Review by AK_the_Twilight

"Soundtrack of Your Life"

The rhythm game genre has undergone multiple metamorphoses since it began so long ago. It was a genre based on timing, beat, and running through a collection of interesting, though similar tracks assembled on discs or cartridges. It became a time for dance machines in arcades or jamming with friends with plastic guitars. But with the advent of CD's and digital music stores, construction of playlists became a major part of owning a personal computer, and despite having interesting setlists on discs, the games remained limited. It was time for a game to mix the gameplay of rhythm titles with the massive obsessive-compulsiveness of audiophiles. So came one of Steam's best. One of the best and most addictive rhythm games ever created doesn't involve dance mats, plastic instruments, or even a rapping dog. It's you, a mouse, and a bottomless reserve of music. Enter Audiosurf.

Audiosurf has a simple concept. Using your mouse control, you direct your surfer character across a note highway. You must navigate the highway, collecting colored blocks and avoiding the grey ones. Collecting blocks of the same color allow them to be stacked, and when you hit three identically-colored blocks in a three-block set, they can be cashed in for points. The “warmer” colors (red, orange, and yellow) as opposed to the “cooler” colors (green, blue, and violet) earn the surfer more points, but mismatched colors stack and the player loses points when too many blocks of different colors stack together. This results in the player frantically dashing their craft from lane to lane, but it all has a great sense of control and responsiveness. It's not hard to move from the left hand shoulder to the right with pinpoint accuracy. Audiosurf is the tightest and sharpest controlling rhythm game I've ever played, but that's not even half of what makes Audiosurf one of the best ways to spend your time playing.

Collecting blocks is the basic premise behind Audiosurf, but there are a number of subtle intricacies to keep you coming back. The selection of available characters is impressive, with each one having different skills and effects on the highway. Each character feels like its very own game, as the simple “dodge-the-grey-blocks” gameplay in Mono is much different than the Pointman character, which is out to stack similar colored blocks. Ninja, Eraser, and even a group of cooperative characters change up the game considerably. It's fantastic to see such depth and diversity among the characters, making some excellent diversions. When you're done with one character, feel free to move onto another. The core gameplay may be kept intact (and resultantly, a little similar to other rhythm games of yore), but the different character functions add fun new dimensions to Audiosurf's already impressive design.

Audiosurf's defining feature, the feature that sets it apart from all other rhythm games on the market today, is that you aren't limited to a single setlist. Unlike games like Dance Dance Revolution or Rock Band, Audiosurf sits on your computer, closely chronicling your music library and using the songs in it for use in the game. In Audiosurf, you aren't limited to 60 or 80 pre-determined tracks to play or even a downloadable content store. If you have an MP3 of Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven” on your computer, you have a brand new track to explore in Audiosurf. This puts all other music games' track lists of content to a bitter shame. When you have a fully customizable collection of music that you can associate to your own personal taste, there's no going back to pre-determined setlists. That being said, Audiosurf's setlist quality is completely up to player, so those who aren't avid in their music collecting probably won't enjoy Audiosurf as much as true audiophiles will. Still, even if you have a few of your favorite songs on your hard drive, Audiosurf will make them into challenging and engaging highways of blocks to tackle. Plus, the Audiosurf Radio feature and pack-in collection of the soundtrack of The Orange Box should offer some fun in between your favorite artists. When all of this comes together, Audiosurf instinctively tunes itself to the player's own personal soundtrack.

A massive community and high-score leaderboards are remarkably intricate, offering insight to not only global scorers, but local friends and score through Audiosurf's records. Divisions between levels and song favorites are all amazing inclusions, some that get competitive and are always pushing forward. Achievements through Steam are also included. At a cheap price of $10, this is a thoroughly satisfying and addictive experience that makes your music library a collection of cleverly constructed rhythm game stages to play through.

Audiosurf may seem a bit low-tech, even to Flash game level in some cases, but as the photosensitivity warning notes when you boot it up, there are plenty of exciting visual effects. It harkens back to the days of rhythm games like Rez or Amplitude, where the highway was the main event and flashing, multi-colored bursts appeared frequently; your eyes are glued to the screen. Construction of the sound highway is based entirely on the song selection, which feels like a roadway design of the equalizer on your media player. Gentle slopes and simmering speeds appear during the more relaxed ballads, but ascendant peaks and dipping valleys are plentiful in the faster-paced songs. It all feels natural, like you truly are speeding through sound itself. The game runs at a great clip; you will notice considerable differences among each song. The surreal sound surfer characters ride the highway quickly and nimbly. Sound quality and effects are exceptional. This is a game that really feels like you're in tune with the music. Audiosurf isn't complex, but it has a retro feel to it, one that's fueled by an energetic presentation that you won't be able to tune out for a good, long while.

+ Exceptionally deep gameplay setup
+ Integration of music library support allows for near limitless replay value
+ Great collection of characters and unique abilities
+ Quick and easy to pick up and play

- Replay value is proportional to your music collection size and quality
- Remains structurally simple compared to other rhythm games

Audiosurf is as clean-cut and accessible as a rhythm game can get, but it has unquestionable depth in gameplay, design, and track list. The mouse control is tight, nimble, and fluid; just as it should be in any rhythm game. Audiosurf may have it simple when it comes to gameplay, but thanks to its integration with the player's music library, it's damn near impossible to run out of songs to play. While other rhythm games released in the past few years have been focused on social networks, intricately designed peripherals, and refinement of their in-game songlists, Audiosurf does what the genre should have been doing since day one: making it appeal to different players' specific tastes. Sifting through songs that you don't like is thrown out the window; if you love a song enough to have it on your computer, it's playable in Audiosurf. At $10, it's a steal for any rhythm gamer or audiophile. If there was any bit of progression in the rhythm game industry, Audiosurf has found and nailed that point home. It's one of the best rhythm games ever made.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/03/11

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

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