Core 2 Duo T5450 CPU
3GB DDR2 RAM
GeForce 8800GTS Go
In my preview for Audiosurf a few weeks ago, I mentioned that unless some catastrophe happens to the developer of this wonderful little game, it'd be a sure hit. Well, something really good happened instead: it got picked up on Steam. This music/racing/hybrid game is now up on Valve's gaming service for the very reasonable price of $9.95, and I will say right now that for anyone who likes music or games or both (this should cover pretty much everyone, right?), this is a hell of a lot of fun.
Audiosurf takes music tracks and creates a sci-fi "highway" for your little ship to maneuver through, and the twists, turns, and bumps in the road happen to the beat of the music you feed it. Littering the road are "cars", blocks that you must either collect for points or avoid to stay alive, depending on the gameplay mode you chose - these, too, occur based on the layout and instrumentation of the songs you feed it. The game takes a variety of music formats including MP3, OGG, unprotected iTunes music, and audio CDs and in a few seconds can make a whole new level out of your favorite tracks. Choose fast, intense tracks for a thrilling, frantic downhill experience, or pick more mellow ones for a soothing experience that usually results in a lower difficulty.
Control of your little ship is simple; use the arrow keys to switch between lanes, or use the mouse to slide back and forth in the same way. Many players disagree over which one is better, as the mouse can be tricky if your ship manages to be occupying parts of two lanes at once when a block you don't want comes past, but you can also very quickly flick from one side to the other. Keyboard controls are a little more accurate and you won't get stuck between two lanes, but you'll also have to tap frantically to cross the playing field quickly. Either way, the controls are usually very simple, and some modes will give you a function on either mouse button or possibly the spacebar. Things like the ability to push blocks to either side as you collect them, pick them up and drop them where you want them, jump, or bust unwanted blocks that you've collected are all here, mixed into the various gameplay modes. With the many genres of music you can toss into the game along with the many ways to play, you'll find pretty much an infinite combination of stages to play on.
Your objective in Audiosurf is to score points, and you do this by collecting the colored blocks that come at you. You collect them into a container that sits below you, three blocks wide and seven deep, and for most of the gameplay modes there are a number of different colored blocks that you can collect. Collect three or more that are touching up-down or left-right, and they disappear and you get points. Combos can be set up, and as you progress through a song you'll also be able to pick up various icons to automatically shuffle your stored blocks for maximum points, add a bunch of a single color, or change all your existing ones to a color. The Mono gameplay modes change it up by only having two colors of blocks: gray ones which you want to avoid, and colored ones which you want to collect. These simplify the game, but also add a level of challenge in that the gray blocks you do collect are no good to you and must either decay over time or blown away at the cost of your points.
There are a dozen different gameplay modes, including a few two-player matches that you can play together on the same computer. The lanes open up to a total of four and each player can move around on their half of the playing field. Saucy gamers have decided to take it upon themselves to control both simultaneously, one with the keyboard and one with the mouse, for a massive challenge. Then there's also the Ironmode, an option that makes things much tougher and can actually cause you to get a Game Over screen if you overfill your block stores.
The most compelling thing about Audiosurf is that you can bring in your own music. The blocks that fly at you don't always match the beat and instrumentation perfectly, but the game does pretty well considering that it's using pure math to create each level. The graphics are crisp and colorful, but they won't likely be winning any awards. Still, there's a lot here for a casual-seeming $10 game, including a small but important set of detail options to ensure that most computers can play the game. Unfortunately, the game doesn't really do very advanced processing of music, so if you have busted MP3s, long chunks of silence, or especially quiet or loud tracks, there's nothing you can do within Audiosurf to fix it. The game does support .M3U playlist files, but it will still switch back to the menu after every song; if you want to either watch or play a full album's of material without interruption, you'll need to use an audio editing program to splice them together yourself. There's no equalizer or digital effects here, so as a music player, Audiosurf is barebones. I was really hoping that the developers could squeeze in a few features that would let the Freeride work the same but still play music like Winamp or Foobar does. Maybe we can see that in an update for the game.
All of the fun and features that Audiosurf offers are excellent for $10, but the trump card is the game's excellent online functionality. You don't actually play over the internet, but the game does a great job of tracking scores on a song-by-song basis. Audiosurf is pretty good at reading the track names for songs to make sure that everyone's playing the same track, but even if that doesn't happen, a report to a game moderator can be done to make sure of it. Audiosurf tracks any song that you throw at it, so it's kind of cool to play some obscure song of yours and find out that dozens of people have already played it. Of course, in the future, possible knockoffs or follow-ups to Audiosurf could include all kinds of stuff: playing music videos as well as just music, online play, more intricate courses, more action buttons (hello Xbox Live!), and plenty more.
Audiosurf gives you the chance to "play" your music in a way that you've never seen before. The game is simple, addictive, and fun, and the way the track moves and shakes to the beat of the music will keep your attention much better than most casual games. The $10 price tag, community setup, and easy Steam integration (along with things like Steam achievements) will likely ensure this game is still played many months (if not years) down the road. If game developers with budgets a hundred times the size of Audiosurf could come up with such original ideas on a regular basis, well, gaming would be much better than it is today.