by Michael Stallworth
reviewed on PC
What do Daft Punks’ dreams look like? They probably look a lot like Audioshield, the new rhythm game for the HTC Vive. VR games are becoming more and more commonplace and it is hard for an indie game to distinguish itself in a rapidly growing marketplace, however Audioshield still manages to stand out from the competition.
The gameplay in Audioshield is simple; when you put on your Vive headset rig, you are instantly immersed into a dark arena, lit by neon oranges and blues, very reminiscent of the Tron movies. You choose a song and then the game begins. Orange and blue orbs begin flying towards you in time with the beat of the song. You must use your audioshields, orange for your right hand, blue for your left, to hit the orbs with the corresponding color. As the tempo of the song increases, steadily building toward a crescendo, the difficulty and speed of the game increases as well. Orbs begin coming at you much faster, and from new angles, these changes may seem minor but they manage to make the game exponentially more difficult. When the song finally crescendos a wave of purple light washes towards you, forcing you to combine your shields in front of you and allow the wave of sound to crash against your shield.
At this point, Audioshield sounds like a standard rhythm game set in a virtual world, and it technically is. From a mechanics standpoint Audioshield doesn’t go far beyond the “hit a button in sync with different rhythms and beats of a song.” However, what Audioshield has that most other rhythm games don’t, is an immersive world where you are a rock star, on stage in an arena, fighting orbs to the pulse and beat of your own drum (or music folder) all while trying to attain that 100% perfect score by maxing your “artistic expression” and knocking out all the orbs of course.
Audioshield comes from the makers of Audiosurf and Audiosurf 2 and, like its predecessors, Audioshield allows you to use any song from your computer’s music library or from SoundCloud. This makes Audioshield one of the few rhythm games that tweaks the already strong replayability factor of most games in the genre. In most rhythm games, the one thing that keeps people replaying them is reaching 100% on all of the songs that come with the game. Audioshield is unique because it allows players to customize the songs to their own personal tastes. But the ability to choose any song gives the player total control over the type of gameplay they want to experience.
If you wanted to use Audioshield to get a bit of a workout, you could easily strap on some wrist weights, choose a high tempo song, and start flailing your arms about. But at the same time, if you wanted to relax, you could put on a slower paced song and watch as the beats slowly glide towards you on waves of sound. This is Audioshield greatest strength, most rhythm games are just fancy versions of that 80’s game, Simon, set to music, with the only changes in gameplay coming from increasing the speed and difficulty. But by letting me choose my own music, Audioshield shows that gameplay can be satisfying and interesting without actually becoming more difficult, though it definitely does ramp up the difficulty as well.
From a design standpoint, Audioshield is beautiful. The environments are stunningly rendered and truly make you feel as if you have been transported to a cyberpunk sports arena. The Tron aesthetic really works for a VR game, since the game isn’t trying to create a “real world” environment, it feels truly immersive when you are playing. Animations and movements are also rendered beautifully. Every time you punch a beat out of the air, it satisfyingly explodes into a neon shower of sparks with a responsive rumble in the Vive controller.
My biggest criticism of the game would be the sudden and often uneven difficulty in each level. Many levels have you go from smoothly bopping at incoming orbs, to suddenly flailing your arms about, trying to hit the sudden deluge of blue and orange. It never feels like there is a proper build in difficulty, it goes from easy to hard in a near instant. However, as difficult as the gameplay can be at times, it will never feel punishing to casual gamers. For those who are not going for a perfect score, Audioshield can be enjoyed by just sitting back and marveling at the sound and the fury of the game’s visuals. But if you’re looking for competition, Audioshield has you covered, every song has its own online leaderboard, so you can compare your score to other players around the world. And there are plenty of Audioshield heroes out there for you compete with.
Obsoletes the competition
Audioshield is one of the best games I have played on the Vive. It’s one of the few games that could actually be described as interactive art, even if someone had no interest or experience playing video games they would still have to admit that Audioshield is a beautiful merging of sight and sound. Although the difficulty can sometimes be unpredictable and uneven, its gameplay is simple enough to make it a great party game that everyone can enjoy, but also satisfy the needs of more competitive gamers. In the end, the best thing about Audioshield is the ability to add any song from your personal music library to interact with in an all-encompassing environment, making every other rhythm game obsolete.
Uses your own music library, near endless entertainment.
Difficulty can ramp up quickly.