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Big in 2020: Fuser proves that Harmonix's golden touch is as strong as ever

Key info

(Image credit: Harmonix)

Game Fuser
Developer
 Harmonix
Publisher NCSOFT
Platforms PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Fall 2020

Fuser, Harmonix's latest ode to the joys of music, flips the script on what you'd expect from the Boston studio. Instead of following in the footsteps of your favourite songs, learning how to hit their notes in time, you're remixing them. That means taking them apart and stitching them back together like a musical Dr. Frankenstein, except you're creating catchy compositions instead of a misunderstood monster. 

The good news is that this new approach achieves the same results as Harmonix's other work. In full flow, Fuser makes you feel like you're creating the music, except now, it's your own thing rather than a cover version. 

Superstar DJ

(Image credit: Harmonix)

The demo I'm playing gives me access to two campaign sets, as well as the Freestyle mode that lets you DJ without restrictions. Starting off with a gig that teaches the basics, Fuser proves incredibly easy to pick up, with different elements mapped to the face buttons on my Xbox One pad.

If I wanted to drop in some vocals, for instance, I tap the B button, while drums are on X, bass is on A, and lead instruments are on Y. You'll also have to time dropping in samples to the downbeat, measured via a metronome scale located above the discs on the bottom of the stage. So, when I finally take to the Rhythmic Guardian stage, I drop the drums from Warren G and Nate Dogg's 'Regulate', layering on LMFAO's 'Party Rock Anthem' bass line with the piano from Coldplay's 'Clocks' and Cardi B's vocals from 'Bodak Yellow', all in time to the beat.

On paper, that selection of songs admittedly looks like a mess. G-Funk, frat pop, soft rock, and one of the most ferocious rappers of the past few years? It shouldn't work. Yet the thing I keep discovering with Fuser is that it not only works, it works really well. Mashing these different elements up manages to highlight samples of songs that might have slipped past your ear if they hadn't been broken down in this way. 

(Image credit: Harmonix)

"When we first showed it to PlayStation, they asked if there had been a gas leak in our office!"

Phil Tibitoski

More importantly, these disparate ingredients manage to compliment each other in unexpected ways. For instance, the melody of 'Clocks' unexpectedly swells as Cardi B moves into a free-flowing verse, adding a playful gravitas to her bars, while it ebbs away as the chorus kicks in, putting an emphasis on her lines and giving the mix some bite.

And that's just four elements from four different songs. There's going to be over a 100 songs to choose from in the full game, and I've barely even scratched the surface of what's possible when it comes to creating your own music from these samples. You can change the tempo, the key of your mix, alongside laying down any combination of samples. Want four drum beats? Go right ahead! Better still, not only do you have the ability to pick elements from songs, you can also create your own samples with instruments in the game.

If you're worried that sounds overly complicated, don't be. There's plenty of depth to what you can create in Fuser, and these instruments only add to it. They're not introduced till the second demo mission (which takes place a bit further into the campaign), but they offer an even wider avenue for expression. 

(Image credit: Harmonix)

Alongside your song selection on the top bar, there's a tab for instruments, which range from Hip-Hop Drums to Supersaw Synths, and clicking on them brings up a soundboard. All you need to do is hover your cursor over a button and press A or X, which plays a few notes. You can mix it up by moving your cursor around the board, and even loop what you're playing by pressing RT. It's so extensive, you could create your own songs just by looping the samples you create with Fuser's instruments.

Not that the campaign is a free-for-all. Instead, you'll get mini-objectives throughout your set that will help to subtly shift your song in different directions and keep it engaging for the virtual crowd. It's here where Harmonix's Guitar Hero roots shine through, as there's a crowd gauge that goes up and down depending on how many requests you complete, and how accurately you manage to drop discs onto the downbeat.

You'll also have audience members popping up, requesting specific songs or instruments, which can also help boost your score. Reach the end of your set without getting booed off, and you'll be given a star rating out of five, which adds just enough structure to people who want a little more action from the rhythm. It's tough to achieve a maximum rating, but adds a structure that keeps you focused on trying to push for ever higher scores. 

Free stylin'

(Image credit: Harmonix)

That structure might also explain why I've spent the majority of my time in the game's Freestyle mode. This is an endless set where you won't be scored and can just mix to your heart's content. It's also where all the game's little flourishes come to the fore, like the ability to queue up multiple discs so you can time a bigger switch to the beat, or changing the tempo to see what's the perfect speed for the songs you're currently spinning.

Without the pressures of the crowd, it also gives you time to get lost in a neverending mix, experimenting with different beats, melodies, and even the game's own instruments to create something unique. Fuser is like musical Lego in that sense, where certain people will gravitate towards the directed rhythms of the campaign, while others will enjoy the liberation afforded by Freestyle. I've already lost a lot of time writing this by dipping back in to experiment with another mashup, and I can't wait to see what more talented people than myself can achieve with it.

In fact, not since the era of Rock Band and Singstar has a game seemed so suited to a house party… you know, when we can actually do those again. The way Fuser's songs seem to curl around each other when you drop them in, creating mixes that surprise and delight when they click, is thrilling in a way that rhythm games haven't been for quite some time. The fact that it's intuitive enough to pick up and play, but deep enough to offer tools to enable some really impressive creations, suggests Harmonix have another hit on their hands. 

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