Calling FUSER a spiritual successor to DJ Hero isn’t off the mark. At the same time, neither is it entirely accurate. The spirit of DJ Hero is present (and not just because Salt N Pepa ‘Push It’ features on the tracklist, although that arguably helps) but it has way more to offer; it’s far beyond being a mere replacement. If Activision didn’t throttle the franchise so soon and mar it with overzealous focus testing, then maybe we would have ended up with something like this.
Their loss is our gain. Free of the shackles of a greedy publisher, FUSER feels like the game Harmonix always wanted to create. It’s carefree and colourful, and far less centred around being edgy and mainstream for the sake of mass appeal. It’s surprisingly ‘woke’ too – Harmonix has made the bold decision to feature a label-free character creation tool, and minority groups are very well represented. FUSER welcomes everyone from all walks of life while feeling reassuringly sincere.
This is an experience less about competition and more about creativity. Battles still feature, reserved for ranked online contests, but it’s more about the journey; one that teaches the basics of mixing while building your skill set, as you go from a 6pm warm-up act to a festival headliner. Your fellow DJs encourage you to reach your potential, all while showing you everything they know. Prompts are plentiful along the way, with the majority of the campaign doubling up as a tutorial.
Sorry, vinyl purists – FUSER is contemporary, using a four-CD mixer set-up. At its most basic, you select samples – be it the beats, melody, vocals or instruments – from four different tracks and play them simultaneously, being cautious to drop them with perfect timing. As you’ll no doubt recall from music class at school, there are four beats in a bar – dropping discs on the fourth bar is vital to woo the crowd. Not only does each individual track have a ticker though, but also the deck. Ergo, there are two sets of timing to adhere to. That’s FUSER at its most basic level – it isn’t long until electronic instrument controllers, tempo speeds, pitches, fade-ins and the ability to cue tracks are introduced. Indeed, jump straight into freeplay mode and you may end up overwhelmed.
Sets last around ten minutes, with some focusing on certain genres. Only a few tracks are pre-selected – it’s entirely up to you to fill remaining slots, further enforcing the focus on creativity. During a set, time-based quests constantly appear, prompting you to mute, disc swap, fade and adjust tempos before a timer runs out. Completing these brief challenges aids in working towards a five-star rating. These take mastery and skill to gain – we didn’t gain a single five-star rating until after stumbling through the festival scene in a blaze of mediocrity.
Playing a few crowd-pleasers suffices for the first couple of campaign stages, but it isn’t long until more discerning crowds gather. They aren’t fond of tracks playing for too long and expect you to use every trick in your wide-ranging arsenal, including knocking up drum/guitar loops ad hoc. Weirdly for an experience centred around creativity, festivalgoers will chime in with requests in an almost incessant manner. This can be fatiguing, but there is at least leeway for freedom – they may only ask for “a ‘90s track” for instance, rather than a specific song.
New items unlock throughout the campaign and after reaching XP milestones. These play a bigger part than you may expect, helping to keep your setlist and identity fresh. Creativity isn’t just about arranging your setlist to suit, but also the entire stage – your customisable ‘crate’ (as it’s known) also includes projector images, firework displays, and more. XP is doled out at a slow rate, however, which does put a dampener on the sense of progression while also making the high level unlocks seem close to unobtainable. New outfits are more forthcoming, ranging from silly to sensible attire and everything in between.
Clearly, the tracklist has been handpicked to cater for all tastes. Being contemporary, it features dozens of new artists including Billie Eilish, Childish Gambino, The Weeknd, Lizzo, Post Malone and Tones and I. Ever-popular crowd-pleasers are in abundance, and there are even a few country tracks from the ‘70s. Renown tracks from Deadmau5, Basement Jaxx, Fat Boy Slim and Paul van Dyk represent the dance genre. Heavy metal fans may be left wanting, though, with only a small assortment of headbangers to choose from. Evanescence we can take or leave. Amusingly, a few tracks edging on the novelty side made the cut, including ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ and that track from Smash Mouth. The in-game currency flows freely, allowing a set-list of bangers to be compiled from the outset.
For all its Unreal Engine-powered effects and elaborately decorated stages, it’s the stuff going on behind the scenes that impresses the most. FUSER feels like a culmination of everything Harmonix has mastered in the past, resulting in an experience laden with technical wizardry. You can throw anything at the decks – tracks from four different eras, or even genres – and the magic behind the scenes will somehow synchronise them in a harmonious, leg jiggling, manner. It’s even possible to wind down a track, then bring it back in bombastic fashion. The tools are here to create something truly unique. The further you get into the campaign mode, the more this comes apparent.
Freestyle mode is there to hone your craft without restrictions, and in addition to watching and joining ‘randoms’ in the co-op mode, mixes can be edited and shared with other players in the social hub. Weekly events also feature, where your performance is rated by others. But while the package as a whole is nicely presented, at £59.99 for the standard version (£99.99 for the VIP edition with 25 extra tracks) it isn’t exactly arriving at an impulse price point – if you only have a passing fancy for music mixing, it might be an idea to wait for a price drop.
Nevertheless, FUSER’s timing is impeccable. It’s launching at a time when festivals and gigs are no-goes, and it’s more than able to bring a bit of that festival magic to your living room, bouncing beach balls and all.
FUSER is out 10th November on PS4, Xbox One (tested), Switch and PC.