I love music. I think everyone does, really; it’s pretty much everywhere you go. Chances are, if you’re walking down the street, you’re going to hear music from somewhere. Sometimes, it’s even in your head. Along with music, I also love gaming. For me, the two are generally separated. Aside from a few amazing exceptions, I’ve found no real way to combine my love of music and passion for gaming.
Then I played Beat Hazard. It’s best described with three simple words, from the developer even: “Ten dollar seizures.” Beat Hazard combines the tried-and-true “SHMUP” style of gameplay with your entire music collection. Added to the mix are some truly fantastic visuals, guaranteed to give you a seizure for cheap.
A lot of games have a stock epilepsy warning in the manual. However, Beat Hazard IS the epilepsy warning. Everything you see in Beat Hazard is based off the music you’re playing. Hundreds of bullets and other particles on screen are pulsating to every beat, every shift in the music. This is all coupled with extremely vibrant colors that also change according to the music.
There are two modes of play in Beat Hazard. You can choose to play a single song in your collection of songs or play survival, which continues to load the next song in your list as long as you’re still alive. If playing a single song, there are four choices available. Do you want to play on easy, medium, hard or — when unlocked — insane? As the difficulty goes up, so does the amount of visual feedback, as well as the amount of enemies you fight.
In terms of pick-ups, Beat Hazard is somewhat lacking. There are only four pick-up types — Plus One, VOL, POW and Superbomb. Plus One simply adds one to your multiplier, up to a max of 200. VOL, or volume, increases the volume of the song, which in turn intensifies everything. POW, or power, upgrades your weapons’ power — from a bland stream of white dots to an explosive array of flashing colors. Finally, Superbomb allows you to send out a massive explosion in every direction, hopefully obliterating everything in your way.
Should you be skilled enough to collect the maximum amount of volume and power pick-ups, you are awarded a destructive new weapon, named quite simply “Beat Hazard.” In addition to firing off hundreds of smaller pellet rounds, you also unleash an extremely powerful beam of energy. This weapon lasts as long as you stay alive — although there is a flipside. Since Beat Hazard relies heavily upon vibrant visuals, the more destruction you unleash, the more the game blinds you. This leaves you vulnerable to the unsuspected missile shot off in the chaos.
If simply playing your music collection somehow bores you — which is highly unlikely — then you have nothing to worry about. Beat Hazard also includes a rank system. It’s more of a perk system than rank, though. As you play the game more, you rack up points. These points go toward your rank, ranking up as you gain more. With each new rank, you gain a perk — for instance, ranging from an extra VOL pick-up to starting with more lives. As you get higher in the ranks, more and more points are demanded of you to achieve the next rank — up to a massive 5 million. One of the things I particularly dislike about this system is the “rich get richer” scheme. At “elite” rank, players get to start a song with the Beat Hazard weapon. This essentially means that as you get better, the game in turn gets easier — making it twice as easy.
Games that survive for years upon years generally do so because they have the capability to be modded, or modified. Skilled programmers and mappers can create entirely new scenarios for a game, doubling its life with each new fantastic mod. Beat Hazard takes this approach and trumps it. Instead of relying on communities of modders, its life is entirely dependent on an entire industry. As long as musicians continue to write music, Beat Hazard will live on.
For the competitive player, there are achievements to be unlocked during play. These range from simply beating a song to lasting a stunning 20 minutes in survival. If playing on the PC, these achievements are hooked up to Steam’s API — so even on deletion you won’t lose your achievements. In addition, there are worldwide and friend leaderboards, allowing you to see how you rank among the best. Beat Hazard also incorporates a live feed at the bottom of the screen — so if one of your friends performs well or dies, you’ll see it when it happens.
So you may be left wondering whether or not you should buy Beat Hazard. That’s entirely the wrong question. Rather, you should ask yourself, “Does my family have a history of epilepsy?” If the answer is “no” — and chances are, it is — then you don’t need to ask if you should buy Beat Hazard. You should just go get it.