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|Written by Dante Kleinberg|
|Sunday, 01 June 2008 19:00|
Rhythm games have been around almost as long as games have been capable of producing sound, but it wasn’t until Guitar Hero arrived in 2005 that the new revolution in rhythm gaming began in earnest. However, even with Guitar Hero and now Rock Band offering regular downloadable track updates (for a substantial fee), rhythm games have always been limited by the number of tracks the developer chooses to program. Eventually you’ve played everything Guitar Hero has to offer backwards and forwards, and then it’s time to get Guitar Hero II, or Guitar Hero III, or Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, so you have something fresh to play. But a new game from independent developer BestGameEver has changed all that with Audiosurf, which contains as many levels as you have MP3s.
Audiosurf is played by steering a little vehicle down a track, collecting colored blocks in order to match three of the same color and make them disappear. This arrangement is common in puzzle games, and it alone is nothing special—the difference here is in the levels themselves. Each level is dynamically generated depending on the MP3 you choose for your soundtrack. Slow parts of the song translate to uphill climbs, while tempo up-shifts can lead to sudden drops. The blocks you collect are tied directly to the song’s beats, but unlike games like Guitar Hero, the song keeps playing whether you participate or not.
There are lots of different vehicles to choose from, each with a unique feature, such as the ability to catch blocks and move them to a different row. Increased difficulty levels lead to a larger variety of colors, which makes it harder to gather up three-of-a-kind without running out of space and getting temporarily frozen. My favorite vehicle style is the Mono, which only gives you two kinds of blocks: colored and gray. Avoid the gray, grab the colored; a simple yet challenging task that still allows you to relax and enjoy the music. At the end of the song, point bonuses are doled out depending on your skill, with the most important being “Clean Finish,” a 25% score upgrade awarded for not having any blocks left over when the song ends.
After a song, your score is posted to the global leader boards, where you can compare how you did to other players who used the same MP3 (Audiosurf uses the MP3s tags to make sure the songs are the same). You can also make a friends list for more direct competition with your buddies, and the game will even e-mail you if someone beats your score. A listing of the week’s most popular songs can be viewed if you want to get into the mix, although some scores in the most popular leaderboards are so high, you have to wonder if some people aren’t faking out the system by re-tagging an MP3 to pass off one (super beat heavy) song as another.
Still, it’s less about scores, and more about the experience of the song. While the flashing colors and lights are reminiscent of Windows Media Players visualizations, by making it interactive and three-dimensional, it adds another layer of depth that will keep you coming back if only to see what sort of level this or that song will make. I thought “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork would be a great level because of the loud bits, but it turned out the Shhh Shhh moments were a little too long to hold my attention. On the other hand, a song like “Mr. Blue Sky” by the Delgados is so full of fast beat-heavy sections that the slower parts are a welcome respite from the otherwise non-stop waves of blocks. While certain songs will never be in Guitar Hero, either because of its obscurity, because the artist won’t agree to it, or simply because the guitar is absent or barely used, any song you can imagine can be in Audiosurf.
With new features being added all the time—like connectivity with last.fm, Audiosurf Radio featuring up-and-coming artists, or the “free-ride” you can simply leave on in the background—Audiosurf is a program with real staying power.
The final plus, and the most impressive of all, is that it’s only $10 US to download to your PC. Do a websearch for “Steam,” the online PC game download store, to find it.
This is one of my favorite new discoveries of 2008, and I don’t think I can recommend it highly enough to any music lover with even a tangential interest in gaming. While it may not make you feel like a rock legend slamming away on your plastic guitar, Audiosurf may just change the way you listen to music.
© 2008 Dante Kleinberg; licensee (Cult)ure Magazine.