Music-based video games, from Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku to Guitar Hero to Rock Band, are notorious for slapping reflex-heavy and overtly simple gameplay onto music, then banking on the player’s compulsions—the need to hit that one note—to do the grunt work for them. Audiosurf 2, currently in early beta (up for grabs via Steam early access—which is how I played the game) has a different philosophy. Rather than rely on music to convey its content, it enhances music with its own dynamic message.
Onward and upward!
Dynamic really is the key word here. Audiosurf 2 doesn’t saddle the player with a collect-the-notes experience to be customized only through slight variations in difficulty. Instead, it invites the player to run, surf or swim through any song, in any gameplay mode, and with any aesthetic they desire. Virtually all music is compatible with the game's level-generator, and all of these elements are interwoven with the variance of the Steam Workshop, allowing player-made creations to shine free-of-charge. The result is a purposefully uncontained and synesthetic romp through all your favorite sounds.
The contrast … it's beatiful.
Nevertheless, this is a video game, so let’s talk gameplay. (Full disclaimer: My Audiosurf 2 experience revolved almost exclusively around electronic music—a genre I highly recommend given the game’s style.) From a digitized wakeboard to a rocket to whatever figure you download or think of, you guide an avatar through a digital track using your mouse, keyboard or gamepad of choice. In the most basic gameplay type, aptly dubbed “Mono,” you’ll be dodging grey globules and scooping up colored bricks, both of which are placed in accordance to the beats and notes of the current song.
Those features are just the surface. While at the helm of the aforementioned wakeboard in—you guessed it—“Wakeboard Mode”, you’ll also be on the lookout for spikes in the song’s rhythm. Much like how the song’s tempo dictates speed, these trigger large waves which allow you to launch your character into spectacles of aerial acrobatics. In the puzzle-based “Pusher” mode, colored blocks are divided into three sub-types which, using the three block lanes as a frame, must be collected in clusters to earn points. Things only get crazier when speed and gravity are changed, limiting the reaction-time window and adding more factors to the mix. There’s even a single-player co-op mode (you read that right) that lets you control two ships simultaneously.
Two? I can barely keep up with one!
This gameplay palette has something for everyone, from the fastidious score-grinder hellbent on dominating the online high scores to the relaxed user who’s just wants something different out of their favorite music. No matter the style, Audiosurf 2’s aim, one coined by the game’s creator, Dylan Fitterer, remains the same. You aren’t following in-game notes, you’re following music; you’re anticipating the visual and gameplay repercussions of intense music. From the goosebumps of literally riding a big build-up to the visual splendor of seeing a smorgasbord of effects echo music, Audiosurf 2 defies the commonplace definition of music-gaming and substitutes its own rhythm (excuse the pun).
Speaking of something for everyone: I at one point found myself jamming in gloriously pink fashion.
Your screen may get pleasantly chaotic at times, but this is all carried by a brutally simple control scheme. You can slide your mouse, tap your arrow keys or wiggle your analog sticks to move, and you have a whopping four trick buttons to keep track of. In addition, while wakeboarding, you can switch between a first- and third-person perspective, to either immerse yourself in the riding or get a better view of upcoming jumps.
Given its infancy and openness to player mods, the game’s current count of nine gameplay modes will likely grow well into double digits before its full release, and only snowball afterward. Luckily, there’s already plenty of variety, and no real need to go beyond the vanilla game. Still, variety’s the spice of life, so I say bring on the new modes.
No shortage of spice here.
The small problem of having all your music files on-hand will be alleviated through the eventual implementation of SoundCloud, a free-to-use, radio-esque music provider. Once SoundCloud comes into the mix, you’ll just be one search away from Audiosurfing all your favorite songs—which is good, because you’ll want to.
The tension, anticipation and satisfaction of music is palpable while surfing, and jumping and mind-bending your way through the game’s infinite visualized tracks is, even at this early stage, a unique experience. As such, despite some necessary polishing, Audiosurf 2 is well on its way to becoming a stunning success.