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Audiosurf (Windows)

Released
Platform
86
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
...
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  CrackTheSky (36)
Written on  :  Apr 11, 2008
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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Summary

The most fun you can have listening to music

The Good

If you've somehow managed to avoid learning about this phenomenal game for this long, let me lay down the basic premise of the game for you. Essentially, it's a kind of racing game. You control a vehicle set on a track that forms itself to whatever song you load into the game. Depending on what character/vehicle you choose, you'll either be trying to avoid gray blocks on the track and collect colored ones, or just collect as many colored blocks as you can (without having to worry about grays).

It sounds simple, and really, it is. You control everything that happens while you're playing with the mouse (well, for the most part), making it very easy to pick up and jump into, even for beginners. And while it's easy enough to learn the game, it takes a deceptively long time to master. This duality of simplicity and depth makes the game infinitely addicting in itself, but it doesn't end there.

The game's signature feature is its ability to allow you to import almost any song on your computer into the game, so you can essentially "play" the song. The only limitations are on the length of the song (it can't be longer than ~25 minutes) and the file type, though all the popular and common audio encodes are supported, including .m4a (iTunes) files.

As you can imagine, this makes the game infinitely replayable if you have even a moderately-sized music collection on your computer, and the game comes with the entire soundtracks from Half-Life, Half-Life 2, Portal, and other Valve games, as well as featured songs on "Audiosurf Radio" every week.

Adding even more to the addiction this game breeds is the fact that for every song you play, a unique scoreboard is generated for it. This way you can compare your scores with others who have played the same song as you, and sometimes the competition can get fierce. If you get first place on a song, and someone beats you at a later point an e-mail is automatically sent to you notifying you of this so you can go and try and reclaim your throne. I should also mention that a thankful feature of these scoreboards is that they're separated by difficulty, so Elite players don't dominate the scoreboards.

Your goal in the game is to collect colored blocks and make at least three of the same color connect. Every time you collect a block, it goes into a 3x7 grid on the track beneath your vehicle. The more blocks of a single color you can collect into a cluster, the bigger the payoff when they disappear from the board.

There are several modes of play. The most popular (at least for beginners) seems to be the Mono modes, in which you have to dodge the gray blocks scattered on the track and collect the colored ones. You don't have to worry about different colors in this mode, which makes it an excellent mode for more casual play. It's hard to top the scoreboards with Mono characters on popular songs, but in some cases they can compete - especially if you're able to dodge all the grays, which'll get you a nice 30% bonus at the end.

The other modes are all the same in that there are no gray blocks and you have to pay attention to the grid more so you know which colors you need to collect. These modes of play are more puzzle-oriented and strategic, but the scoring potential is much higher in most cases than for that of the Mono characters.

Each of these characters has a different ability. It would take too long to describe all of them, but some of the cooler ones are Eraser, which allows you to erase a certain color from your grid, and Pointman, which allows you to pick up blocks and powerups off the track and drop them in any lane later.

The Achievements are also a welcome feature. Basically, if you complete a predetermined task, such as not hitting any gray blocks on the hardest Mono mode in a song that's at least 7 minutes long, or earning a certain number of points per minute in a song, you'll be awarded an Achievement. You don't get anything for completing all the Achievements, but it does give you something to aim for besides a high score. There are only 11 Achievements right now, but it's pretty safe to say that we'll see more appear in future updates.

On the technical side, Audiosurf is nothing short of beautiful. It's wonderfully colorful, and it's an incredibly easy game to just sit back and watch someone else to play (made even easier if the person in question has the same taste in music as you). The first time you play you'll probably be more distracted by the graphics than be attentive to the game itself. You can also change the background color between three color schematics, and add preset "effects" to the screen (though, in my opinion, most of these make the game harder to play well).

There are also a lot of mods and upgrades to the game right now, and literally anyone can make their own textures for the game, with a little (and I do mean little) research.

The Bad

As much as I think this game is fantastic and wonderful and everything, there are some problems that keep it from being perfect. One of these things is the fact that there are still problems with song recognition and essentially "duplicate" scoreboards - song recognition is done through ID3 tags, and even a character's difference between the names of two different files that are the exact same song will cause two different scoreboards to be created. For example, "Beautiful Day [Live]" will have a completely different scoreboard than "Beautiful Day (Live)". This is easily remedied by manually changing the file's ID3 tag to resemble the more popular version on Audiosurf, but it is something that should be looked into.

On a similar note, it's easy for someone, if they really wanted to, to purposely misname a song and get a score that doesn't reflect what would be possible if they had legitimately played the right song. This is somewhat counteracted by a "Report" button next to a person's name on any given scoreboard, and usually it's easy to spot such cheaters because the track outline and length differs substantially from the actual track song/length (and yes, I have come across this numerous times). However, there should be more rigorous testing with track length/shape comparisons so such a thing doesn't happen in the first place.

One other problem on the music end that is harder to criticize the game developers for is the fact that different encodes of the same song can yield very different tracks, at least in terms of block color and placement.

On a technical note, the game demands a pretty good computer to play well. I have a 2 GHz Athlon 64 3200+ processor with 1 GB of RAM, and I can't even play on the medium settings without taking a sizable frame-rate hit. Thankfully I can turn the anti-aliasing up to max on the lowest settings without slowing anything down, and the game looks fine then, so it's not a big deal. This has been a problem with several other people as well, so don't let this be a deciding factor for you because the game will look great no matter what.

Also, I've had problems with the game freezing up and exiting when I minimize it and then try to open it back up again, and when this doesn't happen it tends to open back up in a 640x480 resolution. There are a few other very minor bugs in the menus, and I've heard of some bugs during gameplay, but haven't experienced any for myself.

Another thing that kind of bothers me about the game is the necessity of Steam, a program I have come to despise. This may not be as much of a problem for those of you who don't mind or like Steam, but I personally have had problems with it before and it kinda irks me that the only way to play the game is through Steam.

The rest of my complaints are less important because they deal with what the game lacks. For example, a "randomize" button would be useful for the times I'm too indecisive to choose a song to play. It would be cool, too, if it was possible to flow from one song to the next, and play an entire album seamlessly. The list goes on of things that could be implemented to make the game better, and luckily at the time of this writing the game is still young and is constantly being updated, so features like these are likely to happen sometime in the future.

The Bottom Line

Music games have come to be something of a fad in the past few years. With games like DDR and Guitar Hero becoming huge successes, it's no wonder that there are more imitators springing up all over the place. Audiosurf does it better than any of them, however. The singular fact that it reads ANY song that's loaded into it and generates a unique track for that song puts it above the rest, and on top of this there is an absolute ton of gameplay to go with it. No matter what kind of gamer you are, you can play something that you will enjoy. The learning curve is as gentle or steep as you make it, and even after learning the basics it will take a long time to master any single character (and there are six different characters to separately master).

The list of bad things may look kind of large, but bear in mind that pretty much every complaint I have (besides the Steam one) is something that can be fixed or improved upon in the future by the enthusiastic and dedicated development team, and every single complaint I've listed is something that's already been brought to the dev team's attention on the Audiosurf forum. In any case, none of these complaints, together or alone, are enough to so much as hinder my enjoyment of the game.

I've had this game for about a month and a half now, and I haven't looked back. By far this is the best $10 I have ever spent on a game, and considering the amount of game you get with that purchase, it's more than a steal. It's flat-out robbery - they could sell this game for $40 and still be justified in making it more expensive if they wanted to. It may be a bit too soon for me to tell if this is one of my all-time favorite games, but I can't see anything happening in the future that would keep Audiosurf from getting onto that list.

In short, you need to buy this game. You will absolutely not regret it.