Beat Hazard Ultra DLC review

Beat Hazard first appeared on Xbox LIVE arcade in October 2009, and later made its way to PC in April 2010. The PC version charmed its way into my ‘favourite games’ list.

For the uninitiated, Beat Hazard is a SHMUP-style game with the unique gameplay twist of being powered by music. The gameplay analyses track frequencies and drives the game accordingly, making for some intense moments. The player’s laser weapons shoot more or less depending on the tempo of the track, and enemies likewise move quickly or slowly. Beat Hazard also has the uncanny knack of throwing particularly intense swarms of enemies and bosses in to the mix just as a song gets particularly intense. I provide an in-depth review of the game’s mechanics and gameplay in my review of the original.

Indie developer Cold Beam Games has been hard at work crafting their first DLC pack – Beat Hazard Ultra. It comes sporting a host of new features: enemies and bosses; weapons; powerups; a perk system; game modes; online play; online leader boards; new Steam achievements; 1.5 hours of new indie tracks; what I perceived to be new AI pathing, and even Twitter support.

The Ultra DLC feels like more of an overhaul of the original game than a mere expansion pack.

The online play has co-op and head-to-head modes, working together or competing for high score. Thanks to the catchy bundled tracks, you can find a compatible player right out of the gates. You can also index your own music library and when joining with another online player, the game will check if you have any matching tunes.

An RRS feed style bar operates unobtrusively at the bottom of the game screen, broadcasting messages about your performance and players waiting for a partner. Hitting a button while in the single-player modes will take you to join the awaiting player.

The new bosses and enemy ships have made a significant improvement to the original, which did suffer from a lack of variety. These new enemies not only add to the gameplay tactics, but also a lot of visual aplomb. With a lot more to choose from, and some tweaked original enemies, Beat Hazard can throw some seriously challenging combinations at the player. Another new mode is Boss Rush – challenging the player to survive as many waves of increasingly brutal boss ships as they can.

There are three new weapons pickups – Micro Missiles, Reflect shield, and Ultra Beam. The missiles swarm and auto-target enemies; the shield reflects back any enemy projectiles; and the Ultra Beam is an extremely powerful but short burst of laser fire ideal for taking down the big guys. These three additions make for some handy tactical uses when trying for those high-scores, survival runs, or insanely difficult settings.

Player’s aren’t merely handed these weapons on a silver platter – they must earn them through gameplay. Levelling up now unlocks perks, which range in use from the abovementioned weapons, to additional pickups when the game starts, to score multipliers for acting like a smartass. The perks can also be levelled up to five times using the money collected in-game, dropped by dead enemies.

This system isn’t too daunting, but it does provide incentive to build up one’s skills and perks to be able to take on the seriously tough challenges of Survival, Boss Rush, or the Insane difficulty setting. They also carry over to the online mode and therefore help players tackle tough tracks on high difficulty settings.

Thankfully, ColdBeam has included an option to dial down (or up) the visual intensity of the game. This will help new players become accustomed to the gameplay without being overwhelmed by all the colourful, flashing visualisations. As before, this game should not be played by those with adverse reactions to such bright flashing lights.

It’s improvements all round with the Beat Hazard Ultra DLC. If you’ve been neglecting the game of late, this may be just what you need to inject a lot of new life in to the title.

It is currently only available on Steam. The original game is required to play the DLC – it costs US$9.99. The DLC by itself costs US$4.99. The third option is to buy the complete pack for US$ 12.99 which includes three items: Beat Hazard, Beat Hazard – iTunes & m4a file support, and Beat Hazard Ultra DLC.

The Beat Hazard Ultra DLC will be coming to PS3 (PSN) and Mac (Steam) “later in the year.” The PSN version will be a full game including the Ultra features, as it hasn’t previously launched on the service.

Unfortunately the Ultra DLC pack was rejected for XBLA by Microsoft, according to the developers. They will be approaching a publisher to try and make the DLC available on XBLA. There’s a petition going around, officially sanctioned by Cold Beam Games. If you’d like to try and get Beat Hazard Ultra onto XBLA, or simply want to show some gamer solidarity, head on over to Facebook to join the Beat Hazard Ultra for XBLA petition.

In the meantime, here’s a snazzy gameplay video.

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