After a brief hiatus due to being ill it’s time to resume our mini-series where we will be taking a look at PC games that feature music as an important part of their gameplay (that I happen to own). This week we will be taking a look at Auditorium which was released on Steam in 2012 by Cipher Prime Studios, the indie studio behind Fractal and Splice. I’ve had this game for some time and keep going back to it as it is a really enjoyable little puzzler.
The basic premise of Auditorium is that you have to steer a beam of light over glyphs that look like volume indicators in order to activate them. The glyphs need a constant stream of light to remain active and all glyphs must be fully active at the same time in order to complete the level. This is achieved by using a variety of symbols that affect the path of the light in some way, for example by speeding it up, slowing it down or changing its direction amongst other things. New symbols with different characteristics are introduced gradually throughout the game so there’s not too much to take in at once. The design of the symbols themselves is nicely executed so you can immediately tell what effect a symbol will have by looking at it. The symbols can be placed anywhere on the play area and can be overlapped to combine their effects. Each symbol can also be adjusted by dragging its perimeter to make it larger or smaller thus changing the influence it has on the light beam, although this also increases the chance of the symbols overlapping unintentionally which can be a pain if a symbol is entirely inside another as it can then be hard to manipulate. The design of the symbols themselves is nicely executed so you can immediately tell what effect a symbol will have by looking at it.
Each level starts with one or more beams of light and a selection of symbols to manipulate it in order to fill all of the glyphs on the level. Higher levels also include coloured rings which change the colour of the light beam as it passes through them and environmental obstacles that affect the beam in some way, for example by splitting it as it passes over them. The game starts simply, with one beam of light of a single colour and only one or two symbols to use but quickly adds challenge with more colours to work with and many symbols to use. This means that there is usually more than one way to solve the puzzle which adds hugely to the replayability value.
The graphics in Auditorium are minimalistic but beautifully executed and the effect of the beam of light moving around the play area is beautiful. The simplicity of a simple dark grey background and the way the beam of light leaves an afterglow for a moment after it’s path is changed is a surprisingly appealing visual combination. My favourite visual moment is after a level is solved the symbols and glyphs fade away leaving nothing but the beam of light which is a fantastic touch. The game looks very crisp on my 24″ display even in full screen mode.
Being a music game the audio component is crucial and Auditorium doesn’t disappoint. Each glyph that you activate plays a different piece of a short looping melody and each level per act adds a layer to the overall tune. One glyph, for example, might contain a short piano phrase whilst another might contain the bass. Over the course of an act more of the music is added and at the end of the act the music is played in full with all it’s components. I was a bit concerned when I first played the game that the loops would get annoying after a while, but as each act has its own music and the acts are fairly short that hasn’t proven to be a problem. One issue is that the loops don’t loop perfectly and there is a noticeable moment where the loop restarts. I don’t find this hugely irritating, but it will make some people want to deafen themselves with a spork to make it stop. If this doesn’t bother you then for maximum enjoyment I recommend using headphones to get the full effect of the music.
Auditorium has a high replay value, partly due to it’s simple ‘pick up and play’ nature which makes it ideal to fill an hour or so and because the puzzles can be solved in multiple ways. There is a good number of levels, some of which are quite challenging, that minimize most feelings of grind, although some of the levels themselves can feel grindy due to having to rely on trial and error. One feature that is missing is Steam Cloud integration, so every time I rebuild my OS (which is often) I have to start the game again, but to be honest I enjoy Auditorium so much that this has never bothered me.
Conclusion – is Auditorium worth buying?
Auditorium has a simple to learn hard to master bent which makes me keep coming back over and over. The difficulty curve can be a little steep at times which means you will need to resort to trial and error to solve some levels but I still find it enjoyable in spite of this. For the price point of £4.99 I think it’s reasonable to flutter a little cash on if you enjoy puzzle games or music games, although I bought my copy on sale for substantially less. Auditorium is available for both PC and Mac and I have also had success running the game under Wine on Linux. There is even a sequel Auditorium Duet that has been successfully Kickstarted and development is underway. In short, recommended to fans of music or puzzle games, but be aware that the trial and error aspect can make it highly frustrating at times!