Audiosurf 2 – “Width of a Pixel”

Vitals
Developed/Published by: Dylan Fitterer
Platform: Windows, Linux, Mac
Available via: Steam ($16.99) -|- Direct from Publisher ($14.99 USD)
Consider also: Audiosurf ($10 CDN)

We’ve been down this road before, but it was bumpier, a little jittery, and underpowered. Acceleration was poor and the brakes squealed, but it was our first ride. We’d paid for it with our own money and no one could tell us where we could go or what we allowed to listen to.

Clean. Professional.

Clean. Professional.

Yes sir, it was ours, but now we know better. We deserve a new ride with fresh wheels and a new clean coat of paint unmarred by previous indiscretions. That ride has arrived in the form of Audiosurf’s successor, and it is a welcome improvement.  This is more than a minor overhaul, but is it worth the price tag?

I’m going to compare this to its predecessor because it is an improvement, so let’s get that out of the way right now. Audiosurf was the first of its kind, generating navigable visual tracks from your digital music tracks. Choose your mode and collect blocks to increase your score with bonuses for streams of flawless performance.

Gotta Go Wakeboard!

Gotta Go Wakeboard! (by Glovian)

Once a track was generated it remained the same, and difficulty could be selected and your ride with its unique abilities also used to reduce or increase your challenge. That is were Audiosurf 2 begins to diverge from its parentage. Difficulty is replaced with one of five game modes in which you collect coloured blocks, leap from musical peaks and ninja your way through spikes that will cripple your score, and more. Unlike others in the genre there is no failure state; you’re competing against leaderboards that display as you ride. I found it distracting at first, but in the end it doesn’t affect your performance if you don’t let it.

The accuracy of Audiosurf’s interpretive algorithm was a sticking point with me, it didn’t feel super precise even though the controls were spot on. Audiosurf 2 does a better job of clearly presenting beats, improving the sensation of responsiveness. Unfortunately it also puts you on a constant low degree incline that make move planning problematic. Would it have complicated the scoreboard and settings so much to have a couple configurable options? This isn’t an entry level game, and no amount of prettifying the menus is going to change that.

On that note load times are vastly improved, which translates to more time riding than surfing for music and waiting for their conversion into tracks. Regrettably while the columnar menus simplified navigation, cursor highlighting is expressed as nothing more than a single pixel outline or subtle highlight inside of an option box. It’s not very visible at 1080p and is going to be entirely lost at 4K and beyond, especially when relying on a gamepad.

Pick Your Poison

Pick Your Poison

Audiosurf’s gamepad support is seamless, but the lack of D-pad options is sorely lacking as well. Using the analog is much less sensitive than using a mouse, rendering it completely pointless for accuracy. Stick to the keyboard if you’re playing on higher difficulties, unless this issue is patched in later updates. This won’t be on consoles, which would have been a serious sticking point where the gamepad is just the only way to go. (Unless you’re handy enough to know you can plug in a keyboard, not a sure bet.)

Speaking of lackluster features, new to Audiosurf 2 are achievements, and they feel tacked on. They feel more like awardments which you’ll be handed for clicking on Skins in the main menu. Less than thrilling, to say the least. Sending a challenge to other players to beat my score unlocked another one of these, and I felt like a three year old receiving a gold star for eating my cookie without spitting it up. Mildly insulting.

Meaningful achievements are always a quandary: Give them out just for beating a level? Pointless early on, but valuable later. Found an obvious button with both eyes and the mouse? Good golly, better drop an achievement on that! Audiosurf 2 may not actually be substantial enough in features to warrant achievements, but perhaps score oriented goals might have landed on the list.

Comfortably Numb

It’s like a war of achievement attrition. On Audiosurf’s 2 store page they’re all locked away and you don’t even know what you’re shooting for, so good luck for you completionists out there. Not that this is a game you can technically complete. It is a highly advanced visualization runner with limitless potential, and that’s rather the point.

Graphics, in addition to having a cleaner look, are skinnable, and with support for Steam’s Workshop, players have recreated scenes such as Sonic’s Green Hill Zone and my personal favorite, an endless night time drive through towns and cities. Your vehicle can be changed as well, but given the aesthetic there’s really little point unless you’re changing the entire look.

Which brings me to reception. Audiosurf has a novelty element and is not nearly as accessible as it needs to be to gain wide acceptance. Available for just Windows, Linux and Mac, you’re going to be seated whilst rocking out to your favorite tracks. Is there support for third party controllers outside of the Xbox 360? Nope. Can you plug in a camera and get silly for points? Nope.

It’s Not His Thing

Audiosurf offered no online multiplayer, just single screen two player, and Audiosurf 2 does almost nothing to up the ante. A new mode allows as many as four to play, on the same screen, but I’ve got news for you, this isn’t Mario Party. Nor is it Dance Dance Revolution. Audiosurf 2’s professional aspirations are let down by missed opportunities like these.

Even with the handful of tweaks, the reality is that’s all they are. Tweaks. Improvements that likely required a new game and couldn’t be patched in (though looking at what people do with Half Life 2…), but $17 CDN is just too much to ask of players who already have too many games to play. If you own Audiosurf and happen to pick this up thanks to a bundle or a sale, you’ll appreciate the improvements, but not having access to wakeboarding isn’t going to ruin the fun of “only owning the first one.”

There just isn’t enough going on here to justify the price. An iOS/Android version would go a long way to improving this title’s market penetration. Capitalizing on the novelty of this game is the key to selling it, because we’ve got our fantasy RPGs, military shooters, strategy combat and visual novels. This game shows its indie roots with its lack of marketing scope.

It’s good, it’s just not that good.

What’s fun
Audiosurf 2 excels at rendering your music quickly into smooth, exciting rhythm tracks and the addition of skins and new game modes bring more to the table. Any DRM free song can be used, and that freedom is a delight. Graphics are especially crisp and fast; this game will run nearly anything with accelerated video. It’s a valuable sale for first time buyers.

What’s not
Owners of Audiosurf are not going to be impressed by the lack of new features here. A mere five new modes with a considerably smaller community. Online multiplayer and third party controller support are sorely missed. Gamepad features employ analog only and are inherently sluggish. The new visuals are quite jarring at first, and frankly, where’s the loyalty discount?

Reccomendation
Pick it up on sale. Audiosurf 2 does so little more than Audiosurf that its simply not worth paying nearly double for what amounts to skins and a handful of game modes. If you’re still interested, head on over to Steam and download the demo, but don’t get your hopes up.

hastypixels
hastypixels

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