If you were to take Geometry Wars’ pseudo-vector, neon heavy tones and harmonize them with a musical Galaga, you’d have a Symphony. Dissonant metaphors aside, Empty Clip’s latest offering stands in a short line of games that incorporate player-owned music as a way to procedurally build levels. While other entries into the style of game like Audiosurf, Beat Hazard, and The Polynomial: Music of the Space are all very different and shouldn’t be compared, the first seems to remain the game of choice amongst players- including myself- who want to see their music collections interpreted by computers. I’m always willing to see a monarch dethroned though, and was intrigued by what Symphony was proposing.
At its core, Symphony is an arena shooter. Players use their mouse to control a winged ship that moves within a static square. Enemy ships then enter into the field from the top, sides and above in accordance with the beat of the music, engage in synchronized motion across the screen and launch different types of attacks. The pace of the incoming enemies also changes accordingly to the music played. Players subsequently murder these ebullient entities with brightly colored energy weapons. It’s all rather simple, but quite satisfying.
Enemies have a nice variety of movement and assault tactics. Tiny ships usually approach from the side in long trails and move in either straight lines or complicated patterns that aim to corner players. While they sometimes fire off a missile, their real threat comes from the danger of collision. Large, sluggish, geometric ships often lumber in from the sides as well, exploding when they die and become strategic kills. There are some bosses every now and then as well, but nothing terribly remarkable. The enemy assortment is just enough to keep players on their toes and require some light analysis, but nothing beyond that.
Once destroyed, enemies leave notes to be picked up and act as a currency in the game’s upgrading system. Once a song is played through, it provides a purchasable weapon that ranges from sub-woofers that only fire to the rhythm of the music, faster firing blasters, double sided blasters, missiles and so on. Each weapon can also have its damage upgraded, but only with the use of Kudos, a different currency that is earned by hitting certain note checkmarks in a given song.
What does one do with these new weapons though? Simple: add them to the player ship. There’s only one model of vessel in the game, but it has four slots in which different weapon types can be added and even aligned so as to fire in different directions. This RPG-lite system is easily one of the more engaging parts of the game, and the customizability is fun to dabble with. The inevitable result is creating a ship that is constantly spewing forth deadly lights into every direction. The visual effects of this are quite mesmerizing as well, but its effectiveness reveals a downfall of the game: it’s not particularly tactical.
Don’t get me wrong, making bright, neon explosions on the screen was rather enjoyable, but not for any extended amount of time. It was hard to get through more than one full album without feeling dulled by the gameplay at one point. Even the variety allotted by switching weapons didn’t quite give the experience the kick in the pants it needed.
There’s also a story bolted onto the experience that is quite weak as well. The conceit is that the player’s music collection is being corrupted so a demon can pass into this existence and players have to fight to protect their music and prevent the event from taking place. Aside from the demon bosses that pop-up every now and then, this adds nothing to the gameplay and is completely unsatisfying. The ending amounts to something along the line of an NES-style “Congratulation [sic]!”
Games that use music as the basis for procedural generation are designed to be replayable so as to draw players back in with the new music that they acquire. Looking back on my time with the game, I questioned whether the game would make me want to boot it up again. The short answer? Yes, it would. While Symphony may not usurp Audiosurf and the mechanics, systems and aesthetics have all been done before, they’re all done quite well here and the addition of music adds just enough of a unique twist that I can easily see myself plugging in new albums every now and then.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Great aesthetic direction
+ Enemies have decent variety
+ Creating unique weapon load outs is fun
+ Basic gameplay is enjoyable…
– …but tedious after an hour so
– Narrative is unsatisfying
7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.