Saturday 15 August 2009

Indie Pack Reviewlet: Audiosurf

Bit of a cheat, this one, as I bought Audiosurf when it was released a year and a half ago. In Audiosurf you “surf” down a track based on a song picking up coloured blocks into a grid, matching colours together for points. When I first got it, deep in the throes of Guitar Heroism, the gameplay didn’t quite click for me; Guitar Hero note tracks are carefully hand-crafted by skilled editors, whereas Audiosurf automatically generates its game tracks from any MP3 you throw at it. The tracks reflect the music they’re generated from, swooping downhill when the tempo is quick and climbing uphill when slow, the block colours changing from cool purples and blues to warm yellows and reds with the intensity of the song, but it’s a fairly broad impression of the music as opposed to the pin-point reflection of the guitar lines that Guitar Hero offers, and that took me a little while to fully appreciate.

What you gain over something like Guitar Hero, of course, is the infinite variety of your own MP3 collection, especially if your musical preferences generally don’t tend towards index-and-little-finger extending RAWK! Classical, baroque, jazz, trip-hop, game soundtracks, Dylan bootlegs, Interröbang Cartel, Harry “The Hipster” Gibson’s classic “Who Put The Benzedrine In Mrs Murphy’s Ovaltine”, if you’ve got it as an mp3, wma, ogg, flac or iTunes file, you can pipe it into Audiosurf and see what crazy tracks result.

Once Audiosurf clicked for me I really got into it, and could quite happily lose a couple of ours with “just one more song…” Something I particularly like is its straightforward high score table; in this internet connected age, most high score tables are frankly depressing as you find yourself in competition with thousands, if not millions, of other players, and after a triumphant, almost-perfect run of something you shout “yes!”, punch the air, and then find, after an awful lot of scrolling, you’re at position 10,472 on the table. Audiosurf lets you choose your battles; if you really want to test yourself you can play one of the included songs (particularly Still Alive), or something terribly popular with the playerbase at large (Through The Fire And The Flames). In the darker recesses of your MP3 collection, though, you’re bound to be able to find something with rather fewer players that you can boldly proclaim yourself Pro Champion of.

Something else I’ve come to appreciate in the past year is just how difficult it is to make a decent game based around any MP3 you can throw at it. I’ve tried a couple of others since, Raycatcher (a bargain from a Steam sale, natch) which was distinctly “meh”, and Jam Legend, that promised to turn your music into Guitar Hero-style tracks, but really didn’t for the couple of examples I tried.

Hardware-wise the laptop coped fine, after cranking the resolution down a bit, but as I’ve played it plenty before I only ran through a few songs on holiday. Overall, two bouncing-to-the-crazy-beat thumbs up, and well worth the full £5.99 individual purchase price.

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