Let's get straight to it. In the last post I said Beat Hazard is barely designed at all. Think of this as a more organized breakdown on that topic.
It's About High Scores Baby!
For a game that's about high scores, Beat Hazard sure does have a boring high score system. You get a multiplier by simply picking up +1 power-ups that are dropped from enemies. You can also gain more multipliers by surviving for a bit or not shooting. But that's about it. You don't lose multipliers when you die, so its not hard to keep it up. Actually dying will destroy all enemies and probably give you more multiplier bonuses.
What's worse is that as you achieve new ranks you will gain bigger starting multipliers. Sounds good in theory, but that means that the people who have been player longer will always get higher scores, turning the game into a grind to get higher levels. Not only that, leaderboards are not based on single songs, instead being sorted by song length, survival scores, and total score. This means you either find a really busy song, grind for survival time/points or grind for total score.
By contrast Audiosurf scores song by song basis, songs with special game changing tags (which include limiting it to certain characters), songs by difficulty, and nearby/friend/global high scores. This might seem like too much, and you it could be hard to find a song to actually compete in, but it also includes the ability to search popular songs, friends' songs played, and there is always the ever changing radio, which provides tons of achievements.
You are an Ugly Motherf@*|<er My Friend!
While it may not initially come off as a bad looking game, Beat Hazard's overall visual design is poor. The ship models in the game are functional, but not at all pleasing to look at, and at odds with the particle effects that are abused in the game. You could even go as far as calling them programmer's graphics (ex. early art of Braid:) The particles rarely add anything but noise. Audiosurf uses color to tell you what the blocks are worth or to mark intensity in a song. Beat Hazard distracts you with it. Particularly annoying is the smaller ships' shots and boss laser beams. Because they are particle effects as well they easily get lost in the noise and are hard to see, meaning you die often from unknown reasons.
Hell, even the Achievements are ugly. Not to mention the text and logo...
At least the game's challenging right? That way you'll keep coming back to do better each time right? Too bad its wrong for all the wrong reasons. Most of the difficulty of the game comes from trying to see through the effects and make out enemy fire. At least half my deaths are caused by some unseen force. These further soured the deaths that were my fault, making me feel cheated instead of having room to improve. The menu is hard to see through the effects sometime. Even the Achievements (here I go again) are artificial challenges. Other than a few odd challenges all the achievements are things that are going to be earned simply by playing the game. Beat 25 songs? Play the game for 5 hours? Well, maybe the frustration of trying to enjoy your music in this game for 5 hours is the achievement...
The Good Stuff
Despite all my trashing of the game, I do enjoy it quite a bit (though I expect a lot of the enjoyment comes from my love of music and twin stick shooters). It's just that I feel like the game wasted so much potential. I wanted the game to be really good and marvel in its brilliance. Instead I get something that feels half-baked and in awful need of serious art direction. With 10 dollars you can get highly polished experiences such as Audiosurf, Shatter, and the more experimental and interesting Gridrunner Revolution or Everyday Shooter.
That's a shame, because when Beat Hazard is good, it's REAL GOOD. Playing moody songs by UNKLE or busy songs by Shinichi Osawa provide some good experiences. It just takes much too long to find them.
Still, if you like twin stick shooters, and the music syncing gimmick sounds interesting, go ahead a pick up the demo. Right now it feels more like a prototype than anything, but its an interesting concept that deserves attention, if only to see what updates to the game will improve upon. If you check the Steam forums you'll see there are quite a few fans of the game, although I would be kinda wary since you will see some of those fan people who will get a little defensive about the game...
Other 10 Dollar recommendations...
Audiosurf's mechanics and leaderboards will hook high score junkies even if it doesn't provide some of the immediate visual/audio feedback as frequently as Beat Hazard. Its different characters, difficulties and stat trackers also give you tons of way to be competitive. It also has a cohesive and well done art design.
Everyday Shooter provides strange and interesting chaining mechanics, as well as being varied, experimental and having great visual design. It also replaces sound effects with guitar riffs that go with the "bedroom rock" soundtrack. Although I suspect there are as many haters of this game as there are lovers.
Shatter is a fresh take on Breakout that involves new mechanics, interesting level design, co-op and great boss fights. May be too short for many people, but highscore junkies will keep coming back to it.