“The Greatest Visualization Tool Since The Lava Lamp” – AudioSurf Review


The highway goes on and on...until the song ends at least
The highway goes on and on…until the song ends at least

If you’ve ever found yourself staring at the visualisation on Windows Media Player while a song is playing in the background and thought to yourself ‘this would make a really cool game’, then AudioSurf is right up your street. This beautifully simple title, available via Steam, subverts the usual routine of rhythm games by not offering you a soundtrack to play along with – instead, you supply the music.

Following in the footsteps of the Playstation cult classic Vib Ribbon, AudioSurf’s greatest strength is that it generates levels based on your own music library. After quickly analysing the music file you want to play (pretty much any media file will do the trick), you are transported to a three lane highway filled with colourful blocks. Assuming control of a hovering vehicle, you then have to collect clusters of different coloured blocks to earn a high score. Along the way, the highway and the background visuals will shift and pulsate in tune with the music track you selected; picking a piece of classical music for example will result in a lazy, gentle climb uphill while a fast paced rock song will be a downhill sprint constantly zooming by during quick segments and bumping around during drum solos. Playing the game is as simple as shifting your hovercraft into the required lane to collect the blocks as they come into vision, and you can do that with the mouse or direction keys.

Whereas the likes of Guitar Hero reward players for hitting every note, AudioSurf presents a slightly different challenge. The colours of the blocks are split into ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ colours, with reds, oranges and yellows snagging more points than blues and greens. Playing along to your music therefore becomes a smart little puzzle game, requiring quick reactions and forward thinking to make sure you place blocks of the correct colours together to get the highest score. Or, you could just do what I do and obsessively hunt every block hoping for the best at the end of the run.

There are 14 different characters to play as in AudioSurf split across three levels of difficulty. Each character has their own unique way of building up a high score: the Pointman for example can store a block it runs through and deploy it later for a big cluster bonus, while the Double Vision vehicle activates two hovercraft over four lanes, requiring dexterous fingers to collect all the blocks. If you want the simple life, the Mono character simply has you collect coloured blocks while avoiding the occasional grey obstacle. At the end of a run, you can upload your high-score to the AudioSurf servers and get the all important bragging rights over your mates. From there, you can alter the chimes and jingles your vehicle makes, change the background and go again for a better score. It’s simple, instantaneous fun – and if you don’t want to play at all, you can simply load up a track and watch the visualisers do their work.

For a game that cost me less than £2 during a Steam Sale, AudioSurf has proved to have more replay value then some games selling for twenty times that price. It’s a game limited only by the size of the music library on your computer, and if for whatever reason you don’t have any files to hand, Valve were kind enough to include the Orange Box Soundtrack for free to play along with (play Sector Sweep, profit, rinse and repeat). The menu system is functional rather than beautiful, but that’s my only real complaint on this delightful little game – well worth your pocket money to try out.

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