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16 in Review: Audioshield

23rd October 2016

Over the past year I've played hundreds of different games ranging from the very small right to the full blown AAA with many enveloping me in wonderful experiences and adventures. As we're coming into the last twelve weeks of the year I'll be going over a small sample of these, dissecting what I enjoyed, what worked and what I learned from them.

This week I'll be entering the beat filled, musically extravagant virtual world of Audioshield for the HTC Vive

One of the key standouts this year, both technology wise and gaming wise has been the release of the HTC Vive and other key virtual reality headsets. The immersion that is provided goes beyond anything else I've ever owned, losing yourself within the virtual world can become a serious reality that is both incredible and quite startling. It's incredibly apparent in Audioshield, one of the simplest games I've played however, the execution of it is so fantastic that you simply stop caring about how limited the design is.

At its core Audioshield is all about stopping blue and orange blobs from passing you, with shields assigned to each of your hands as their respective colours. Each level/track is generated based off of any song you chose, be it from YouTube (the game formerly used Soundcloud) or your own personal music collection. The sound waves of these songs produce the positions and speed of the different blobs, with more vibrant and speedy parts of songs creating blobs angled higher upwards. This means that although the core gameplay may be simple to understand, the amount of content and variety on offer is entirely limitless as literally any song will work with the game.

Perfecting a Developed Formula

Audioshield is not the first music based game by developer Dylan Fitterer, it's a successor to his earlier games Audiosurf and Audiosurf 2. These games have the same underlying core concept of Audioshield of following a track based off of your music and trying to get the highest score based on the number of beats and notes you hit. I personally never really found these games to be particularly engrossing, they always felt like there was a bit too much going on or the complete opposite, never really grasping my attention for more than a couple of songs. When it came to Audioshield however everything was different; the visuals had been toned down and simplified (in a good, less distracting way) making it easier to focus on the task, while the gameplay itself feels more varied and challenging due to the full six axis of movement required. Each song presents what truly feels like a different experience (if you replay a song the blob placements are slightly different) and challenge meaning it's less about learning how a song plays, but more about how the game itself operates and how you need to move in accordance to it.

Compared to other rhythm games currently on the market it's a bit of a strange one when it comes to how it allows content to be played. The majority of games rely on a set of songs provided directly within the game base itself meaning the overall amount of content can be fairly limited, however it generally means that the tracks are finely tuned for every note and key beat making for better gameplay. Audioshield takes the algorithm generation path instead, every song being generated on the fly as the song is loaded to the game. This obviously means, as mentioned before, any song can be played but you generally lose some of the fine details of the songs. For the most part Audioshield does a very good job of representing the songs beats, although there is the occasional instance where you'll be expecting a blob to represent a beat and it simply never appears. These instances are luckily few and far between, the algorithm itself being good enough that people have modded it to increase the difficulty on multiple occasions, something that other hard coded games would have issues with.

Playing Everything at Your Best

One of the key features that makes Audioshield so interesting to play, making you want to keep coming back is the (although nothing new to video games) leaderboard system. Each song you play scores you on two main factors, your overall blob score (the percentage of them you hit) and how "artistic" the game thought you were when playing. The artistic score is where the leaderboards really start to differentiate and become interesting, it helps to reduce stagnation as eventually people will start getting perfect scores on songs (technical wise) leading to full number one spots. Metrics of how much you moved and how heavy your punches were lead to a varied number each time with the top scores coming few and far between. It gives the game the extra sense of accomplishment and makes you want to try the song just one more time to get the best score possible. Admittedly at times it feels like a bit of futile effort where one playthrough you'll punch notes harder than usual and sometimes receive a lower score for it which can dampen the enjoyment a tad.

Out of all the games I've played on the HTC Vive over the course of this year, Audioshield has easily been the one I've spent the most time with. It provides limitless content in such a well-rounded and simplistic package at a decent price point making it hard not to recommend. Although the gameplay doesn't have a massive amount of depth or variety to it, it doesn't promise anything extravagant so it's hard to be disappointed with it. The community has tinkered with the game enough so even if you find it too easy or get too bored, there's more than likely something that can enhance the challenge.

Playing through a song and hitting all of the blobs is one of the most satisfying things. Each blob gives both visual and haptic feedback to the player making it feel instantly natural when you hit one but devastating when you miss. This sense of satisfaction is only made stronger when you amp up the difficulty and start dancing around while continuing to keep your score up (admittedly looking like a bit of a looney). From the outside perspective it looks fairly bland and kind of nuts to play but it's all worth it when you finally get a perfect score on a song followed by the massive grin on your face.

Audioshield is available on Steam for the HTC Vive on Windows.

For more information visit the official Audioshield website. audio-shield.com

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