As a society, it seems like we’ve matured beyond cynically mocking anything related to dubstep. It’s not just music for hopped-up young’uns undulating in front of a DJ with a laptop – by now, I’m willing to bet that everyone’s heard a dubstep song they genuinely love, even if they don’t care to admit it. Done right, the frenetic buildup to a climactic drop, followed by pounding bass drums and chirpy vocal samples, can be just as euphoric as any other genre of music. New-age rhythm game Aaero, coming to PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2017, embraces dubstep as its musical muse, and the zooming gameplay mimics the on-rails shoot-’em-up action of Rez Infinite with a few added twists. What Rez did for techno and electronica, Aaero looks to do for dubstep, which should be all the incentive rhythm game fans need to jump in and lose themselves to the pursuit of high scores in a realm of ill beats.
Intriguing theming is a much a factor of Rez’s cult following as its catchy music, and Aaero builds a similarly interesting framework around its timing-based gameplay. Where Rez portrayed the player as the digital form of a hacker diving deeper into a mainframe, Aaero has you piloting a small ship as it hovers across surreal landscapes – perhaps the ruins of a post-apocalyptic city, or a strange island of glowing rocks surrounded by a beautiful body of water. The controls are similarly intuitive, though Aaero made some adjustments to the Rez formula: you can actually move your ship freely around the invisible, 360-degree tube that makes up the play space, and simply flicking the right stick over a target instantly locks on, no button-holding required. The snapping snare noise as you fix your sights on an enemy will sound instantly familiar to Rez fans, and once you’ve accumulated the maximum amount of lock-ons on enemy ships hovering in front of you, a tap of R2 blasts your mark with lasers.
Unlike Rez, simply shooting everything you encounter isn’t the only way to score points. Each level lasts the full duration of the licensed song, and periodically, you’ll need to maneuver your ship’s path to match beams of light that wrap around the tunnel you’re perpetually flying through. Lining up your ship builds up your multiplier, while missing the mark kills your combo (and causes the rhythmic bassline to drop out). It’s a clever mechanic that demands a lot of precise, rhythmically timed movements with the left stick to nail a full run, and feels like the knob-turning inputs of brilliant Japanese arcade game Sound Voltex. Hitting the perfect groove as you deftly curve the joystick in time to the music feels incredible, and it leaves a ton of room for optimization if you’re aiming for a top spot on the leaderboards.
There are also some inspired boss fights against monstrous beasts, like a giant neon-blooded spider, or the tentacles of a kraken as it drags down a passing starship. My personal favorite was being attacked by a colossal sandworm in a vast desert; at certain points, it bursts from the earth to devour your ship, and its intestinal tract becomes your new tunnel full of melodic laser lines before you blast your way out of its gullet. Aaero hits all the right notes for the modern rhythm game that foregoes scrolling music charts: its aesthetics, tracks, and gameplay all unify to deliver a powerful sonic experience. If you’re partial to visionary rhythm games like Rez, Thumper, and Amplitude, Aaero looks like it’ll be your next fix of trance-like, point-scoring euphoria.