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PC Review - 'Audiosurf'

by Erik "NekoIncardine" Ottosen on March 12, 2008 @ 2:29 a.m. PDT

Audiosurf is a music-adapting puzzle racer where you use your own music to create your own experience. The shape, the speed, and the mood of each ride is determined by the song you choose. You earn points for clustering together blocks of the same color on the highway, and compete with others on the internet.

Genre: Rhythm/Puzzle
Developer: Invisible Handlebar/Dylan Fitterer
Release Date: February 19, 2008

You know what? I'm going to do my best, but you cannot describe Audiosurf with mere words. Pictures help just a tad, video another tad, but ultimately, Audiosurf is a game that needs to be played. Let me be straight about this: No other game that has come out so far this year, and that includes Japanese releases, that is as much of a must-get game as Audiosurf. Yes, I include Smash Brothers Brawl in that.

Fortunately, seems to agree with me enough that they're pricing the game to sell, and just in case the game itself isn't enough, including the best pack-in item in a long time. Ten dollars will get you Audiosurf and the complete The Orange Box soundtrack, including many tracks that were not in the original $20 CD release, in DRM-free MP3 format, and as one convenient Steam download. If this is not awesome enough that you are alt-tabbing into Steam right now, then you have not listened to "Still Alive" yet. Fortunately, VGCats can fix that for you, or you can just beat Portal.

OK, hopefully you're already downloading the game (my download took me a while, until I realized that playing Team Fortress 2 pauses the download by default). Now, however, comes the real question. The deal's great, but is the game itself worth it? The answer, my friend, is that, for $10, a lot of crappy games could be worth it. Audiosurf is not one of them. Audiosurf could get away with being $50 and still be a must-get title. It is quite simply that good, that different, and that well-conceived of an experience.

Audiosurf started out as a quick prototype that quickly proved cool enough to code out into a full and rich experience, even though it's by default rather short in nature. Picture one of the older-school console games that you beat once and play through again a week later because it's still fun. That's Audiosurf. And that's something all too rare these days, in an age of 60-hour single-playthrough epic works. A musically defined puzzle game of the simplest yet most awesome sort, Audiosurf manages to merge puzzle and music in a fashion that even the pioneering Lumines cannot claim to so much as approach, let alone touch.

Audiosurf, at its most basic, is comparative to a simplified version of Klax, a classic game for the Atari Lynx. Blocks come toward your board, and you can choose to take or leave them. Take them, and they'll come onto a tableau beneath you. Put three or more together (unlike Klax, they don't have to be in a row), and they disappear and you earn points.

The primary differences from Klax are mostly cosmetic. The song file you choose to play defines the blocks you get; the game uses a fairly detailed beatmatching system to get the blocks to match with tones, and the block's color is matched to the note's intensity. This does not seem like much, until you put on a song by Aphex Twin — the only musical artist whose sheet music is an Internet meme for how strange it is — and find yourself awash in a storm of colored blocks.

Furthermore, while Klax had tiles come down on a straight, uninteresting board, Audiosurf creates a twisting, turning road filled with objects, where the blocks only come toward you because you're outrunning them. I honestly feel incapable of describing just how this ends up looking, except to say that the thousands of Youtube videos do not even scratch the surface of how otherworldly and awesome it feels to see the road bounce to the beat. About the only thing I have found that does, in fact, do it any justice is Rez (the original or the HD release currently on Xbox Live), except for being a puzzle game instead of a 3D shoot-'em-up. It is that trippy and that much fun — and it costs exactly the same, too!

If the uniquely trippy nature of Audiosurf is not enough, the game finds ways to switch things up with seven characters split among three difficulty ranges. Pointman plays the most like Klax, while Pusher shoves tiles to either side of it, and Mono only deals in colors or black tiles, which need to be avoided. Double Vision lets two players play two lines on the same road. Not enough? The game also includes a fairly robust online scoreboard system, which lets you see how well you're doing on the song. Just look out, because the game uses the same board for all songs with the same title and artist, meaning that there is a fair penalty for using shorter versions of songs. That said, the game also makes sure to tell you the length and course layout of each high score to balance this out. (The developers have stated that they may work on patching this to sense these details more precisely somehow.)

This really does not need further discussion. If you are not already downloading Audiosurf, you should be going to do so now. The game is simple, it is good, it includes the Orange Box soundtrack, and it's a 10-dollar title that will outlast many 50-dollar games. No more words are necessary; only action is needed. If you are not convinced, watch a few videos. There are top-quality games I have played before and would not recommend to all players. Audiosurf is a top-quality game I recommend to absolutely everyone.

Score: 9.3/10

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