Audiosurf is a hybrid of a puzzle game and a futuristic racer (mostly the former) from developer BestGameEver, and one of the more unique games I’ve played in a while. The basic concept of the game is that you load up a music file of your choice and try to get the highest score that you can by collecting blocks (called “Cars” in the game) that are scattered along the raceway.
Doesn’t sound like anything new, right? Well, there’s one unique twist to the basic formula: every track you race (and I use the word lightly) on is generated by analyzing the music file you play. Each song has it’s own custom-tailored track, so if you have a large collection of music this unique feature adds a lot of replay value. In addition to that there are also online leaderboards where you can compete with other people for the highest score for each song spanning the games three difficulty modes. There are a few issues with the online features due to the game generating more traffic than the developer was prepared for, but they should be sorted out soon enough.
Because of how the game uses music the overall difficulty is controlled by two different factors, the first of which is what kind of music you choose to play. Every session starts with picking a song of your choice which the game will use to generate the track, block placement, and will control the speed that you travel at based on the beat of the music. If you play a mellow track you can calmly coast through the entire song, and if you chose some brain-rattling Drum & Bass or Hard Rock music you’ll have to be alert and on your toes if you want to survive the onslaught of blocks as you speed down the raceway.
In addition to controlling difficulty through musical selection, there are also three main difficulty modes: Casual, Pro and Elite. And if you want an extra challenge you can check a little box on the bottom of the character/difficulty selection screen that turns on “Ironmode,” which increases the speed even more and doesn’t allow you to overfill any of your block columns, whereas on Casual you only lose points for an overfill and on Pro and Elite you have to wait a few seconds for your character to respawn in addition to losing points. So in essence, the game is really only as difficult as you make it through your song and difficulty choices. This flexibility makes Audiosurf open to a wide range, from the casual gamer to the hardcore.
The game features multiple characters that each play the game in a slightly different way. “Mono” is the only character that doesn’t try to match multiple colored blocks, he only collects one kind of block that changes color dynamically based on the intensity of the music. Mono has to avoid Grey blocks which will clog up your block columns and stop you from getting the “Ninja Stealth” bonus that gives you a big boost to your score at the end of the song. On the Casual and Pro difficulty modes these Grey blocks will remove themselves from your block columns after a set period of time has passed, however on Elite mode you must use the right mouse button to remove them manually (doing so deducts points from your score).
Where Mono focuses on reflexes and hand-eye coordination more than anything else, the other characters focus on a puzzle formula where you collect variously colored blocks, trying to create clusters comprised of blocks of matching colors (the bigger the cluster, the more it’s worth). All of the other characters use this base gameplay mechanic, but each has their own special abilities that adds a little variety and strategy to the mix. The character “Vegas” has the ability to shuffle the blocks in your columns around, “Pusher” can push blocks either left or right into the the adjacent lane, “Eraser” can remove blocks from your columns by running into the color you wish to remove with the left mouse button held down, “Pointman” allows you to scoop up a block from the track (excluding ones already in your columns) and plop it down in a better spot, and “Double Vision” has you controlling two vehicles at once (impractical alone, but doubles as a two-player hotseat mode).
These character choices could be considered a third way of controlling the games difficulty, but I don’t feel they alter the gameplay enough to amount to much more than offering different strategies. Mono is sitting right on the edge of that boundary, but I don’t feel his gameplay changes make the game harder or easier so much as they just make it a different experience.
Graphically speaking, I think the game looks fantastic. The trippy minimalistic art style fits the theme of the game perfectly and provides for some great visuals while you’re traveling through the course with beat being visually expressed in the course’s shape and color. Sometimes simple is good, and this is definitely a case where that is true. Simpler graphics also bring the benefit of being playable on a wide range of systems, although the highest detail level doesn’t perform that well on my graphics card (a problem that may just be an optimization issue or driver bug). Luckily, you won’t be missing much if you have to run one-notch below the highest level as all it really adds is some motion blur and bloom effects.
All-in-all, Audiosurf is a great deal at the very reasonable $9.95 price tag (currently only available on Steam). I’d highly recommend it to anybody who likes puzzle games, rhythm games or just wants to breathe new life into their music collection. If you’d like to try the game before you buy it you can download the demo (also only available on Steam) and determine whether or not the full game is worth the price of admission yourself.
And as a final note, because this game is music-based it gives me the perfect opportunity to shamelessly plug my Netlabel article which you can view by clicking here.