Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Switch, PS4, Xbox One
It’s hard to give Fuser a game review because it really isn’t a game. Rather, it’s basically DJ mixing software with the premise of a game wrapped around an extended tutorial. But that’s not what you’re here for. You don’t want to score points or get to the end credits screen. You want to make sick mixes that you might actually listen to at a concert (remember concerts?). If that’s your jam, then Fuser is practically made for you.
Fuser is based on Harmonix’s failed board game-ish NFC tinker-toy, DropMix. It let you put down little NFC cards representing songs in different slots in order to mix together the drums, bass, rhythm, and vocals. The real magic was that the software did most of the mixing for you. No matter what combination you chose your resulting mix sounded halfway decent.
The exact same gameplay carries over to Fuser, but instead of slapping down NFC cards, you are simply clicking on tracks in a loadout. This actually makes Fuser a lot more like standard DJ software. Now I’m not a DJ but I do work with some, so I know very little about how this stuff works. What I can tell you from my limited knowledge is that Fuser is both simultaneously incredibly powerful and incredibly limiting.
It’s not Ableton (mixing software), where you can import your own songs, for example.
You can, however:
- Change the BPM
- Change the key
- Create custom instrumental loops
- Loop tracks at different points
- Add distortion and other effects to tracks
- Mute and fade tracks in and out
- Queue up tracks to swap in on down-beats and pickups
- Turn tracks into samples
And much more all while watching a DJ avatar dressed like the Halloween section of a Goodwill bopping his head on a virtual stage.
That’s it. That’s the review. Fuser is all about mixing together tracks and basically getting into being a DJ without having to spend thousands of dollars on equipment. If that appeals to you, then Fuser is for you.
The thing is, the game aspect of Fuser complicates things a bit.
Fuser’s campaign mode sees you controlling a young DJ hitting the road on the festival circuit. You are guided by a bunch of other DJs and hype-men who, frankly, are all cringe-worthy stereotypes, as you try to make your way to stardom.
And how do you do that? Well, like I said before the campaign is really just an extended tutorial on how to make the most out of Fuser’s mixing software. You are given a few simple goals. Keep the tracks switching in and out and do so at the appropriate time (on a down-beat or pick-up) for the most points.
But then you are given missions that mold your mix into an actual set. You’ll be told, for example, to drop everything but the vocals for a few measures before bringing everything back in. You’ll be told to slowly ramp up the BPM as you mix in new tracks. You’ll be told when and where to include certain tracks in your set. You’ll even be told to make your own custom instrumental loops, showing off your solo skills.
Of course, the software makes sure it all sounds good, but even then you can accidentally stumble into some real garbage sounding combinations. Ever hear Justin Timberlake at an absurdly low BPM? It sounds like you are summoning a dark one up from the abyss… a real… sexy dark one.
On top of those missions, you are also given requests from the audience, and this is something I’m a little torn on. They give you more points and are needed to reach the highest score, but DJs have always told me “the DJ is not your jukebox” and that the most annoying thing in the world is having people come up to them and bark requests.
I now have experienced this firsthand because these requests were the most stressful part of Fuser. I could be on a hot streak, completing every mission and making a mix that I’m vibing to so hard that I’ll record it for later, and some douche canoe will run-up to the stage and scream “PLAY SOME COUNTRY MUSIC!” While the gamer part of me wanted to flip through my tracklist, desperately wondering if I even included any country music in a quest to get the most points, the budding DJ part of me wanted to shout back “screw you, buddy! I’m currently mixing together Rage Against the Machine and Childish Gambino. What made you think I was going to add country music to this set?”
And that’s the campaign in a nutshell. Go to a new venue, unlock more mixing tools, fiddle around with them in missions, and have the audience bark at you. For the most part, you are scored based on how well you swap tracks to the beat, how many missions you complete, and how many requests you fulfill, but you aren’t really scored on whether or not your mix sounds good. That’s a subjective thing, of course, but it sometimes feels like you can’t just have fun with the tools put in front of you if you want a high score.
Free as a bird
Luckily there are other modes for that. There’s a freeplay mode which lets you just rock out however you like. There are co-op modes that allow multiple players to mix a set all at once. There are opportunities to show your mix off to the world and get it ranked on social media (though these aren’t active yet). There are battle modes which are basically variations on the campaign that you play against opponents. There’s also a battle mode that lets you kick off the opponent’s tracks, forcing them to adapt on the fly or risk losing their health. It’s like a DJ fighting game. It seems like the real meat and potatoes of Fuser is going to be coming up with great mixes and showing them off to your friends.
Of course, to make great mixes you need great tracks and you don’t start off with a whole lot of great tracks. Many of the game’s tracks are locked behind “track points” which you earn for playing the game and you earn them at a snail’s pace. You’ll play for hours only to get one or two new tracks, and mixing new sets requires TONS of new tracks to feel fresh.
Of course… you could also pay real money for some DLC. More than 25 tracks from really notable artists are up for purchase as DLC right from the get-go. You get all of these tracks if you purchase the VIP edition for a truly whopping $100. Then there are extra tracks as pre-order bonuses and new tracks coming down the line which, once again, you have to purchase.
This…. I really can’t get behind. Despite Fuser being an incredibly powerful music tool, it locks essential parts behind borderline gacha mechanics. Seeing the price of the VIP edition gave me sticker shock. This already isn’t much of a game to begin with. You want me to pay $100 to play around with your DJ software? If that’s the case, it’s almost worth considering getting actual DJ software. The intro version of Ableton Live is only $80, $20 bucks cheaper than Fuser and it has more tools and I can import any track I own for free.
There’s another in-game currency you can spend on cosmetics, ways to dress up your character, effects for your stage performance, and so on. I would have much preferred if Harmonix made this the main vector of spending real-life cash, especially if the main hook is to keep coming back to perform on Twitch or whatever. Of course, you’ll want to vary your venue for each performance.
Locking away cosmetics feels optional, but core mechanics feel like extortion. Of course, this might just be a throwback to the ages of Rock Band where the main pricing model revolved around people buying the tracks they wanted out of a library of thousands. That’s a bygone era, however, and people who are still playing Rock Band to this day are playing it on PC software that allows the community to create and upload their own tracks for infinite free content.
The one thing I’m going to end up questioning the most is Fuser’s staying power. Right now I’m having a ton of fun with it, but I did find myself losing interest pretty quick. I enjoy mixing music and I would genuinely throw on Fuser in order to DJ a party (remember parties?), but I’m not going to turn on Fuser for anything other than a few brief moments if I’m playing by myself. And I can’t imagine that I’d get obsessed with showcasing my mixes to an online crowd.
But then again, maybe Fuser just isn’t the game for me. Maybe there are people out there who will spend hundreds of hours mixing and remixing Fuser’s tracklist, becoming Twitch celebrities in the process. If this is you, more power to ya. For everyone else, I wouldn’t buy Fuser thinking it’s another game like Rock Band or DJ Hero. This isn’t a game you’ll practice hours and hours on in order to get a perfect score. It is, however, a game you can actually get creative with, musically. It’s a lot more like Electroplankton than anything else. If that’s what you want, a creative play space to make cool music, then Fuser is worth it. For everyone else, the $100 price tag is just too steep.