songs. Within five minutes of the campaign starting you could have the beat of a dance track mixed with rhythm elements from a pop song and the vocals from a rap track. This is the premise of Fuser at its most basic level, although it does get much more complex and difficult as you work through the campaign levels!
As you progress timing is soon highlighted as the most important thing to master. To start with, the aim is to drop the disc on the downbeat of the mix, but then Fuser introduces dropping the disc on the pick-up, which is where the new disc will fit seamlessly into the current mix. For example, dropping the red disc on the pick-up means the vocal starting at the start of a verse or chorus and not mid-way through either. The best thing about all this is the ease and the pace in which the new mechanics are introduced. There never feels like there is a step too far or too quickly. And of course the levels will test you by constantly throwing in challenges, for example once you have learned how to drop a disc on the pick-up, the set will require you to do so, a set number of times, before a timer runs out. Failure to do so will cause the crowd to become unhappy, and once they are then the set will end and will require you to restart unless, you turn on the “no-fail” option.
Keeping the crowd happy is the name of the game, and this is mainly done by completing the set challenges and successfully responding to the crowd requests, “play a dance song” or “play some guitar”. Changing the mix regularly will also increase the happiness level, and before too long you will be able to get those elusive five stars. Yes, you are also rated on your performance, earning XP as you go, which when saved up will allow you to purchase new songs, instruments and effects. Fuser launches with 75 songs and a further 25 with the VIP edition. Three more will also be available for anyone who pre-orders. Harmonix have yet to comment on future DLC plans, however its safe to assume, based on how well the developer supported Rock Band after release, that more tracks will follow. In fact, I think it is a must, as even after a week of playtime I am really wishing more new and varied songs were available!
But, don’t worry if you think that all of the above sounds a bit too simplistic, as the difficulty and complexity of Fuser just keeps ramping up as you progress through the campaign. You will learn that multiple discs of the same colour can be played at the same time – yes, even four vocal tracks – although this isn’t advised! You will also learn how to queue your next songs so that you drop multiple discs together and by using the B button be able to swap instantly between currently playing and queued discs. You’ll find out how to solo individual discs, fade in and out, change tempo, change key, record and play your own instruments which get recorded to a disc and dropped, and use effects that can be applied to the tracks, such as low pass filter, flange and stutter. In fact, a week in, after I have played most of the campaign, I am still finding new things to do to improve my sets.
Outside of the campaign there is also a freestyle mode, that removes the pressures of playing to a crowd. This is essentially your safe space to practice and hone the skills you learn in the campaign. In this mode there is also the option to record clips and export videos of your best moments into the social space. Here, you can watch other videos that fellow DJ’s have made, make friends and take part in challenges. Currently there is a “Synth Pop” challenge open, where you submit a mix using songs from certain years and only using certain disc types. I’m not sure just how this is going to evolve and develop after launch, as its all a bit sparse at the moment, but does indicate that Harmonix does plan to support after release. There are also two multiplayer options in the menu in Co-Op Freestyle and Battles. I have tried the former and it does appear to be quite limited, with you and up to three other players each having a short attempt at a freestyle mix, including voting and cheering your friends on during their mix. It didn’t really hook me, due to the shortness of the mix available. Battles are more of a competitive mode, but this was unavailable during the period of time I had to review before release.
Fuser also enables you to customise your DJ and the stage as much as you want. You have control over colours, effects, pyrotechnics and a load of other aspects of the set. This is also true of your character, with sex, size, beards, etc, along with clothing, more of which can be unlocked as you proceed through the campaign. I opted for a nice daft-punk esque helmet, to add an aura of mystery about my character!
Ultimately Fuser is a load of fun for a music lover like myself. At times I was punching the air in delight and dancing around the room when I got the mix absolutely spot on. Even when the campaign is tough, and failing you, it never felt unfair, and there was always the impetus to retry to get it right and get the crowd happy. The gameplay always seems to assist you if you drop a slow vocal mix into a fast song and I have never felt like I have seriously messed up. The level of effects and combinations you can add to the mix to make it stand out is crazy. Practise and perseverance will allow you to get some stunning outcomes! I only have two concerns. Firstly, it is a full price game, launching alongside the new consoles and I am worried it will get lost or passed over. Poor sales could lead to a lack of support after launch, and a lack of new songs may end up being the games downfall. If supported I can see this being a game that gets played on a weekly basis for the next year or two!