Welcome to the sixth and final part of the Music Series where we are taking a look at some games that feature music as a major part of their game play (that I happen to own). This week I am taking a look at Audiosurf, which is one of the first games of this type that I played on the PC.
Released in 2008 by indie developer Dylan Fitterer, Audiosurf allows you to “ride your music” by taking tracks in your library and generating a game level based on their intensity, rhythm and so on. The resultant level resembles a road which has three or more lanes and has a topology dependent on the intensity of the music at that point. Each road also has cars in the form of different coloured blocks that are collected in the grid beneath the player’s ship and can be matched for points.
In this way the game experience can be as punishing or as relaxed as you like because it almost entirely depends on the music you feed the game. Once you have chosen a song, the game quickly processes it and generates a screen similar to the one shown below.The game generates the levels before you play the level so only one song can be loaded at a time which is a shame because I’d love to feed it a whole playlist! The levels are generated very quickly even on my aging system and many types of music files can be used including straight from a CD and even iTunes m4a files which is impressive – many other games of this type charge a small fee to cover decoder costs for this type of file. As a general rule downhill sections are faster and more congested than uphill sections so in the song “The Beginning” by Tyr shown here the start will be gentle with fewer cars on the road and those cars will tend to be cooler colours like blue and green. After a short time the song picks up tempo resulting in a fast downhill section which will have more red and yellow cars and there are likely to be many more cars on the road.
The aim of the game is to match three or more cars of the same colour for points with matches of larger groups of blocks resulting in more points. The colour of the cars in a match also affects the points total with red and yellow matches being worth significantly more than blue or green matches. There is also a pleasing amount of power ups available from tiles which resemble splotches of paint that paint all of the collected cars the same colour to tiles that look like lightning bolts that add a number of cars of a specific colour to the grid. There are only a finite number of spaces in the grid and if you manage to overfill them then you are punished by losing points and (on higher difficulty levels) having to respawn which prevents you from making matches until the timer runs out. There are also white and black cars which don’t form matches but if they are dropped to the bottom of the grid they are worth 2000 points each.
In the screenshot above I have managed to cause myself problems by not paying attention and filling the grid with blocks that can’t be matched. Unless I am extraordinarily lucky and get a power up then I will have no choice but to overfill a column and take a hefty points hit as well as needing to respawn. Fortunately this happened right at the end of the track!
If you are using a Mono character then the game changes slightly – the match three element is still there but most of the blocks are the same colour which gently changes according to the music. There are also grey blocks on the track which should be avoided as they park themselves in the most annoying places and can only be got rid of by matching around them a few times. This is the most relaxed mode as it impossible to have a grid full of impossible matches and although it lacks power ups, there is a special 30% bonus if you manage to avoid all of the grey blocks.
There are a total of 14 characters to choose from spread across three difficulty levels. Some of these characters are repeated at different levels, for example Mono and Pointman, meaning that there are 6 unique characters available all with their own unique play style. Mono, as already mentioned changes the game style to a more relaxed experience although Mono Pro can be really punishing! Pointman allows you to capture blocks and then drop them into the grid which can be be useful for making big matches, especially if combined with a cunning use of power-ups! Speaking of power-ups, one of my favourite characters is Vegas which can not only shuffle the board, thus saving a hopeless situation, but can also generate power-ups! If I’m feeling like a bit more of a challenge than Mono, I often look no further than Vegas because it’s just so much fun!
Next up, we have Double Vision. Intended for two players, Double Vision has two cars that control two of the four lanes, with one player using the mouse and the other the keyboard. I actually tried this solo on all three difficulty levels and it is entirely manageable – although I ran into serious problems because I use the mouse with my left hand and the lanes controlled by the mouse are on the right of the screen. Much swearing and general unladylike language ensued – accompanied by my darling husband laughing his skinny nerd ass off. Finally, we have Eraser who can make all cars of a certain colour on the grid vanish – useful for tight spots – and Pusher who can push cars left or right one lane. Pusher is not my favourite, but I think that this has a lot to do with my reflexes being about as fast as ketchup in a glass bottle.
Audiosurf can be played with mouse, keyboard or gamepad. The keyboard controls are well implemented with arrow keys controlling movement between lanes, but I do prefer the mouse control over keyboard as it feels a little bit faster. Whilst getting this review ready I found out that Audiosurf can use a gamepad from one of the tips that comes up when you generate a level. This was news to me so I gave it a try and it works very well. Whilst on the menu screens I’m guessing that there is some sort of solution that translates the left stick position into cursor movement as it can be a little cumbersome on the, but once in game it works perfectly and I now use my wired Xbox 360 controller almost exclusively to play. It does take a little getting used to, as whilst controlling with the left or right stick and using the triggers for abilities is intuitive, it took me a while to work out that you need to push both the left and right sticks in the same direction to get onto the track shoulder. Also, unlike the other methods, the controller has a return to centre setting, so you default to the middle lane and need to hold the stick to stay in another lane. My inability to grasp controls aside – whichever method you prefer, the controls are responsive and well implemented and make for an enjoyable gaming experience.
So you like punishment do you? Good, Ironmode is just for you! This game is faster, much more demanding and if you overfill, it’s game over. Ironmode is enabled by ticking the small box at the bottom of the character select screen. Once enabled you are free to choose the
implement of torture character and track to pit yourself against and you’re off! The basic rules of the game are the same, some sadist just turned the difficult dial to 11. Silliness aside, yes this mode is properly hard, but it is still fun – even when you’re staring the game over notification in the face for the fifth consecutive time in five minutes.
After the Ironmode experience you may be in search of something a little more… soothing. Freeride comes with two options – Classic or Visualiser. In classic mode, you choose a song and a track is generated as before, but there is no score to beat so you can sit back and enjoy the scenery. There is even an autopilot mode (activated by pressing spacebar) so you can just sit and admire the surroundings and perhaps shed a small tear over being beaten up by Ironmode. Vizualiser is – as you might expect – a pretty cool vizualiser that pulses and throbs in a very pleasing manner.
If you like the sound of Audiosurf, then you can also check out this short video of me failing to play using the Vegas character:
Conclusion – is Audiosurf worth buying?
If you enjoy the thought of being able to feed your music into a game and then riding it then Audiosurf is for you. It’s very solid and well made providing a fun experience that has a lot of replayability. For competitive types, you can even sign up for an Audiosurf account which will allow you to rank on the leaderboards. This game has been out for a while, so better known songs have some stiff competition! Overall it provides a good experience for casual and veteran gamers alike, with a wide spread of difficulties to choose from (on top of whatever Death Metal Acid Crossover you choose to throw at it.). There is a sequel to this game – Audiosurf 2 – which offers online streaming, mods and other awesome (that I’m planning to cover at a later date). However, I think that the original still has a lot to offer and for the small price tag of £5.99 it’s definitely worth a shot.
Audiosurf is developed by Dylan Fitterer and is available for Windows PC’s
You can buy Audiosurf on Steam here