Beat Hazard Remixes the Twin Stick Shooter

Review of Beat Hazard on XBLIG: Try
Beat Hazard is a solid twin stick shooter that lets you battle your MP3 collection.

The twin stick shooter genre is a pretty crowded place.  Ever since Geometry Wars became a commercial success game developers have tried to innovate in this simple gameplay formula.  Beat Hazard takes the twin stick shooter beyond the sound barrier by letting the player choose the music and then using the audio beats to shape the action.

The idea of loading up a Girl Talk cd and blasting spaceship to the rhythm sounds pretty fun (hot, indie-on-indie action).  The reality however, is it is difficult to find a song that works well in the game.  The music not only controls the enemy ships, but also your rate of fire.  Songs that quickly cut from a heavy, fast beat to a slower, quieter passage – even if just for a moment – can leave you out of ammo in the middle of a showdown.  I’ve found songs with a constant rhythm, like Daft Punk’s techo tracks, to work best.

As a twin stick shooter, Beat Hazard follows a pretty popular path.  There are power-ups dropped from destroyed ships and boss fights.  The boss fights involve fighting one or two giant ships and help keep the pace of the game exciting.  The game supports two player local co-op so a friend can join in.  Last, there is an extensive achievement like scoreboard system that tracks your progress per song as well as overall.

With music being such a central element to Beat Hazard, it’s hard to overlook the issues it has.  Song selection is a painful process.  The game needs access to the raw audio data so songs must be started from within Beat Hazard.  This means instead of using the Xbox media interface you are restricted to a single flat list by album, and albums titles are not shown.  Only when selecting an album and getting “more info” will the title appear.  There is an option to load all titles, but this was extremely slow on my modest 1,500 title collection and I stopped it after a few minutes.  Multiple times I had trouble getting Beat Hazard to recognize my PC’s shared collection and  restarting the game was the only way to fix the problem.

The graphics are well done though at times the screen can be a little too busy, making it hard to know what is scenery and what is an incoming laser.    I particularly liked the multi layered background – combined with a parallax effect it created a great since of depth.  I truly felt I was moving through the vastness of space.

Beat Hazard is a Try.  Hardcore fans of twin stick shooters will find much to love, but there isn’t enough here to make this a must buy title.  Given how central music is to the game, the problems in the interface and finding a good track weigh down my desire to keep playing.  For those that decide to give Beat Hazard a spin, the achievement system can help encourage playing through those tougher songs.

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