Review: Audiosurf (PC)

Do you want to play a game like Rez without holding on to your PlayStation 2, Dreamcast or saving up for an Xbox 360 for Rez HD? On February 15 2008, Steam released a game called Audiosurf, a game that is very hard for me to explain, so I will try my best; it's just one of games where you have to watch some YouTube videos to understand what is happening...

Before you start any level, the player will be asked to choose a ship with different abilities, and then choose a song from the computer; this can be any file format from an MP3, OGG, FLAC, M4A, WMA, and of course, CD format. It even reads the DRM protected files as well, so it can run those online purchased songs without any issues. After the song is selected, it will take a moment to analyze the track, which results in the design of the level.

After loading, the player will have his ship at the beginning off a strange looking wavy road that was shaped by the sound waves of the chosen song. The speed of the song and the beats in the song (e.g. snares, hand claps, bass, guitar, etc.) will affect the speed that the ship travels on the road and where and how many colored blocks are placed on different parts of this musical road. The player will see an aerial view of the road for a few seconds before the song starts playing.

Below the player's ship is a grid where colors go when they are collected. The objectives vary depending on the difficulty chosen; the easiest will only require the player to simply collect any block that is not gray; the medium difficulty requires the player to collect 3 or more of the same color and have them be adjacent to each other, and collecting gray blocks will make the player lose a significant amount of points; the highest difficulty will have a barrage of gray blocks, and the player will be required to collect the few blocks that are actually colored. The song doesn't get distorted when the ship miss blocks or hit the gray blocks by accident; the player simply lose points and can continue playing normally. At the end of the song, the ship enters a very geometric space tunnel, and you score will be compared with others in the world who have also played that exact same song; through this online scoreboard, I have learned that I am not exactly the best Audiosurf player out there and all that matters is that I had lots of fun! There were a few songs where I was the first person to play, and I popped up at the #1 spot by default; this is only because the game came out yesterday.

With this concept, every song in this world is basically waiting to be turned into a level; I found myself searching my hard drive for MP3s and my room for CDs for the simple reason to have it played in Audiosurf and collect points; it's not just a really cool visualizer; it's the perfect game for both hardcore and casual gamers; I played many songs from techno, dance, rock, pop, classical and even hip-hop; Audiosurf was able to scan each one and turn it into a unique level. The only one I couldn't use was this 176 MB MP3 file of a DJ Tiesto performance, because it was too long and Audiosurf just gave up because of the nature of its algorithm; I'm just mentioning this because I think it's funny and that most people in their lives may never have an MP3 file of that size. It had me listening to songs differently, wondering how it would look if I was playing it in Audiosurf. It is obvious that this will get people plugging in their Walkmans (i.e. the ones that actually play MP3s), iPods and Zunes to their computer to play more songs in hopes of making it on the online scoreboard.

When people describe this game, they describe that it has elements in other games, but there hasn't been any solid comparisons; for example, I'm the only one so far who has stated that it reminded me of Rez because of how it gets you hooked and you forget about everything else around you. The compared games are:

- Rez; I experienced the same synesthesia.
- Tetris; lining up those blocks
- Guitar Hero; the road scrolls vertically like the guitar's neck
- F-Zero; the futuristic vehicles

I actually came across this game by chance; I opened up my Steam client to play Team Fortress 2 online, then I saw a popup for a free demo for Audiosurf; the tagline read "ride your music"; it caught my attention with the futuristic ship it displayed in the ad, so I downloaded the demo quickly, and I played some songs I happened to have on my computer; it was awesome! However, I realized that the demo only allowed me to play 4 songs and after that, it kept telling me to buy the game if I wanted more; and I did want more! I paid the low price of $9.95 for the full version and I have no regrets! It's one of those games that I'll always play whenever I'm extremely bored and I want something to do for 20 minutes, or if there's a bunch of songs I've never heard and I want to listen to them differently. Also, this is a music rhythm game that is not a Dance Dance Revolution rip-off or a Guitar Hero wannabe; it's completely different and it's all about the concept of turning a song into a playable level and being amazed every time.

I can't think of anything I hate about this game; it's simple, addictive and it will never get boring with the limitless songs that can be obtained; the multiple file compatibilities and DRM support make Audiosurf even easier to use since I never reached a point where I had to convert something. The only problem I had was installing the game itself; when I bought the full version, the game would still tell me to buy the new version; at first, I thought I did something wrong, then I deleted my content for Audiosurf, and reinstalled Audiosurf then the game worked without any problems; at this point, I played as many songs as possible before I stood up to get some coffee. I am not the best player, and even though I make mistakes that make me lose a lot of points, it's all part of the experience; there's just something about collecting colorful blocks while driving a ship on a road that's been shaped by a song that makes this one of the most innovative and unique games out there. Whenever I played a song directly from a CD with the standard CD format, the game would freeze for a few seconds making it seem like it has crashed; it still works nonetheless and will be resolved with future updates. There was a short moment where I had problems logging my account in Audiosurf and that was only because of the heavy server load on the first day of this game's release. Other than those miniscule bugs, everything about this game is just good, clean and simple musical fun.

I looked at the credits, and there's only 5 people listed and a group called "Pedro Macedo Camacho" for composing an original musical score and "Paladin Studios" for the 3D models; they certainly did an amazingly good job at this game; this is definitely NOT the cliché "college game programming project" that they only did for the sake of getting a grade; this is an experiment that bloomed into a huge success! All I hope is that they continuing working on this, and I know that it will turn into something that is bigger than it already is; Valve did a very good job promoting it as well; with the purchase of the full version, they included their entire soundtrack of "The Orange Box", which includes Portal's end credit song, "Still Alive"; yet another good deal. In addition, there are even free songs available online from the Audiosurf servers that can be played if the player wants to play something that is not on their computer. All of these tracks have played well in the game, and perfectly in sync, and these people did an excellent job in mathematical calculations, sound wave analysis, and creating a nice futuristic feel that reminds you that nothing is real, and it's all about having fun.

With its musical versatility, fast pace, low system requirements, online scoreboards and incredibly cheap price of $9.95, this is definitely worth buying for anyone who wants to play a rhythm game that doesn't force the player to "be in sync or else" and wants an arcade-style experience. If you don't want to spend a cent, just play the demo to understand what it's all about, and you will love it; just make sure you choose your four songs carefully, because after that, it won't give you another chance to play.


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3 Responses to Review: Audiosurf (PC)

  1. Kevin Jackson-Mead says:

    Audiosurf is one of the finalists for the Independent Games Festival (IGF), and the awards are being given out next week at the Game Developers Conference (GDC). I'll be at GDC, but I may or may not be at the IGF awards on Wednesday night. However, the cable station G4 is going to be broadcasting from GDC, including the IGF awards.

  2. Gareth Rees says:

    The idea of using an audio CD as a source of pseudo-random data with which to generate a level goes back to Sony's Vib-Ribbon (1999), directed by Masaya Matsuura.

  3. games says:

    I will twitter this specific thing last week!

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