Good ideas marred by inconsistent execution
Beat Hazard is a game that I really want to love. After passing up Audiosurf a few years ago, finding its gameplay a bit bland and sterile, I came across Beat Hazard on the recommendation of a friend, who literally did describe it as "like Audiosurf, but a shooter". I was intrigued at the possibility of a music-driven space shooter, and while Beat Hazard is a fun way to spend a few hours, it never really reaches its potential.
Essentially, Beat Hazard generates levels, or rather enemy and object placements, based on the music you feed it. Theoretically, your weapon strength, as well as the difficulty of your opposition, is all generated by the varying tempo and volume of your music, and song structure affects how levels play out, with boss battles being timed for choruses, etc. Depending on the difficulty you select, Beat Hazard can be anything from “interactive visualisation” to “bullet hell madness”, which makes it surprisingly versatile, especially when paired with appropriate music.
The problem with games that use music to generate their content is that they often fall to two demons: repetition, and shallow gameplay. Beat Hazard, sadly, is hurt by both of these. For a game which prides itself on generating a unique game for every song you give it, the levels are surprisingly similar to one another, especially if you use songs with unconventional structures, or ones that don’t have enough dynamic range. This is a problem Audiosurf ran into, but the limited numbers of enemies and lack of weapons or power-ups in Beat Hazard exacerbates the issue.
Beat Hazard feels much more like a tech demo than an actual coherent game. The shooting itself is perfectly competent, but the music seems to bear very little relevance to the way the game plays – in fact, I might call it one of the first music games where music is of trivial importance. It’d be one thing if my weapon’s firepower was timed to the drum beats in a song, making rhythm an important part of playing, or if different tempos required significantly different tactics, but instead what you end up with is a game where difficulty chosen has a greater impact on how it plays, not the songs.
It doesn’t help that Beat Hazard can’t decide what it wants to look and sound like, either. The Technicolor visualisation effects used for your weapon and background effects look great, but the actual enemies you fight are generic, colourless and lacking in personality. Furthermore, the game can sometimes get so cluttered that it can be nearly seizure-inducing, and it doesn’t help that the sprites can be hard to tell apart, often leading to situations where you’re killed by what you thought was a harmless piece of space debris. It’s right for the music to take centre stage in the audio department, but the game’s sound effects are mostly underwhelming and more functional than complimentary. Some EQ filters, reverbs etc. could have gone a long way to enhancing aural impact.
Overall, I can recommend Beat Hazard to fans of Audiosurf, and perhaps space shooters, but only with the caveat that it’s much more of a pretty visualisation than a coherent game that truly uses music to its advantage. Updates may help things in the future, but given that this is a one-man project, I can’t say if the game will ever progress beyond the slightly confused state it’s in now. Pick it up if you’re curious to see what your own music will create, but prepare to be a little disappointed by how it actually changes your gameplay.