Sometimes you find interesting games just out of pure luck…and endless scrolling through Steam for anything new that came out recently. As luck would have it, a game that caught my eye came out exactly on October 31st, 2019, Halloween day. A game that claimed to be, and I quote “The Very First Music Adapting First Person Shooter”. In all caps across the description box. I said to myself after seeing the 1980s synthwave/retro graphics and the possibility of using vaporwave music in a first-person shooter made me immediately click the “Add to Cart” button.
Music Killer was developed by AbstractArt, who according to their Steam page has made one other game called Music Racer which seems to be very similar to Music Killer as its about playing your music in which the game adapts the course and obstacles to the beat of the music.
What is the Gameplay?
The game is a first-person, hoard mode which is basically where you play in one of seven maps, shoot enemies and survive until the end of the match (aka end of the song). It is also score based with a leaderboard so your secondary objective is to get the highest score and depending on the difficulty level you choose if you shoot to the rhythm of the song which will give you additional points. Each map is mostly a change in color palette and theme within the retro/synthwave style, it doesn’t affect the gameplay at all.
As of November 14th, the developer did add difficulty settings in the 7th update which allows for you to play in five separate mods. The first one called Zen+ is just enjoying the music and trying to shoot enemies to the beat and gain the highest level. Hardcore mode, on the other end, you have three lives and is more about survival which before the update was the default mode. I am happy the developer decided to add multiple levels of difficulty especially if they want to listen to the music more as that was a bit of an issue for me in the first few versions of the game.
The enemies themselves range from skulls (they were pumpkins for the most part until a recent update so I believe that was mainly a special Halloween update), space dragons, UFOs, spiders, etc. They basically fly or crawl to you like in many hoard modes that most gamers are familiar with. You have to shoot to survive and over time you can pick up health items to help you and over the course of the match, level up so you will get access to other types of guns. There are temporary items that can give you a neat ability with your weapons that appear from time to time. You also always have a melee weapon which will give you extra points if you hit enemies with them but the risk is getting too close and getting bombarded by a bunch of enemies as the skulls will swarm you if you’re not careful.
Another aspect of the game I’ve noticed is that the walls can repel you faster around the map so it encourages you to walk back and hit the walls to move you away from the hoards of enemies while hitting from a distance on top of trying melee if you dare. As the match continues you find yourself bouncing and jumping all over the place in a kind of anti-gravity motion which certainly makes the match a little more unique than other hoard modes where you basically run around a map.
The game can also be played in single and multiplayer where you can create a server with a match name and password so you could invite friends. From what I saw the multiplayer is you versus your friends with the same weapons both melee and ranged which is an interesting feature.
The levels (enemy speed and how many waves of enemies) are completely based on the song you decide to use for that map. you have three options on how to upload the music, from your computer, a YouTube video, or a song that is from the game’s own library. The Youtube function works by selecting it in the menu after picking singleplayer or multiplayer mode and a search bar, you can look up almost any youtube video you want. after selecting the one you want, the game loads it into the algothrium and it will work exactly like loading in an MP3.
Would I recommend it and Overall thoughts.
So first thing first, I want to address the claim they made that Music Killer is the first music-based procedural generated, first-person shooter. I looked for games that use procedurally generated music as its main mechanic. The vast majority are racing and quick-time event-type games where you have to hit the right button or press the right keyboard key (think of Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero like games). I checked Steam, itch.io (for any smaller projects), GOG, and just a general google search. Based on what I found and what is available in my country, I was not able to find any other game that was a first-person shooter that used music-based procedural generation. The closest that I could find would be “Bullet Hell” games or space shooters like The Polnomial and Beat Hazard 2. So that statement seems accurate in terms of an officially released title after some research.
There are a lot of games that use this mechanic in many ways. A good example of one would be Audiosurf and its sequel Audiosurf 2, which the track and its obstacles would generate in rhythm with the song. Obviously, the program could have difficulty with some songs as this is based on an algorithm that in theory should be matching the beat and high and lows of the song. In Music Killer, the enemies will move faster and the level will move at a fast pace. If the song is slower then obviously the enemies and whatnot will be slower.
