Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beat Hazard Review (Xbox 360 Indie Games)

Beat Hazard is a dual stick shooter found on the indy games section on Xbox Live which, upon first glance, will draw immediate comparisons to Geometry Wars, and for good reason; the games are similar in many ways (both of which being essentially modern versions of Asteroids). Similarly to the aforementioned Geometry Wars, this game utilizes very flashy visuals chock full of special effects, which can only be described as ''psychedelic.'' It really adds to the intensity and excitement while playing, although, it can lead to some frustration, especially during the acclimation process, but I will get to this later. Suffice it to say this is a dual stick space shooter that plays very similarly to Geometry Wars.

Geometry Wars, to which this game could be considered a spiritual successor (although it's not)

But it could be!
Where this game differs, however, is in the use of music. This game's ''hook'' is music integration. You can stream music from either your xbox 360 HDD or your PC, allowing you to ''play along'' with your music. In terms of gameplay, the effects you will see enacted on the game by your musical choices are as follows: your rate of fire is affected, the background visuals change, as the grid flashes and pounds in sync with whatever song is currently playing (think of the background as a sort of visualizer, like those seen in popular music players) , enemy spawns will differ, and lastly, the frequency and difficulty of boss encounters changes. Generally, faster music means more intense boss encounters and a faster rate of fire.

A few other differences set this game apart. Each game is scored, but this score does not serve to just grade you and place you on a leaderboard. The score you earn is converted into points, which serve to rank you up within the games novel class system. As you rank up, you earn bonuses, such as starting with a better weapon, starting with powerups, or earning more lives. Another thing that is affected by the ranking system is the score multiplier. Within the game, the longer you go on killing ships without dying, the higher your multiplier gets, which means a higher score. Increase your multiplier, increase your score, and rank up faster.

Along with the class based ranking system, another novel idea utilized in this game is the method by which you earn the Beat Hazard, which is from where the game derived its name. The Beat Hazard is basically a huge laser beam that shoots out from your ships' gun, enabling you to really increase your damage output and overall lethality. This is earned by collecting two different powerups: volume icons, and power icons. Volume icons increase the volume of your music, and power icons increase the viciousness of your weaponry. So, you get stronger and stronger, while your music gets louder and louder, and then it all hits a crescendo, at which point you go into Beat Hazard mode and destroy every foolish ship in your way. This, combined with the incredible visuals, all adds up to an exciting and intense experience, which is what the developers were going for. And they succeeded.

This game is intense. Like, don't blink or even breathe intense. Once you get into that zone, you'll be so focused on the game, you become one with the ship. Your weapons gets bigger, better, and stronger. Your music, which started out softly, is getting louder and louder. The background pulses in time with your music. Lights are flashing. Ships are blowing up all around you. Then you earn the Beat Hazard, and even though you thought it could not get any more visually stimulating and intense, it does. This, combined with the challenge (selectable, from easy to hardcore, hardcore being the way this game was meant to be played) is what makes this game so great.

The game also includes challenges, which are essentially in game achievements, as indy games do not include platform achievements. They extend replay value and provide extra challenges, atlhough the degree to which they will do so depends upon the player.

There is a 2 player local co-op mode, which I have not tried, so I cannot comment on this aspect of the game, but I am sure it serves to increase both the fun and the frustration, as I could see it making the game a little too cluttered, although this is merely speculation, and I very well could be 100% wrong.

Now, in terms of downsides, there are but a few. For one, the hit detection seems to be a tad off. There will be times where you could swear you avoided an obstacle, only to be hit and killed. This happens at least once or twice a play session, in my experience.

Another issue is that the number of enemy types is very low. This didn't seem to bother me much, although I could see this being an issue for some, and thought it prudent to mention it.

An issue that will probably be the most obvious is the fact that, as I alluded to earlier, the visuals can lead to some frustration, as you will find yourself losing sight of your ship in the chaos, and losing a precious life, of which you only have a few. This diminishes over time, as you acclimate to the game's look, and locating/tracking your ship, but it will still happen from time to time. Also, on occasion, enemy bullets will be masked by the visual flair.

Whatsa Happenin'?
A fourth, but very miniscule issue, is that along with your standard weaponry, and the beat hazard, you also have a few bombs (activated by the right trigger) to help you out of tricky spots. This is standard genre fare, and it would have been neat to see some innovation here, but this is incredibly minor, and the bombs' functionality is spot on.
Lastly, some players have reported having instances where they will select a song from their PC, only to have another song play. I myself experienced this once, but it seemed to remedy itself, and has never happened since. The developer has said he is looking into the issue, and will issue a patch if possible.

Overall, this is an incredibly well made game that is well worth the 400 points. It's less than the price of a movie ticket, and can last you countless hours. I've played it for five thus far, and don't plan on stopping anytime soon. Putting this game on hardcore and playing along to some of my favourite death metal results in one intense and truly fun experience that I hope to experience time and time again.

Overall score: 9.5/10.

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