FUSER Preview – a Harmonix music festival with some real big deck energy

If there’s a studio in gaming synonymous with music, it’s Harmonix. Progenitor of rhythm-action genre as we know it, they’ve spent fifteen years finding ways to marry sound and action into games, and with their latest offering, Fuser, they’ve returned to show why they’re the masters of this particular art.

Fuser is the digital evolution of Harmonix’ musical card game Dropmix. That had you laying down different musical loop cards on a physical board that tied into your tablet or phone, creating on-the fly mixes that were a huge amount of fun to play around with. Fuser takes that idea and runs back to your home console or PC with it, letting you craft a DJ set with little more than a gamepad or mouse, while you get to work on your craft while playing for a digital – or even a real world – audience.

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You start off every set by checking out your Crate. This is where you keep all your music – these crates are stuffed with loads of digital CDs and vinyl – as well as all of your Instruments, Effects and Snapshots. There’s so much you can have in here it’s less a crate and more a flight case that needs three roadies to push it around, but it’s the hub you need to line yourself up for success.

Depending on what you’re doing, you might not have total control over what goes into your Crate. Different stages have different scenarios or requirements, and some of that might mean you simply can’t step out onto the stage without Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up. While you can’t turn around and desert him, if you’re looking for more of a free-flowing experience there’s Freestyle and Multiplayer modes where you can truly flex those creative, disc-spinning muscles.

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There’s music from every genre out there, so whether you’re a pop fan, rocker or country music aficionado there’s something for you to bang out. This initial hands on featured a modest number of tracks, but even within them the range of options is dizzying. Does Rage’s Killing in the Name Of work with Bobby Brown’s My Perogative? Can I put the vocals from Aha’s Take On Me to the bass line from Karol G’s Tusa?

The answer might not always be yes, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun finding out. When you hit the mix just right, and everything comes together, it truly feels like you are DJing at a huge festival or one of those nightclub things we used to remember.

On stage you have four decks to drop tracks or instruments onto. At a basic level you’ll drop in one each from drums, bass, guitar and vocals, but you can layer the same type together if you want to hear what four different drum beats sound like, or want to assault your ears with four sets of vocals.

The first stage lets you get to grips with everything, and your primary goals tick up on the right-hand side of the screen. On top of that you’ve then got requests coming in from the crowd who want to hear a particular song or genre, and all in all you’ve got to keep everyone happy. Daniel Sussman, Fuser’s Project Director, described it as “a plate spinning game”, and it’s a perfect analogy. You’re constantly trying to balance everything, aiming for the best score, or simply not to upset the crowd to the point where you’re booed off stage. That definitely hurts.

In classic Harmonix style there’s a five star rating system to work within, but how you get there is very often up to you. Hitting goals and answering requests is a big part of it, but there’s skill involved once you learn you can earn extra points for dropping in discs on the downbeat, and you have to consistently evolve your mix to keep the crowd happy. It’s head-bopping, disc-spinning fun, and while it’s a very different creature to your Rock Band or Guitar Hero, it has that same elemental link between music and action.

Alongside the campaign, there’s competitive and collaborative multiplayer to get into with your friends and family. Competitive sees two players going head to head, battling for control of the mix, while collaborative has up to four players each taking turns to put the mix together. You can even have spectators here as well, dropping you comments and emojis while you DJ for them. There’s a ‘Hottest Mix’ accolade to be won here for some of the bragging rights.

Whatever you’re doing you can earn XP. Style tokens and music tokens unlock as you play, expanding your creative options visually and aurally, and giving the game a welcome sense of progression within the free-flowing grooves. It’s clear that there’s going to be ongoing community events, and a steady flow of new tracks available, to keep players coming back to the decks.

Community and sharing is a big part of that. To start with you can save and capture a mix. Sticking Fuser into capture mode gives you up to 32 bars to play around in, and if you’re not happy you can rewind and drop elements in again. You can then name and share it with the Fuser community where you can gain new followers beyond your friends.

You can also download it as a video that you can drop into your socials – maybe to pull in more fans for Fuser, or maybe just for you. The game itself features a Social Hub, which provides a feed showing you the activity of your friends and other players you follow. From there you can like mixes that you find, providing those vital social likes, begin to build a following all your own, or discover new players who are doing incredible things. I can see it becoming a major part of Fuser’s ongoing success.

Fuser isn’t a magical catch-all DJ set mixer; you can get things wrong, you can even make it sound bad, but then that’s half the fun. You’re going to learn what works together, and what really doesn’t. There’s so much room for experimentation between the tracks, the instruments and the effects that I think we’re going to see and hear some amazing things from players when the game releases on the 10th November. I can’t wait to get my headphones on and start spinning those discs.

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