Warning: This game, as well as any videos I may link to in this review, are not recommended for people with a history of epileptic seizures.
Games that try to integrate your music library into the gameplay are nothing new, with the roots of the idea stretching back all the way to the almost legendary original PlayStation title Vib-Ribbon(1999). Although considered greatly innovative at the time, the concept never really went anywhere and the few games that tried to follow suit almost exclusively faded into obscurity, remembered fondly by the few gamers who actually bought them.
Fast-forward to 2008 and Audiosurf, which burst out onto the rapidly expanding Steam platform to a wave of praising reviews and great sales numbers. Now, music suddenly seemed like a viable element to build your gameplay on, and it was expected that other developers would follow suit.
It would take until 2010 and Cold Beam Games‘ indie twin-stick arcade-shooter Beat Hazard before we got to see another brilliant take on the concept.
Even though Beat Hazard borrows it’s music-based gameplay from the likes of Audiosurf and Vib-Ribbon, that’s only half of the story. It’s pure action style, outlandish visuals and, at times, brutally insane difficulty are all heavily reminiscent of Geometry Wars and it’s old-school counterparts.
The problem with reviewing twin-stick shooters is that they are relatively simplistic by nature, and on the surface there usually isn’t a lot differentiating them from each other. You control a small ship on a square-sized grid, trying to avoid enemy fire and enemies while shooting what can be most closely described as “liquid lightning” (or lasers if you’re boring), picking up powerups and fighting huge-ass bosses. What really separates a good twin-stick shooter from a bad one is it’s look, sound and feel. This is where Beat Hazard gets it just right.
As the game helpfully informs you upon launch, you can play with a mouse and keyboard or a Xbox 360 controller. There is no mention of support for other gamepads, and I have been unable to test this out myself. The mouse and keyboard option handles very well, but I have no experience with the Xbox 360 controller.
As early as the menu screen you are stricken by the game’s overpowering visuals, as a song from the last folder you selected starts playing automatically with a visualizer in the background filling your screen with what can be closest likened to liquid lightning. In fact, this visualizer can sometimes prove a little too overpowering, making reading the menu text a little difficult at times.
The menu consists of your standard options like a leaderboard, stats, achievements, options, a tutorial and the two games modes. Curiously there’s a major game mode missing from the PC version, and that is co-op play – although the developer has expressed wishes to add both local and online co-op to the PC version in later patches.
The stats, leaderboard and achievement menus work like you would expect them to and the “learn the game” option summarizes everything you need to know with ease.
However, the menu problems rear their ugly heads when you start getting into actually choosing a song to play. Browsing through your hard-drive is both slow and clunky, and if your songs are not of mp3 format you aren’t going to be able to play them without converting. Once again, additional format support is something we can most probably expect in patches later on, but if a large portion of your music is in anything other than mp3, you might want to take that into consideration.
UPDATE: After patches, all the interface problems are gone and there is now OGG and FLAC support.
When you’ve navigated your way to your mp3 file of choice (high-tempo music and music with lots of variation recommended!), you’re greeted with a playing field much like Geometry Wars, and from here on out it’s almost like playing any other twin-stick shooter, just with enemies that shoot back, giant bosses, and gameplay morphing to your music of choice a’la Audiosurf.
There’s a multiplier system much like in Geometry Wars, only it goes up to 200 here, and you have to adjust to the enemies moving in set paths (based on your music) instead of following you, but generally if you’ve played Geometry Wars or any other twin-stick shooter, you’re going to pick up on Beat Hazard in no time at all.
The two game modes offer slightly differing takes on the same gameplay, with Survival mode (which plays tracks from the same folder until you lose) offering an endurance match more focused on long-term survival and managing your multipliers, while normal mode offers a playthrough of a single song, promoting more agressive play.
The above footage is from the survival mode.
There’s really not a lot else to say. What you see is what you get and if you’ve ever felt that Audiosurf needed more Geometry Wars, or just have an interest in twin-stick shooters in general, you can’t go wrong with Beat Hazard.
Developer: Cold Beam Games
Genre: Music-based twin-stick shooter.
Time: The length of your music library. Or the time it takes for your brain to melt.
Niggles: lack of co-op option in the PC version.
Get it for the: Insane visuals, fast pace, addictive gameplay, blow-your-mind-open boss-fights, music integration.
Disclaimer: I have spent about six hours with the PC version of Beat Hazard. I have not played the xbox 360 version.