When Audiosurf cruised onto Steam in 2008, it became a quick hit among PC gamers and music enthusiasts alike. The gameplay, while simple, was endlessly addictive thanks to the ability to import music tracks and create levels using data taken from MP3s. This information is turned into tracks that players can ride along, letting them not only listen to their own music while playing, but really experience their songs in a new way. Three years later, few have attempted to copy Invisible Handlebar's title, and it appeared as though their concept of blending together music and gameplay might remain unchallenged. That is, until now, with the release of Beat Hazard.
Cold Beam Games tugs along the same idea of blending players' music into gameplay, but does so in an entirely different way. Instead of emulating the Guitar Hero method of gameplay, where players try and hit "notes" on a "track," the game folds players' music into a two-stick shooter. The more hectic the beats, the more hectic the on-screen chaos, with more powerful foes launching larger attacks when the music speeds up. Luckily, weapons also become more powerful as things get moving, creating a necessary balance to the gameplay. Where it begins to get tricky, however, is when players aren't able to defeat all of the enemies on screen while things are fast, and need to try and take out a large wave of previously-spawned foes when things start moving slow. This is where strategy (and knowledge of one's music library) comes into play in a big way, and creates an interesting dynamic.
Sadly, that's about where the brilliance of Beat Hazard ends. It's not a particularly good two-stick shooter, as far as the genre is considered, falling short of recent releases like Geometry Wars 2 and Everyday Shooter. There aren't really any unique game modes, either, meaning players either need to play one song at a time, or test themselves by trying to go through an entire album. There's also a lack of enemy variety, and the same foes fought early on in songs will be repeated throughout all tracks. It feels as though the developers could have created some fantastic modes using the gameplay they've created, but they haven't, meaning players shouldn't go in expecting a robust set of features at their fingertips.
When it comes to the visuals, it's a mixed bag to say the least. It looks a bit like the visualizer that shows up in iTunes and Windows Media Player, which is a style that is fitting of the gameplay. The problem, however, is that the effects quickly become distracting as things get hectic. Even if this was the intended goal, it can often become overwhelming, and without some checks and balances in place to make sure this doesn't happen, it's quite easy to lose sight of the on-screen mayhem at best, or leave with a headache at worst. There are some interesting elements in the presentation, such as a ticker that displays friends' high scores and some persistent leveling elements, but the game really is held up completely by its concept alone. Luckily, it's a strong concept, and likely worth the price for any fans of music.
The best thing Beat Hazard has going for it is the price. At $9.99 it's easy to recommend the title to anyone with the means to play it, as it provides a new way to experience music. For anyone who would normally sit down and listen to songs for an hour or two, it's simply an extension of that, and while it might not be able to go toe-to-toe with other two-stick shooters, it's competent enough to sustain itself in three to four minute bursts. Overall, though, there's plenty of room to grow, and it's likely worth waiting for the problems to be cleaned up and the gameplay to be fleshed out before getting too excited.