Beat Hazard was released on September 2009 on XBLA. When I tried the game, I truly wasn't impressed. Having been playing a lot of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, I was used to some extremely tight twin stick shooter gameplay, and Beat Hazard certainly didn't deliver on that front.
Two days ago, however, the game was on sale for the ridiculous price of 2.50 on Steam. I bought it just to see how it had changed during these two years. Oh boy, what a nice surprise that was.
Apparently, a whole lot has changed. To begin with, the Beat Hazard Ultra DLC was released. It was a massive update tha made the game at least three times more fun. If you are planning on picking up the game, this update is definately of obligatory purchase. There's also an 80 cent add-on that adds support for itunes and m4a files, so that's handy if you have those files I guess.
But Jos, how does the game work? What does it do? Well, for starters it's a twin-stick shooter. A very good one, for that. What made the original Beat Hazard not feel as tight as other shooters was the fact that your ship slipped a bit in the direction you were moving when you stopped moving it. This meant you really never knew where your ship was going to go. The Ultra DLC changed this, and when you stop moving the ship stops. As it should.
What makes this shooter unique is not the shooter gameplay though. The game lets you choose any song from your whole library of music and creates a level around it. I've always loved the concept in theory, but while games like Audiosurf or 1...2...3... Kick it! Drop that beat like an ugly baby aspired to do this, it never felt quite right to me. In those games, if you pick a slow song the gameplay becomes boring, and they seemed to mainly recognize bass beats, so guitar centered songs didn't really work.
Beat Hazard Ultra, on the other hand, makes perfect use of this feature. If you throw a slow song at it, instead of making the gameplay dull it will just make the enemies move slower, but throw more of them at you. Your laser increases or decreases its firepower to the beat of the music, and this finally includes guitars. Enemies appear to dance to the rythm of the song you're playing and bosses appear during the most exciting parts of the songs.
All of this is coupled by some of the most impressive visuals I have seen in an indie game (and this game is very indie, it was created by a single guy). The beautiful backgrounds sway with the music and beautiful firework like explosions appear when beats and snares do. On a song by The Doors, for instance, which started quiet and slow with only bass and drums, the screen exploded with colour and brightness when Jim Morrison's voice came on. It was one of the best gaming moments I have experienced this year. Be advised, however, that this game is definately not for people prone to have seizures. You will have them. Lots. Specially if you turn the visual flare to 200% (all of the screenshots have it at 100%)
Also new to the Ultra edition of the game are perks. The game does indeed feature a leveling system similar to Call of Duty, wherein every time you level up you get a new perk. Those perks can then be unlocked with cash you get in-game and they grant some very cool advantages. Ultra lasers, mini missiles or reflective shield power-ups are some of them. You could also choose to get more multipliers, start the game with some power-ups and some of them unlock new difficulties. Only 5 of them can be chosen at a time, which makes for a very balanced game.
With the Ultra add-on also came several new modes, which are all pretty fun. In survival you play an unlimited amount of songs against a progressively more powerful army of spaceships. Boss rush makes you play a whole album against, well, different bosses. While I'm not really one for alternate modes apart from the main one, they are very well made and add some variety to the experience.
The game also features an online mode, which you can play with a friend or a random player. Players get a prompt at the bottom of the screen whenever another player is waiting to play, which is a very clever way to make the wait times smaller. I, personally, haven't waited for more than a few seconds to get another player to join in. If you want to play your own music, you get to index your library and the game checks for matches between you and the other player. There are two modes, co-op and head to head, both of which are pretty straight-forward. And yeah, there are leaderboards.
All in all, I found this game to be an incredible experience, extremely addicting and totally worth your money. It is on sale on Steam right now and you should grab it quickly. On an animal scale, it would be a tiger, but since we have to rate videogames on a boring 1 to 10 scale, I'm giving it a 9.5
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