In February 2008, a man named Dylan Fitterer, flush with his success at the IGF, released Audiosurf on Steam. Its splendid little gimmick was that you could load any music you liked into it, and it’d generate a track to match it, sending you swooping along a rollercoaster track full of little blocks that seemed to match the taps and blats of whatever you were listening to. Some tracks worked better than others but it was, and remains, the finest hour in “play your music” history. Ever since then, a succession of imitators have tried to claim a share of the vast sums of money that it generated. I quite enjoyed Beat Hazard, I was a bit tempted by Polynomial, but that accursed Dejobaan Games pack has delivered me 1,2,3, Kick it! and it is not only the worst “play your music” game in history, it is the worst game in history full stop. It’s never good when your game starts with an apology, for a start, a message from the designer that they’ve been up all night trying to make a game mode that is less crap than the current ones. But hey, maybe he’s just massively self-deprecating, let’s load it up.
In theory it has nicked the mechanic from A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, Dejobaan’s most successful game (which I’ll be writing up in the future). You fall into a never-ending succession of floating platforms and abstract shapes, and score points by getting close to them, the closer the better. If you hit one, you lose point multipliers and so, in theory, it’s a tradeoff on how risky you want to be with your jumping. But there are problems with the execution. The first, and most crucial is that what is happening during your fall bears absolutely no relation to your music, beyond sometimes slightly speeding up. You just…fall, and you try and brush near the buildings that are randomly occurring, and also at the same time someone is playing a song that you quite like. It’s like I’m having a dream where I’m falling and the radio comes on, and I can’t quite figure out why the floating, fiery head of Mick Jagger is zooming towards me singing Paint it Black. Except nowhere near as good as that would be.
This is exacerbated by the complete vagueness of the controls. Movement is slow and so, assuming you have put the difficulty up (the easy mode is so mind-bendingly boring that you have to), you spend a fair chunk of time just slapping into platforms and putting your score multipliers down to zero. This wouldn’t be so bad, games should be tough! Except it feels so pointless because there is just a platform there. It’s not because the song had an interesting part there, it doesn’t represent a loud chord or a sudden screech, it’s just an arbitrary platform in space that you hit during your slow descent through what must be one of the circles of hell because the designer thought that would be good.
That devotion to a lack of meaningful feedback pervades every area of the game. You can’t lose, I think, no matter how many blocks you stumble into. You could be bumbling about those blocks like Sideshow Bob in a field of rakes and the game would just be absent-mindedly scratching itself while you got it over with. I say “I think” because in theory little flying enemies can spawn, and you have to shoot them according to the instructions, but despite picking reasonably heavy songs and playing on every mode there was, I didn’t actually encounter any of these floating baddies. But this commitment to vagueness isn’t over yet! You finish the track, and there’s a score on the board, and well done on your score. No leaderboards, no assessment, no analysis, just…it’s done. The game is a bored fairground attendant watching me play whack-a-mole. At the end, I score a personal best! “Well done”, he says, wearily rolling another cigarette, “do you…want to do it again?”. The hell I do, hypothetical carney man.
Not done yet, sorry. It can’t just pick a track, even. To play a bit of music (that you own), you have to copy it across to the relevant 1,2,3, Kick it! folder. Yeah that makes sense, tremendously good sense. After slamming my way through a random jungle of spinny cubes, scoring 3000 pointless points, what I want to do is yet more work so I can do it again. The game was somehow sucking the fun out of music that I enjoy, so I stopped. I’d looked at every mode with a few tracks and found nothing but grim, grey, hopeless doom awaiting me throughout. It looks tedious, it is tedious. On the apology screen at the start they remind you that “this game is not yet finished”.
It’s not yet started.
0 stars, half an hour of my life wasted. I’m going to play Audiosurf.