FUSER review (PS4)

Fuser marks the return of Harmonix to the music-based videogame genre. The pioneering studio behind legendary franchises like Guitar Hero and Rock Band is back with a DJ-inspired take on the genre that features a huge tracklist and is available for consoles and PCs. We tried it out on a PlayStation 4.

Fuser features a track list with 100 tracks, with even more coming out post-release and being included in the game’s premium VIP edition. That’s no coincidence, and it has a lot to do with the fact that Fuser is quite different from games like Guitar Hero and Rock Back. Where those games emphasized rhythm-based gameplay where you hit buttons on an instrument to the beat of the music, here you’re actually controlling the music itself.

That sounds a little vague, and I’m sure that calling Fuser a toolbox for creativity doesn’t help much either. If there’s an existing game that comes close it’s probably Activision’s DJ Hero, but even there you were mostly just “playing” mashups as a DJ rather than creating them. Fuser is the first game to really capture that “DJ/producer” combination that’s been such a runaway success in music in the past decade or more, and even though it feels less “game-like” than some of those earlier titles it’s still an empowering and addictive experience.

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Perhaps some of your will remember Harmonix’ own AR-like game Dropmix, which was developed and marketed with Hasbro a few years ago. It features physical cards that all represented snippets of music that you could mix and match to craft new creations. Fuser is a bit similar to that, although with a vastly expanded feature set.

Central to your experience is your case of music that you have with you. This contains a massive selection of songs, although the base set of 100 songs feels a bit smaller if you’re prone to confining yourself to certain genres only. We’ll touch on that later. In addition to having songs at your disposal, you can also tinker with a variety of additional tools that help you personalize songs beyond the base samples that you have, which ultimately is the key to creating something that doesn’t feel pre-defined by the game (which was one of the flaws in DJ Hero, at least from the perspective of creativity).

Although there’s a big tracklist to select from, you can’t access everything unless you head to the game’s freestyle mode. When playing the campaign (which I definitely recommend doing first), you gradually get eased into the game’s core concepts, giving you a limited selection of songs and tools at first to make sure you don’t mess up too much too soon.

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You essentially get four slots to dump music samples into in order to create something new and fresh, and at first you’ll be taught that a typical composition has drums, bass, guitar and vocals – but later you’ll have a lot more freedom to fill them in whatever way you see fit, with interlocking bass riffs that don’t even need vocals, or a catchy blend of vocals that eliminated the need for a guitar sample. Whatever you do, it’s easy to see where the game’s name came from.

While freestyle mode lets you unleash your creativity (which is where Fuser feels less and less like a game), the campaign mode is much more objective-driven. Part of that is how the game deals with an in-game tutorial of sorts, but this carries over to performing later feats as well, which is also when you start having to react to the crowd. If you don’t, they might chase you off the stage even though you think you’re blasting out a killer tune. That can be a little frustrating since you’re kept on track for this, but you can always wow them later.

That’s not just in freestyle by the way, since the game also heavily features social media integration. You can save what you’ve created and share it online, and you can even take Fuser outside of the confines of its own built-in community hub by sharing your creations as videos on your own socials. If you prefer a more passive experience, or are looking for a bit of extra inspiration, then Fuser also features an option to explore the creations by others in its online hub.

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Multiplayer is also supported, in both the competitive and cooperative sense – though both take place online, which unfortunately makes Fuser less of a party game than (especially) Rock Band was. In today’s age of self-quarantine that’s perhaps not a bad thing, but literally mixing songs shoulder to shoulder still seems like a cool idea to us. Instead, if you have a bunch of friends online, you can play with them and even use those who don’t have a spot at the turntables as spectators/fans – dishing out likes and comments while you do your thing.

Again, these are things you’ll want to dive into after you’ve spent some time in the campaign, because playing these also earns you XP and helps you unlock more music and tools for your creative toolbox, which also gamifying the experience for the duration of said campaign. If you’re quick to catch on to all of the game’s mechanics then this can feel like a bit of a grind, but I welcomed the learning curve that this represented.

The lack of options as a local party game don’t help Fuser, but for those who love a mix of music and creativity will find a lot to love here. Those with less of a knack for music will miss the more game-like nature of previous games, but if you’re in the right target group Fuser provides a nearly limitless toolset for exploration in music, as you blend genres, create sounds of your own and adds effects that make it sound unlike anything else that people in the community have been sharing. That alone is super addictive.

Score: 8.2/10

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