Do you remember The Outdoors? It was something that existed in the not-too-distant past, before we argued over whether we should wear masks or sentence our grandparents to death. Fuser reminds me of what The Outdoors was like — specifically, the variation of The Outdoors that I avoided. The giant crowds, the face paint, the people who say they like house music when they actually like MDMA. As a DJ, it is your responsibility in Fuser to please these swathes of people with big beats and bigger drops, spinning plates behind your deck until those plates sound like an actual song.
Peripheral-based rhythm-action games are now a thing of the past, with the world moving on from the likes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Harmonix has also moved on with Fuser, which ditches the expensive accessories in favor of putting everything into the game itself. This also means that it’s given the freedom to get much more complex than timed button presses, allowing players to creatively mash together tracks, instruments, effects, and more to create both certified bangers and musical Frankenstein’s Monsters.
All about that Beastly Bass
Fuser divides its library of 100+ tracks into sections consisting of four colors — blue (drums), red (vocals), and green and yellow (guitars, keyboards, etc.) — with you mixing these colors as the game cleverly alters their pitch and tempo to make them sound palatable. Through the six chapters of its campaign, both your DJ mentors and the crowd will give you goals and requests that you need to abide by. “Cue two blues!” a mentor will shout, while a guy in the audience who has presumably wandered into the wrong event will inexplicably ask you to play Brad Paisley’s ‘Mud on the Tires.’
Mixing together tracks and creating an unlikely banger is heaps of fun, with Fuser still throwing new mechanics at you until its final chapter. There are instruments like Beastly Bass and Fancy Piano you can play, looping your own creations before inserting them into your mix. Effects with names like alien sex toys hidden in Area 51 such as Pulse Flanger and Vibe Shifter can completely change the way your mix sounds, while you can use your Risers to explosively switch to cued tracks.
It’s a lot to take in, and certainly has more moving parts than pressing fake guitar frets or hitting a plastic drum. However, the absence of such gimmicks also gives it a more niche appeal, which isn’t helped by the fact that it’s so damn expensive. The base game is $60, but then its additional selection of DLC tracks cost $1.99 apiece or can be bought as part of its $90 VIP Edition. While Fuser can happily be played without this DLC, it takes a lengthy amount of time to unlock the base game’s tracks by leveling up. XP is distributed slowly, with in-game currency that’s needed to unlock tracks, instruments, and effects only being dished out with each new level.
This will likely prove to be a big turn-off for prospective players, but the individual songs aren’t the stars of the show here. Each section of a track can sound monumentally different depending on which instrument or vocal it’s combined with, so even when making use of a similar playlist of songs, the mixes you wind up with rarely sound the same.
8 Mile, but with DJs
Not only will you be able to make your mixes sound different from everyone else’s, but you’ll also be able to customize the appearance of your DJ and the stages they play on. There are tons of unlockable items to collect, from over-the-top firework displays through to ostentatious jackets, and impressively diverse character customization to boot. Harmonix has even allowed players to select an avatar with vitiligo, an option I’ve never seen in a video game before.
You can then take these custom characters and their sets to Fuser‘s online modes, with Co-op Freestyle and Battle offering different ways to show off your mixes. Co-op Freestyle and its offline, single-player Freestyle variant let you mix your tracks however you want to, with other players firing across requests and emoji if they like what you’re doing. This is a fun multiplayer distraction, but the length of time you get to spend on mixes isn’t long enough — you won’t be able to pull off any ambitious mixes with the couple of minutes that’s afforded to you, making it difficult to show off your DJ skills to your friends.
Battle mode adds a competitive edge to Fuser and is kind of like 8 Mile but with DJs, requiring you to throw down discs at opportune moments in order to attack your opponent’s health bar. While it’s more about pressing buttons at the right time than creating a listenable piece of music, it’s addictive to obliterate your opponent with a well-timed combo. A competitive mode focused on actually creating a decent mix would have been a nice addition, but Battle provides a different spin on Fuser‘s rhythm-action gameplay and is a change of pace as a result.
Fuser Review | The Final Verdict
Fuser lets you become a DJ from the safety of your own home, without having to deal with a global pandemic or 24-year-olds with jaws swinging like saloon doors. Its pricy entry point may be a turn-off for some, but when you’re enthusiastically bopping your head to a mash-up of Amy Winehouse, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Pitbull, you can almost forget that it wants to charge you $1.99 for Evanescence. It’s a fun time with tons of replayability, that will deserve a wider audience than the niche crowd it’s poised to appeal to.
Fuser reviewed on PC. Code provided by publisher.