Harmonix, the creators of the Rock Band series, have made a triumphant return with Fuser - a rhythm game that sees players get their creative juices flowing behind the decks. This latest project looks to be the studio's most ambitious, as it encourages creative expression and provides players with an entire suite of tools to be used within their mixes. With tracks from Rage Against The Machine, Dolly Parton, and Lady Gaga it's also propped up with a pretty impressive soundtrack that spans multiple decades and genres.
Getting started in Fuser is actually pretty simple due to its intuitive control scheme and series of tutorials, but there's actually plenty of depth within the suite of tools at your disposal. At the top of the screen you can view all of the tracks within your crate and layering up a mix is as simple as hovering over a track and selecting the corresponding button for the component that you want to add. On Xbox One, each component (bass, percussion, vocals, lead melody) is wonderfully colour coordinated with the X, Y, A, and B buttons. After playing a few sets I didn't have to even look down at my controller; it's just executed that well.
At the end of your set you are given a star rating based on your performance, and this is dependent on several different factors. Firstly, you'll need to ensure that your transitions are timed well - this is a rhythm game after all. Above your decks there's a timeline, which is split into the individual beats of a bar, and you'll want to aim for your transitions to land on the opening beat. There's also specific objectives and crowd requests that will come flooding in, and you'll need to complete these in a timely fashion to win over the admiration of the crowd. You can tell how well things are going as there's an audience engagement meter displayed on the bottom of the screen, and if this is fully depleted then the show embarrassingly comes to a close.
Something that I really liked about Fuser is that it encourages players to experiment and be creative, unlike other rhythm games where you just have to push a series of different buttons. You have the freedom to load your crate with the songs that appeal to you the most, and things won't automatically sound great by just following a series of prescribed steps. The mixes of two players will never sound the same too as there's so many different tools offered to help encourage creativity and individuality. Players can record their own loops, adjust the key and tempo, and can apply fades to individual components within a mix. Pulling together something that works and sounds good is just so satisfying, and it's a joy that no other rhythm game has really provided me to date.
The bulk of your time will be likely spent in the Career Mode. Here you'll play across six different main stages and meet many other fellow DJs who will mentor you and teach you their own tips and tricks. Unlike Rock Band, there is a loose story here, and each character you'll meet on your journey to the top has been fleshed out with their own quirky personality. I did find the career mode to be largely enjoyable and the faster way to earn points to unlock new tracks and cosmetics, but it does have one major problem - its pacing. A lot of the time it felt like I was stuck in one extended tutorial, as I was constantly bombarded with new techniques and forced to use them again and again. I get that Fuser is a complex game and needs explanation, but I think I could have been implemented a little less heavy handedly.
Alongside its Career, Fuser also features two other modes: a Multiplayer Mode and a Freestyle Mode. The Freestyle Mode is pretty much what you'd expect from its title. Here you are presented with the full suite of tracks and tools you've unlocked, and you're free to experiment to your heart's content. There's no time limits here and no fans nagging you to play their favourite hits from the '90s. Multiplayer Mode, sadly, I was unable to experience within the game's pre-launch state, but I did hear a lot about it in my September preview session. This mode is essentially an interactive live performance where you and three other players take it in turns to take the spotlight and jump behind the decks. Whilst you're waiting for your time to shine, you can make requests and show your thoughts with a set of emojis. I really like the concept of this mode in particular, as it just seems like one big jam session.
Fuser's decades-spanning soundtrack I found to be excellent, as it showcases a whole breadth of different genres and includes tracks from big name artists such as 50 Cent, Post Malone, and The Clash. Harmonix has done an admirable job here in compiling together a catalogue of songs that are assembled with many catchy hooks and are perfect for dissection. Take Billie Eilish's 'Bad Guy', for example, which is brimming with catchy melodies and can be identified from just its bass, synth, or vocal track alone. Its soundtrack is filled with hits like this, and you can tell a lot of thought was applied when selecting the songs. What's great is that the 100 tracks included on the disc are set to expand. There's an additional 25 included in the VIP that can be purchased individually and more will be added.
Something else I admire about Fuser is the sense of community that the developers are hoping to build through in-game events. Each week there will be a new event within the game that has its own specific brief and will offer players cosmetic rewards for participating. The event that is currently running in the game is a Synth Pop event that tasks players with putting together mixes using only drums, guitar, bass, synth, and vocals from the '80s, '90s, and 00's. This reminds me a lot of the approach that Media Molecule took with Dreams, and I can see it adding extra replay value for many later down the line with many fun briefs.
Not everything is all rosy with Fuser, however. I wouldn't say it detracts too much from the experience but I found the visuals to look incredibly dated. The character models here look like they have been put together in The Sims, and the crowd during performances often appears lifeless and lacks a sense of realism. Sure, I knew this game wouldn't be a visual spectacle given its nature, but things don't look that much better than Rock Band 4 and that was a game that launched half a decade ago in the early days on the PS4 and Xbox One.
Fuser is some of the most fun that I have had with a rhythm game, and in many ways it's able to transcend the genre that it has been labelled with. I really like how it encourages creativity through its in-depth suite of tools and I found its soundtrack to be a solid mix of tracks spanning multiple different eras and genres. I did, however, find its graphics to be dated, and its Career Mode suffered problems when it came to pacing out its tutorials. Still, Fuser is an excellent new venture for Harmonix, and I can't wait to return once further DLC tracks have been added to the soundtrack.
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