I did try the game before the two updates that were made by the developer and I would say it seems like that was the case. If I played a slower song, the enemies were a bit slower. The only problem was that its kind of hard to tell. The enemies bombarded you if you didn’t keep moving so it was hard to really track what I was doing and the music I had to tune out to focus on my objective which was to survive the match.
To point out the differences between each song a bit better, I recorded my gameplay using various songs of different rhythm speeds to see how the algorithm did. The video showcases four songs which I chopped down to just about 30 seconds or so of footage each. The song names are on the sidebar on the top left which the game does automatically which is also something I commend the game for making it each to which song is playing.
To avoid copyright issues its just a short clip of each song so I can demonstrate the game’s performance with its music generation algorithm. All credits go to the songwriters and producers of course.
So the first song was Los Angeles by The Midnight which is a mid to slow song and it seems the game captured the beat pretty well and at certain points when there was a spike in the beat and music, the dragons you saw appeared on the beat which shows it can pick up the sound well. The Taylor Swift song, Lover, also followed the beat pretty well as the enemies were moving rather slowly but not slow enough to make it too easy. Which makes sense or else the game would be far to easy on slower songs.
However, one song that surprised me was Through the Fire and the Flame. The sound is really fast and it didn’t seem like the enemies were going any faster, they appeared on the screen faster but I was expecting a lot more enemies at once and the dragons and UFOs to appear almost instantly. I was a little disappointed by that as I really wanted the game just throw the bus literately and figuratively at me. To be far the developer in the Steam discussion page and as a response to some of the reviews, did say that some songs may be harder for the game to pick up on than others. So as a suggestion to the developer, they may want to look into improving the algorithm to handle songs with a much faster speed than most. Overall, I do think the game is functioning correctly, it is picking up songs both the MP3 files and straight from YouTube.
So going back to would I recommend this game? Overall my answer is yes and the reasons are as follows. At its core its a fun game and a cool idea. Second, the developer is clearly listening to feedback and making lots of updates which for the most part have all been well received and have made the game far more functional. Third and finally, the fact you have so much flexibility to what songs you can use and how easy it is to load a song into the game really is fantastic.
Another thing I also have to commend is the graphics themselves. As is the namesake and focus of this blog, retro, synthwave, vaporwave, etc., Music Killer is dripping in those aesthetics. Its colorful, fun to look at and the enemy designs are bizarre but enjoyable and stick to the theme well. It’s one of the main highlights of the game in my opinion.
I did try to find out more about the developer and who AbstractArt was to get more background but I could find almost nothing about the company. Their website was mostly just a general mission statement and that the developer made Music Racer in 2018. The game has almost no information on the developer’s name and I didn’t even see a splash screen or credits of the people responsible for the project. According to Steam, the developer who is pinning discussions and speaking to players goes by the user name “Klexkaat”, but the profile is completely private and the steam level is zero which could indicate the person is a new user but I cannot confirm. It’s possible that Abstract Art is just a publishing vehicle and from what I see they assist developers in getting their games out, so it’s possible that the developer was using this company to help publish the game. I did try to contact the company for more information but I got no response at by the time of publishing this article.
Overall the game is definitely worth trying. The price points is extremely low, only costing $4.99 USD. While a hoard mode game is generally a hard sell as a standalone game (a lot of times its a mode that comes bundled in other games on top of the main campaign), the developer is actively adding features and fixes so it looks like more is on the way soon. Also, they added multiplayer mode certainly adds more value, not to mention it is a low barrier entry price so you could play with friends in an online server match.
Links are below and I hope you give it a try. Now to end this off, here was one of my favorite matches I recorded. I played The Best Day Ever from SpongeBob and the game went crazy, throwing multiple large enemies and it was pretty awesome.