Developer Harmonix has shaped the video game industry with its unique integration of music and gameplay. While Guitar Hero may be the studio’s most iconic outing, Fuser is an even more evolved manifestation of Harmonix’s vision. It is a game that uses popular songs to provide a musical experience that is as enjoyable to make as it is to hear.
Fuser puts you behind the turntables and mixers, giving you full control over a catalog of hits that include rap, R&B, dance, rock and country music. With four turntables (controlled with your gamepad or your mouse) you can mix different elements of these songs to create your own creations. I was often surprised how well these songs blended together; I never thought that combining the beat of Childish Gambino’s “Summertime Magic” with the bass line from Donna Sommer’s “Hot Stuff”, the synthesizer from Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and the vocals from Smash Mouth’s “All Star” would work so well would in concert. Discovering such surprises is often an organic process in Freestyle mode, where you have no limitations or focus on the score, but Fuser is an excellent teacher of gameplay in Career mode.
You are an aspiring performer working to earn the respect of the hottest DJs on the festival scene. While these personalities are often scratchy and cartoonish, Career Mode is a thinly veiled (yet effective) tutorial that focuses on a narrative emerging from the darkness. This mode teaches you the basics through goals that will please the crowd and increase your score, including changing the tempo or key, applying different effects to discs, or calling out multiple discs that you have about the fantastic at the same time Riser function can jump. Swapping discs individually works well enough when you want to find out what works with a particular sound. However, the riser feature seamlessly transitions from your current creation to a brand new masterpiece.
The song library available at launch is impressive and diverse, offering you a wide range of tracks in every genre. Every song has something unique about it, be it the hot Latin beat of Bad Bunny’s “Yo Perreo Sola” or the heavy guitar riff of Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name”. While certain combinations work better together than others, I’ve rarely found one that sounded downright bad. Proof of the impressive technology Harmonix uses to combine sounds and songs in an organic way. If you happen to find the perfect audio composition, you can save a snapshot for easy access later.
Once you feel like you are joining different songs together into cohesive and infectious mixes, you can use other tools to take your creations to the next level. Adding effects like delays, filters, and tape stops add extra flourishes to make your Fusion your own. However, you cannot customize them like the various instruments available. You can’t play any note or pattern, but you can choose from a variety of instruments including distorted vocals, a string section, and trap drums to create your own loops that fall into the soundscape. While I’ve rarely preferred these custom instrument tracks over the established songs that make up the core tracks, nothing has made my songs stand out more than adding my own custom piano loop.
Creative expression is of course crucial to the core gaming experience, but it also carries over to how you present your set. You can customize your character’s appearance, including unlockable clothing and accessories, but I love tinkering with different sets and light shows. It’s great fun choosing the perfect pyrotechnics, fireworks and laser shows that match the mood I set in my performance.
Music can certainly be enjoyed on its own, but the festival scene is a social experience, and Fuser lets you go online for collaborative multiplayer. When you jump into a lobby, take turns with up to three other people to do your perfect production. It’s always fun to see what other people come up with. That’s why I love this mode as well as the social area, where themed events take place with songs from different genres and decades. You can submit your own creation for these events or listen to recordings made by other players.
Battle mode is a chaotic multiplayer option where you can take on other players by using ever-evolving songs that you come up with on the fly. Unfortunately, even more than a week after launching the battle mode on Xbox, the battle mode doesn’t work. While you can undoubtedly have fun with Fuser’s other ways to play, the fact that Harmonix released a non-working mode as part of the package is disappointing. However, this is a comparatively small part of Fuser as a whole, so those who can’t get into a match won’t miss much.
By mastering a great catalog of various hits and certifiable classics, Fuser allows you to fulfill the DJ fantasy better than ever without the need for clunky peripherals that you only use for one game. Even though I put hours into the experience, I still feel like I have so many nooks and crannies and interactions to explore in the library of available tracks. Fuser transcends musical genres and offers a magical and intuitive toolset for creating music as part of a game.