Beat Hazard is an indie-developed rhythm-based stick shooter from Cold Beam Games. Beat Hazard works using the music from your hard-drive (or one of the games built-in tracks) to directly determine the effectiveness of your weapon. While your song of choice plays in the background you swoop around the screen destroying asteroids and spaceships, and picking up the items they drop. The louder the song is currently playing at the more firepower your ship will have, however your song starts off playing at a very low volume and you must collect pickups to increase your volume and weapon power meters.
As would be expected your score is not only affected by the enemies you destroy but also by a multiplier which can be increased by pickups, refraining from firing for a certain time or even just surviving and keeping the screen clear of enemies. You can also collect “superbombs” which when used will completely clear the screen of enemies and you will occasionally have to face off against boss-like spaceships with a range of attacks that you must destroy bit by bit. A single hit from an enemy will destroy you; reducing your multiplier, volume and weapon power, and making you lose a life. Once you have lost three lives or the song has reached its conclusion the level is over. The game also includes high scores, four different modes of difficulty, a levelling system where score from songs acts as experience, and leaderboards.
By far the greatest strength of Beat Hazard is its visuals and how they tie back into the music being played. A sea of colourful fog acts as the games background, the environment flashes in time to the beat, the screen is often awash with an insane number of enemies, and provided you have at least a fair amount of power behind your shots your gunfire will be a mad, rainbow-coloured stream of lasers. Beat Hazard is absolute visual overload but in a very good way; when your music is blaring out from your speakers at full volume and you are mowing through a wave of enemies with a mirage of colours pulsating from your screen it can be a very exciting experience. Even the menus are accompanied by a random piece of music from the folder you were last navigating and have a large amount of the graphical flashiness of the levels. The only letdown of the graphics seems to be that the asteroids look a little unusual and on harder difficulties it can sometimes be hard to tell exactly what is going on on-screen.
Despite all the polish on the visual aspects of the game there are weaknesses in other areas. One of my major gripes with the game is that it is so determined to push down the volume of your music. You can level up to the point where you gain the ability to start all songs with full volume but even then an unfortunate death will send your volume plummeting down again and this doesn’t solve the problem of everything you have to go through to get up to that point. The game is very largely focused around your music and when you can spend sizable portions of levels struggling to hear it, it is very damaging to the experience. With firepower already being dependant on relative song volume and with the weapon power meter, the whole volume meter concept seems very unnecessary.
Among other things Beat Hazard suffers from a lack of enemy variety with there only actually being a few different spaceships to fight in the game. Top-down shooters by no means need a large collection of enemies to be fun but Beat Hazard brings only a tiny selection of opponents to your battles which can become tiresome quickly. The game also seems more suited to loud songs with heavy bass which makes it feel somewhat limited in the selection of music that it is really fun with it but this is not always as big of a problem as you might think.
There can be a strange disconnect between music/visuals and gameplay in Beat Hazard due to the most intense sections in songs in terms of difficulty often being those with the most subdued music and visuals. Furthermore Beat Hazard could benefit from giving the player more audio feedback on what’s going on, especially when the screen can become so cluttered with enemies and effects. The waves of enemies in levels also seem very fixed; no matter what song you are playing there is always a rather predictable pattern as to how the level is going to play out. Lastly menu navigation feels somewhat clunky with everything being presented in one giant list that you must scroll up and down to select a file or folder.
Beat Hazard has the potential to be a brilliant game and at its best it can be an exhilarating audio-visual experience, however issues with how both the sound and gameplay are handled, as well as other design flaws mean that Beat Hazard, while fun, falls far short of what it could be.