Beat Hazard ReviewJoe Shaffer
Call me old fashion, but I don't always demand a stunning narrative or artsy presentation. Sometimes all I ask for is dazzling visuals, effective mechanics, and enough explosions to make a Michael Bay film seems lackadaisical. Toss an intriguing concept into the mix and there's no way I can resist playing. That would explain my addiction to Beat Hazard, a twin-stick shooter that generates droves of murderous starships and wayward asteroids based on music from your MP3 or iTunes library. Though the game offers a neat gimmick, it's an arcade-style action title to its core, rich with straightforward combat and gorgeous visuals that mimic Independence Day firework shows.
To test the waters, you might load a moderately intense song. What you'll likely find is a fair amount of ships, from basic cruisers to serpentine crafts to mine-tossing vessels, bursting onto the scene at a decent pace. In other words, cleaning house shouldn't be a problem unless you're inexperienced. Playing such stages, it shouldn't take you long to build up your confidence and challenge tougher difficulties and crazier music. With a quickened pace and wilder tunes, you'll witness a mass exodus of kamikaze-crazed cruisers bleeding onto the screen from every angle. While avoiding many potential collisions, you'll also dodge heat-seeking missiles, evade cannon-disabling projectiles, and escape the paralyzing grasps of Stalkers, special ships that latch onto you and leave you open for punishment. The heightened danger becomes worthwhile when you witness dozens of blinding explosions caused by your mesmerizing twin beams, both of which flash with a strobe-like effect to the rhythm of the music.
Just when you think you've blasted through the worst of it, the word WARNING pops up on the screen, ushering in one of several massive bosses. Some are merely larger versions of standard enemies, but others are enormous multi-part ships decked out with several life-ending weapons. I remember battling one that generated tiny vessels while also firing a pair of nearly unavoidable lasers, homing missiles, and bright red projectiles, all while trying to grab me with Stalker-like graspers. It took some tricky maneuvers and well-placed special attacks, but I did eventually blow it to smithereens.
Now, take all of the aforementioned tense situations and add a reason to thrust yourself headlong into danger. Floating ever so inconveniently next to your opponents are various power ups, including ones that increase your weapon's strength and the song's volume. Boosting both will cause more enemies to pour onto the screen, upping the possibility for a high score and a chance to top leaderboards. Power ups don't stop there, though. Others grant you super bombs that wipe out almost everything on the screen and give you temporary invincibility or score multipliers that greatly increase the point value of everything you annihilate.
There is one power up, though, that provides much needed replay value: money. As you rack up points, you gain promotions and, subsequently, perks. With the cash you receive from reducing the rabble to burning bits, you can purchase and upgrade various perks that bestow awesome advantages. Some, for instance, allow you to start with increased weapon power or volume. Others spawn more score multipliers or start you off with extra super bombs or lives. A couple of my personal favorites are subweapons that you can purchase, including a swarm of homing missiles and devastating beam that crushes opponents and makes short work of bosses.
Of all the factors listed above, none of them singularly stole the show for me. They came together harmoniously, creating one amazing, musical, panic-filled romp that beckoned me to play more, begging me especially to check out lengthy pieces. I loved reporting to my friends that I had survived the onslaught within Juno Reactor's Burly Brawl or that I came out of Symphony X's King of Terrors in one piece. I enjoyed watching the battlefield shift with each song's change in pace, segueing from legions of miniature ships to scores of cross-shaped menaces that formed a slowly closing ring to an armada of missile-launchers. I cherished moments where I plowed through survival mode, beating my old high score while becoming absolutely engulfed in metallic monstrosities. I guess you could say that nothing within the game trumps experiencing the result of the factors coming together firsthand.
I'm not saying any gamer should hop onto Steam right away and download this title. Bear in mind, this game forsakes depth in favor of arcade-style simplicity. If you're not into that sort of thing, then it's best that you leave Beat Hazard alone. I certainly won't blame you, since it's your free time. However, if you're like me and you sometimes enjoy a less complicated thrill powered by your music, then grab this game when you get a chance (and I highly recommend getting the Beat Hazard Ultra DLC, which adds enemies and modes).
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.