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Harmonix unveils Fuser, a music-mixing game where you play as a festival DJ

Be a DJ hero (no turntable controller required)

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The next game from Rock Band and Dance Central developer Harmonix is more about mixing music than making it. Called Fuser, the NCsoft-published game lets players explore the fantasy of being a DJ at a massive music festival. But unlike other Harmonix music games, being a DJ hero in Fuser doesn’t require a special controller, just a standard gamepad.

Fuser will include more than 100 songs that players can mix in real time, grabbing the vocals from Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” and mashing it up with the guitar from The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” and the bass line and drums from 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” As you play, and take request from festival attendees, you can throw in a little “Stir Fry” by Migos and a drop from “Good As Hell” by Lizzo. Hell, maybe you just want to grab the whistle part from Smash Mouth’s “All Star” for a little spice. Sure, some of the game is about hitting the beat, but Fuser is more about being creative and keeping the crowd hyped up than it is about getting all wicky-wicky with a plastic turntable controller.

Players have four decks to manage, but there are few restrictions on what you can throw into the mix. Want to have four drum tracks doing at once? That’s fine. Or piano, bass, and two sets of vocals? Go for it.

The interface for Fuser, featuring four decks and a selection of 8 music tracks to choose from. Image: Harmonix/NCsoft

Fuser, coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One this fall, “allows you to express yourself and put your personality forward through creative play,” Harmonix product manager Daniel Sussman told Polygon during a game demo. The focus, Sussman said, is on creative agency and player choice, and getting into a “flow state” while mixing music.

Harmonix is bringing Fuser to PAX East this weekend, where attendees will get to try their hand at being a festival DJ. I played the game last week, and it’s quick to deliver a fun experience. Starting out is pretty easy: I cycled through a loadout of 16 tracks that spanned rock, hip hop, pop, and dance genres, grabbing a drum beat here, throwing in a vocal track there, frequently shuffling my tracks, and letting Fuser work its magic.

And the game does feel a little magical, seamlessly blending music genres into something listenable and catchy. One might think that getting Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” to match up with LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” would be a challenge for even a seasoned producer, but Fuser automatically smooths out the rough edges for you. My mixes didn’t sound quite headliner-ready on my first try, but they got the job done.

The real challenge is keeping the crowd constantly happy. Festival attendees will DM you requests during your set, asking you to spice things up with new genres, music from specific decades and styles, or something from their favorite artist. Initially, requests come one at a time, but soon they’ll stack and become highly specific. Keep something playing for too long and the crowd will get bored, so you have to stay on your toes.

A distant shot of the crowd and stage at the “Sweets” music festival in a screenshot from Fuser Image: Harmonix/NCsoft

There is some skill required in dropping your beats and mixes in time with the on-screen tempo meter. Fuser also includes more challenging advanced game mechanics like transitions and tempo and key changes. You can even add your own instrumentation and custom beats from the game’s interface for something truly unique.

Fuser will include a multi-hour single-player campaign, but unlike other Harmonix games that tell stories of a rise to fame, “You’re hot shit right out of the gate,” Sussman said. You’ll play at massive festivals on a variety of stages, and you’ll need to tailor your mixes to the crowd. A 3 p.m. slot at a dance festival has a different vibe, meaning different requests from the crowd, than a 3 a.m. slot, Sussman said.

The game will also include multiplayer, letting players collaborate on tracks, but it’s something we didn’t get to see during our demo. More interesting is the option to go into a freestyle mode, where you’ll be able to arrange and record mixes, then share them with others.

Like Rock Band and Dance Central, Fuser won’t turn you into a star performer, but the game may help players to appreciate the challenge of mixing music like a DJ. “It’s not a replacement at all for any kind of music software,” Sussman said. “Our goal is really on entertaining people.” But Fuser may teach people how to listen better and hear music differently, he said, or even act as a “gateway drug” that exposes players to what music producing is all about.

A shot of the UI from Fuser, showing four DJ decks and series of requests and the user’s score Image: Harmonix/NCsoft

Harmonix has announced 16 songs so far for Fuser, with dozens more to come. There will be some “deep cuts,” Sussman said, and other genres not represented in the list of confirmed tracks below:

  • 50 Cent “In Da Club”
  • Billie Eilish “Bad Guy”
  • Blue Öyster Cult “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”
  • The Chainsmokers ft. Daya “Don’t Let Me Down”
  • The Clash “Rock the Casbah”
  • Fatboy Slim “The Rockefeller Skank”
  • Imagine Dragons “Thunder”
  • J. Balvin & Willy William “Mi Gente”
  • Lady Gaga “Born This Way”
  • Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus “Old Town Road (Remix)”
  • Lizzo “Good As Hell”
  • LMFAO ft. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock “Party Rock Anthem”
  • Migos “Stir Fry”
  • Post Malone “Better Now”
  • Smash Mouth “All Star”
  • Warren G & Nate Dogg “Regulate”