Audiosurf offers an inventive, electrifying and gripping way of exploring your music library.
There’s certain charm to those games that manage to mix various dissimilar genres on one seamless experience. Audiosurf is one such game, blending elements from the rhythm and puzzle genres and offering an experience unlike anything else. The way in which Audiosurf works is quite simple. The game allows you to select any song on your music collection and once you’ve selected one, the game analyses the song and creates a highway based on various factors (such as tempo and intensity.) If the song is mellow, for example, blocks will be far and between. If the song is fast-paced, traffic will be much thicker.
The highway is divided into three lanes, most of the times and you move across these to catch incoming blocks. Blocks fall into the bottom of the screen in a special grid and your main objective is to match at least three blocks of the same color to make them disappear and score points. If you manage to continue the cluster, points will be multiplied.
Of course, there are many other details to take into account. First of all, blocks come in different colors. Blocks of hot colors (yellow and red) are worth much more points than blocks of cold colors (blue and magenta.) Additionally, black and white blocks can’t be used for matches, but if you manage to get them to touch the bottom of the grid, you get 2000 extra points. Finally, if one of the columns overfills, the little spaceship you control respawns, forcing you to wait a couple of seconds before you can grab incoming blocks again.
To add even more variety to the game, a couple of inviting power ups have been included. Getting used to them may take some time, but once you’ve mastered these power ups, playing a given song becomes much more pleasurable and engaging. There’s a wide array of power ups, including paint (turns all the tiles in your grid the same color,) and sort (blocks are organized automatically to make as many matches as possible,) among some others.
Before you even select a given song though, the game’s main screen makes you choose one of various characters. Each of these is associated to a difficulty level and they allow you to make use of a special ability, such as Eraser which lets you select a color to make it disappear, Pointman which lets you queue captured blocks to use them later, Vegas which shuffles the board and generates extra power ups, Pusher which lets you push blocks left or right and so on and so forth.
Without a doubt, one of the game’s best features not only is the possibility of picking any songs from your personal library, but also the possibility of playing obscure songs you wouldn’t find in other rhythm games. Since a wide variety of formats are supported, playing songs is never a cumbersome process. In a matter of seconds, the game analyses the song, calculates points, sound effects, vocals and other technical details.
Have you ever wanted to play Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven? Audiosurf allows you to do that. Of course, some songs work better than others (say what you will about Weezer’s Say It Ain’t So, but this song is fun to play in any interactive form imaginable.) Additionally, the entire soundtrack from The Orange Box is included in the Steam version of the game which basically means you can play Portal’s Still Alive as soon as you launch the game.
There’s a deep social aspect to Audiosurf (this was the first title to use Steamworks.) After playing a song, the game shows you the highest scores and lets you submit your own to compete against other players. Being able to upload scores and compare your performance with that of other players is a welcome addition that integrates quite well into the core experience.
Online multiplayer would have been great, but taking into account that you are actually playing songs that are stored locally, there are probably some technical limitations that prevented that feature from happening. As a way to alleviate this, the game offers a few local cooperative modes. Thankfully, “riding” songs with a friend can be immensely thrilling, granted both players have a similar taste in music.
Yet for all its strengths, Audiosurf isn’t without its issues. Although power ups add a unique layer of strategy, they are quite hard to use in the middle of the breakneck action. There are some control issues as well. For some reason, if you want to play the game with a controller, this has to be hooked up to your PC before launching the game. Furthermore, no matter what control scheme you use (controller, keyboard or mouse,) moving across lanes to capture blocks can be very overwhelming in certain songs. And finally, some songs don’t “feel” right after the conversion, since block placement doesn’t match the rhythm very well.
In the end, it’s easy to overlook some of these shortcomings when the overall experience is so eminently satisfying. The ability to play any song in your personal music collection not only is enthralling, but also makes the game highly replayable. We’ve all matched blocks and we’ve all played our favorite songs in video game form, but when both come together in one solid experience, the result is one of the most absorbing rhythm titles in recent history.