Click banner if you're interested in entering this competition.
Let me first start by saying that I love Steam. I’m an unashamed Valve fanboy and I think the ability to download so many fantastic games at my convenience is remarkable and unparalleled. A few months ago, still full of wonderment at Valve’s achievements, I decided it was time to add another title to my game collection. With an almost palpable sense of excitement at the prospect of discovering another gem, I forked over a measly $10 via PayPal and downloaded Audiosurf.
Audiosurf is a music-based puzzle game created independently by Dylan Fitterer. The premise is that you, the player, may choose any track or song from your no doubt vast collection of digital music with which to play the game. These may be in any of a dizzying array of supported file types including mp3, wav, m4a and even FLAC. If, unlike me, you haven’t slavishly ripped every audio CD you own onto your PC then the game is also generous enough to allow you to play directly from a disc or use its very own “Audiosurf radio”.
The instant you load in a song, the game begins calculating a track (in the rollercoaster sense of the word) based on the dynamics of your chosen piece. You’re then dropped straight into the thick of it. The aim is to move a hovering vehicle left and right as it travels automatically along the track, collecting “cars”, to use the game’s terminology, of various colours as you do so. Depicted beneath your vehicle is a grid of three columns and seven rows into which the collected cars are deposited. Create a cluster of three or more similar colours and, after a short delay, that cluster will disappear, rewarding you with precious points. The number of points you score is related to the size and colour of the cluster, with hotter colours like red and yellow being worth the most whilst the cold blues and purples provide the smallest gains.
That’s Audiosurf in a nutshell. Simple, right? So is it actually worth your $10? Well, that’s simple too. Yes, it is. What you get for approximately £6.40 (that’s with VAT included) is nothing short of monumental. I haven’t yet mentioned the different game modes that you can choose from - there are fourteen of them. How about the fact that every single song you could dream of playing features its own online leader board that updates the moment you finish the track? Or the various Steam achievements that can be sought after? Fancy a spot of multiplayer? You can do that too. “I use Last.fm when listening to music,” I hear some of you cry. “Surely scrobbling can’t be integrated into Audiosurf too?” It certainly is. Are you a fan of flexible control schemes? Audiosurf doesn’t disappoint in that department, either, supporting the option to jump between the keyboard, mouse or USB controller on the fly. Added to all of this, the amount of replayability offered by the game is staggering. I’ve spent literally hours playing the same song over and over in an attempt to reach the top of the leader board. I finally achieve my goal and dance triumphantly around the room as though I’ve won an Olympic gold, only to receive an e-mail the following day that reads “You used to be the worldwide champion of [insert song here] but you’ve been dethroned by [insert player here]!” I then have no choice but to try harder.
Let’s focus a little more on the actual game. I alluded earlier to the fact that the track that your vehicle moves along is tailored to the music you’re listening to. That’s actually an enormous understatement. Have you ever felt like driving faster when the song on the radio really kicks in? In Audiosurf that’s exactly what happens. On a very basic level your ship, for want of a better word, creeps slowly uphill during more serene sections of music and races downhill during the faster, more frenetic parts. If you look a little more closely, though, you’ll notice that the track undulates in time with the beat and that your vehicle will dart forward over each peak in the road, in perfect synchronisation with the rhythm. Higher-pitched percussion, such as hand claps, is often visually accompanied by brightly coloured luminous rings around the track. Floating in the otherwise empty space outside the road is an assortment of colourful shapes which pulsate hypnotically with the vocals in your song. The amount of detail that has gone into representing the music in this way has not yet ceased to impress me and the rush you get as the drums kick in and your ship races headlong through dense clusters of high-scoring cars simply has to be experienced to be appreciated.
It all looks incredibly pretty, too. Dazzling explosions of light erupt across the screen every time you collect a car, whilst the colour of the track and its surroundings alter with the pace of the music. The visuals are relatively simplistic, meaning that the game will run flawlessly on even the most modest of PCs, and they’re the perfect supplement to the game’s easily accessible style. It’s all clean lines and smooth gradients of colour and it looks great. There's a definite minimalist feel, despite the chaos that bursts to life during the more frantic moments.
The different game modes are separated into three difficulty levels and mostly revolve around giving your vehicle different gameplay-altering abilities. For example, one mode allows you to store up to two cars so that they may be strategically dropped into the grid at a later time in order to create the optimum cluster. Another lets you shuffle the contents of your grid in the hope that a more convenient arrangement will fall out. The single player mode that presents the biggest change in gameplay is called “Mono” and presents you with only a single car colour to collect. There are also grey cars that you must avoid hitting at all costs. This is by far the simplest way to play the game and is also possibly my favourite, as, at the highest difficulty levels it still provides a substantial challenge. Two-player mode sees you teaming up with a friend on the same keyboard and has you both controlling vehicles on adjacent tracks. What makes this mode really interesting is that, while you each fill your own individual grids with cars, it’s possible to make clusters that span both grids, so there’s a definite element of teamwork at play.
Unfortunately, this is the real world and the game isn’t quite perfect. It’s my duty to point out its small flaws and thankfully they only really amount to minor inconveniences. Firstly, there’s no online multiplayer – you’re limited to playing on just the one PC and with a maximum of just two players at that. Another gripe is that the leader boards include scores from all modes of a given difficulty, despite the relative ease of scoring highly when playing Mono. Finally, given its somewhat quirky nature, the game probably isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but then, when is that not true?
All in all, Audiosurf is a superb game. It boasts fantastic value for money and offers as much replay value as that of any game you care to mention, given that there’s an almost infinite supply of source material to choose from. Numerous extra touches and flourishes, including those not yet mentioned, such as in-game power ups and criteria-specific end of level bonuses, turn an already fascinatingly original title into something very special indeed. The amount of fun to be had here is phenomenal, and, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll be addicted in no time. If you like games and/or music there’s no excuse not to give Audiosurf a try. Download it now!
All comments and feedback welcome. Thank you.
Last edited by A.I. on Thu Aug 28, 2008 7:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Good stuff. To be honest, though, I found it a teensy bit bland. And without dissecting it, I can't really go into some sections which didn't quite sound right, but there are a couple of bits in there that you wouldn't find in a professional review.
Which sounds like I didn't like this, but I DID - some of it is very well written indeed. It's just lacking a bit of pizzazz, a bit of personality. Third best review for me, I think.