Review by headbanger

"Audiosurf: A fun way to rediscover your music library"

Rhythm games are pretty popular nowadays. Spearheaded by games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Dance Revolution, the genre is definitely strong and definitely popular. Although all of these games are fun, most of them come along with a decent learning curve -- you have to play the game a lot to get really good at it. Audiosurf, however, is unique in that the learning curve is pretty simple -- all you really need are good reflexes.

The Gist of Audiosurf
In Audiosurf, you control a small spaceship of sorts and you zoom from side-to-side in three lanes of a moving track, trying to collect colored blocks that are moving slower than you are. These blocks fall into a small 3x7 grid where you try to make three or more blocks of the same color touch each other. Larger numbers of touching blocks will result in significantly more points. These blocks are then eliminated from the grid. If your grid fills up, you are penalized by being paralyzed, making you unable to collect more blocks temporarily.

You end up having to multitask: While concentrating on the blocks coming at you on the track, you also have to pay attention to your grid to make sure it doesn't fill up and to make sure you score the largest combo of blocks that you can. At first, this is a bit daunting and confusing, but once you play through several runs, you get the hang of it.

The game doesn't have much of a learning curve. After playing through 5 or 6 songs, you'll have the basics of it down. The game will always let you finish a song, so even if your score is terrible, you can still keep playing to get better. This isn't the kind of game where you have to learn extremely-fast fingerwork to enjoy.

Track Creation and Song Variety: 9/10
The real beauty of Audiosurf is that you can play just about any song on your computer. The game will randomly create a track based on the song. Slower parts of a song create uphill sections of the track, where the blocks come at you much slower and more sparsely. Intense parts of songs result in fast, downhill sections, where blocks come at you at lightning speeds. It takes quick reflexes not to lose yourself during the fast parts.

The tracks are well-generated to match the songs. Even if a song has a one or two second pause, the track will respond accordingly, and many of the blocks will correspond with the beats during slower parts of the songs. The song you choose definitely alters the track, making the music you choose significantly affect what kind of a game you play. If you've ever played DragonForce's "Through the Fire and Flames" on Guitar Hero, you can imagine what a fast song like that would be like in Audiosurf -- very fast, very downhill.

Also worth mentioning is that it doesn't really matter what type of music you listen to -- rap, metal, rock, reggae, techno... they all result in fun tracks in Audiosurf. In fact, it's fun to play songs outside your normal favorite genres of music because the tracks may be more interesting than you had predicted. This is not a game that's only fun with fast techno songs -- it's fun with just about any song you choose.

Game Modes & Difficulty: 8/10
The game also offers a variety of modes and difficulties. There are two basic distinctions between the modes though.

Mono mode means that the blocks are only of one color. You have to navigate between the useless gray blocks to collect the colored blocks, trying to match up the colored blocks in your grid.

The other modes have no gray blocks, but a variety of different-colored blocks. You have to create matches in your grid of same-colored blocks, so you have to choose carefully which blocks to pick up and which ones to avoid. "Hotter" color blocks (like red and yellow) are worth considerably more points than the "cooler" colors (blue and purple). This mode has many different variations where you are given some sort of ability, whether it's to erase all blocks in your grid of one color, pushing the oncoming blocks to one side or another, or even randomly shuffling your grid to (hopefully) create more matches.

The game has three different difficulty levels. The easiest levels are extremely forgiving, but the hard levels are punishing. For the mono mode, harder levels mean more gray blocks that are harder to avoid, and for the other modes, more colors are added (creating more clutter in the grid). Not all modes are offered for each difficulty, unfortunately, which is unpleasant.

Scores & Online Scoring: 7/10
At the end a run, bonuses are applied based on your performance. You receive bonuses for how you performed, such as by ending the track with a clear grid or by collecting 95% of the red or yellow blocks.

After these bonuses are applied, you are shown what medals you win (bronze, silver, or gold). Then, if you are logged in, the game will show how your score compared to the scores of other people who have surfed on the track. The top ten for each difficulty are shown, along with what bonuses they won, their score, and the mode of the game they played. You can also view the scores of people who have raced in your area.

Unfortunately, Audiosurf doesn't say how you placed unless you scored in the top ten. So if you just barely missed the scoreboard, you won't know if you placed 11th or 25th, which would be nice to know. the game also doesn't keep track of all of your scores for races in any convenient place, so you can't view all of your scores and places at once. However, if you race through a song a second time, you'll be told your personal best on the track.

Extras
Audiosurf comes with several interesting extras:
- The game has "achievements" that can be earned by completing various feats, such as never hitting a gray block on mono mode on the highest difficulty.
- Audiosurf supports a large variety of music formats, including MP3, FLAC, WMA, WAV, and OGG.
- You can let the game scrobble tracks to your Last.FM, if you have one.
- You can add friends to a buddy list and compare your scores to their scores.
- Audiosurf has a weekly playlist of songs that are very well suited to the game, creating fun and interesting tracks.

Appearance & Sounds - 9/10
The graphics of the game are pretty solid. Since the main focus is on the track and your grid, the game doesn't need to impress too much, but you can turn the settings up higher if your computer can handle it. There are lighting effects all around the track that are beautiful, including tunnels and weird shapes.

The sound of the game, of course, depends on what song you choose. So if you don't like the music, find more music that you like! :)

Controls - 7/10
The game offers you a large variety of methods to control your ship. You can use the keyboard, the mouse, or even an XBox 360 controller.

My personal method of choice is the mouse, since the mouse is the most fluid and intuitive of the three. Moving the mouse from side to side will move you from lane to lane.

The keyboard works well, but during fast parts of the song it's very tough to keep your fingers straight. Since most tracks have 5 lanes (the three main ones and alleys on either side), you only have four fingers that can use keys, so you have to shift your hand left and right often. It's not uncommon to lose track of where your hand is and make a big mistake.

The 360 controller was actually frustrating, since you have to hold the stick to the side to stay in the side lanes. Letting go of the control stick puts you back into the middle lane. This is extremely tough to deal with on the more intense parts of songs.

No matter which method you use, you need very fast reflexes during intense parts. The controls might be pretty frustrating if you don't have incredible reflexes, even if the controls are very responsive and fluid.

The Good
- Very quick to learn the basics of.
- Very solid track generation.
- You're only limit is the music you have on your computer.
- Competing for high scores online.
- Cool extra features.

The Bad
- No way to view all of your scores.
- Not all gameplay modes are offered for each difficulty.
- Frustrating controlling the game without a mouse.

The Bottom Line: 8/10
For only $10 on Steam, Audiosurf provides endless hours of fun. Whether you're trying to beat a high score, unlock an achievement, or just playing for fun, Audiosurf will keep you busy. When listening to music on your own, you'll find yourself realizing, "Wow, I need to play this song in Audiosurf!"

You can download a demo of Audiosurf that lets you play a few songs, and then you can make a decision from there. Those few songs aren't quite enough to get the game down, so if you're still wavering between buying the game and skipping it after your demo expires, I recommend buying it and playing it some more. $10 is very cheap, and Audiosurf will deliver many hours of entertainment!


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/20/09

Game Release: AudioSurf (US, 02/15/08)


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