Auditorium HD Review

by on December 1, 2010

Game: Auditorium HD

Developer: Cipher Prime

Publisher: Zoo Games

Available on: PlayStation Network, PC and iPhone (PlayStation Network version reviewed)

When is a game not just a game?

It is a question that you might ask the first time you load up Auditorium HD for PS3. Auditorium appears to be the very essence of a modern, indie title. Its unique premise, a puzzle game where the player manipulates beams and particles of light, turning them into sound, just doesn’t have the mass-market appeal to justify a full price release, but on PlayStation Network it has been given the opportunity to shine. Does it sparkle brightly under the spotlight or is it destined to live its life in darkness? Read on for the full review.

The basic gameplay is simple and the developement team, Cipher Prime, focus on it with laser precision. The player is tasked with simply diverting beams of light at columns that, once touched by light, begin to fill and play music. As the game progresses the player is presented with ever more complex ways of bending the light to their will, but also with more sound columns to fill. Each column plays its own layer of the music, so the more you fill the deeper and more harmonious the sound. That is all there is to it.

For all its simplicity, Auditorium HD utterly defies this description. It’s not really a puzzle game, more a puzzle experience. All at the same time the game is euphoric, tranquil and hypnotic. The music is genuinely beautiful, it will feel like it is pouring out of your surround speakers as the sound bars began to fill, building to joyous crescendo as the puzzle reaches its completion and leaving just the coloured streaks of light across your TV, both intentional yet completely organic. It will leave you feeling terribly emotional, something that most games just don’t manage to do. Understated and ethereal, totally ambiguous and just beyond the fingertips of description. It’s like walking in sunlight on summers day or pausing at the top of a mountain on snowboard holiday.

No need to adjust your screen, you're not tripping out!

Apologies if this sounds awfully pretentious. Don’t worry this isn’t leading to the whole “gaming as an art from” debate, it isn’t about that. It’s about conveying the uniqueness of the emotional involvement when playing Auditorium HD. The game never tells you “the point” or its reason for being. it doesn’t really need to. Sure, solving puzzles is key but it only provides half the pleasure. The other half is all about the experience.

When a light is twisted and pulled in different ways, watching the screen is like watching clouds. One minute it is a city at night, sped up through time, cars whizzing across the neon backdrops. The next minute the screen is interstellar, light filling and blurring across the screen like a photo of a new galaxy. All the experiments with the games’ controls change the context and quality of the music, building and rebuilding it, thunderous and vibrant one minute then quiet and reserved the next. It is when you’re experiencing Auditorium in this way, almost using the different puzzles like synthesizers, that the game is at its best.

Maybe it is telling that the game suffers most when you look beyond the beauty and just try to complete the levels. It certainly has the vital puzzle game quality, that “just-one-more-go” feeling. However, there are moments where the effects that you apply to the beams of light (push, pull, reverse direction to name three) feel quite random, particularly at the start of the game. Success also can be quite unplanned and often achieved through guesswork with little logic. As mentioned, the light and sound show whilst this goes on is a treat but, if you don’t like to stop and smell the roses, completing levels can feel a shade unsatisfying. Whilst difficulty certainly rises as the game progresses and more ways to manipulate the light are included, there is little variety in the gameplay. This will trouble those who are in it for the trophies and not the experience. Progress, winning and trophies are hardly the point though; experimentation is both the means and the end in Auditorium HD.

Hmm, maybe you ARE tripping out!

Whilst building symphony and luminescence out of silence and gloom, this game inspired my imagination like few I had played before. Too often games just tell you what to do, what is next and what is important. Auditorium HD doesn’t burden you with such trivialities. It merely gives you the tools to experiment and the canvas to paint on. What happens next, that is up to you.

Auditorium HD isn’t the perfect puzzle game. It is not precise enough nor totally predictable enough to compare with the all time greats of the puzzling genre. Not that the game really wants those comparisons. It just wants to be beautiful and simple, it wants to inspire your imagination. Whilst its lack of variety may not inspire you forever, it made me think that in a far future utopia, enlightened beings unburdened by our cynicism might one day play a similar game on their own night sky, twisting and bending starlight just so that music might fall from the heavens.

That wouldn’t be just a game. It would be an experience.

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