How do you feel about minimal, groove driven, tech-house music? A strange question to open a game review with sure, and really that’s quite a convoluted genre description. But Beat the Game’s appeal relies almost completely on your reaction to the house beats, percussion, bass lines and the weird synth chords and fx flourishes that define the genre.
The core premise of Beat the Game is a strong one. Explore a richly detailed and strange environment, record different sounds, and then use those as a basis to mix and create the backing soundtrack as you see fit. But again, filtered through the sounds of minimal tech-house.
Taking control of Mistik, in a world that feels partly inspired by Double Fine’s Psychonauts, there isn’t much in the way of context or narrative drive outside of the music. Well, there’s the admittedly very cool goal of putting on a live show for all the triangle-shape denizens of whatever dreamscape you find yourself in. After collecting all the different sounds of course. With a simple point-and-click structure that involves walking around and entering a first-person mode to scan your surroundings to find all the recordable audio, the setup is simple and easy.
If you’ve ever come across an audio interface that triggers different loops then using Mistik’s portable mixer and audio player that hangs around his neck to control the music will immediately make sense. For those that haven’t, the in-game tutorials clearly explain how all of it works with easy to follow UI overlays. In Beat the Game, each musical loop is spread out over a grid broken up into all the different parts that make up a tech-house track. The beat, percussion, bass line, melody, synth atmosphere, and so forth. And as you can only play one sound from each category at a time, there’s virtually no chance of creating an unlistenable mess.
Where Beat the Game stumbles, outside of the fact that you can, err, beat the game in about an hour or so, is with how it ultimately fails to really sell the concept of creative expression through music. Not on the art side, as the evocative look bears an almost abstract artist’s impression of the soundtrack. Like a strange music video that you once saw from the era when MTV actually played music videos. No, the issue comes with Beat the Game’s inability to fully capture that one aspect of house music that has made it stand the test of time as a genre.
And that is - subtlety. Little changes and musical progression that is measured across several minutes. Unfortunately, with short loops the music here becomes repetitive and monotonous long before you get to put on your live show. In a way, it begins to sound like every criticism you might have heard over the years being spoken about house music from people that don’t “get it”. Which is a shame because being able to do more with the music other than pausing to switch up the different loops and sliders would have fixed a lot of the problems.