Amplitude was a critically praised rhythm game from developer Harmonix that released in 2003 as a followup to Frequency for the PlayStation 2. Over a decade later and after a few minor delays the stylish cult classic is back, rebooted for the two successor PlayStation home consoles. The new Amplitude, whose makers include some of the original devs, kicks off the 2016 year in gaming but we’re not sure if it’s going to kick off a new game franchise.
Similar to Harmonix’s flagship 2015 release, Rock Band 4, Amplitude plays it safe in serving solely to re-established a classic, recognizable brand. It doesn’t deviate from its formula and is a lacking on the content side, but it plays well, sounds great, and fans of the original will get a trippy nostalgia trip to go along with a few new features.
Where Frequency was primarily electronic, the original Amplitude targeted a wider audience with its focus on pop music. Now that it’s back, funded in part thanks to a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, Amplitude’s smaller scale and budget means this one relies heavily on in-house tunes.
And that’s not a bad thing. Of Amplitude’s 30-song track list (complete list on page 2), half were composed specifically for this game – dubbed the “concept album” – and are used for its sci-fi narrative campaign. It’s very short and can be completed in one sitting, but successfully delivers something to welcome players, new and old, into the experience.
What made Amplitude special nearly 13 years ago, the simplified but pretty gameplay, holds true in the 2016 version. And just like the original, the new Amplitude is accessible and welcoming, but very difficult to master. The game doesn’t require plastic instruments, pay-per-use songs or a subscription. Instead, players use a DualShock 4 controller and three of its four triggers to hit notes with their Beat Blaster ship.
The controls are perfectly precise and feel great and as players start to feel comfortable, they’ll find themselves thinking and planning the movements of their Beat Blaster differently to maximize streaks to hit new high scores for that ever-present online leaderboard notoriety.
What mad Amplitude unique is in how players are doing more than just timing button presses to notes on a track but are instead also swapping between a set of six tracks to keep streaks going, blasting away lanes and strategically timing moves. Each track represents a different element of the song (drums, synth, vocals, etc.) and timing the jumps between tracks is crucial.
Adding another layer to the core Amplitude mechanics and timing is a set of power-ups that range from clearing a sequence, slowing down the music temporarily, or offering a score multiplayer. Some tracks also have barriers that require a successful streak in order to pass through without a penalty. Amplitude is simple to understand and get into with the just the right difficulty curve and psychadellic visuals that make it worth checking out for electronic music lovers.
Whether it’s replayable or appealing on harder difficulties will come down to player satisfaction with the music selection and willingness to dedicate to controller-based rhythm timing, because it can be very challenging. It is because of that challenge however, that at the last minute the dev team added a twist on Amplitude’s multiplayer mode.
What’s New in Amplitude?
In addition to modern graphics, a new game engine, and an entirely different track list, the Amplitude reboot adds a new type of multiplayer. And it needed to because the game is absent online play and the original game’s Remix Mode.
Competitive multiplayer was always a given, at least locally for up to four players free-for-all, but there’s a new team-based mode within that’s partially co-op in that it’s played in teams of 2v2 or 3v1. It’s refreshingly forgiving, allowing players – no matter how they perform – to finish the song. With powerups that can be used against an opponent, three newcomers can stand their own against an experienced player.
As a budget release retailing for $20, don’t expect much in the way of content from Amplitude. The game’s core campaign is just 15 songs long and can be completed on an easier difficulty in one relatively brief sitting. Playing through it will unlock songs for Quick Play mode but Harmonix oddly chose to lock some of the limited number of other tracks behind a progression system that forces grinding through already available songs repeatedly. As for additional content in the future, Harmonix spoke of this during their Kickstarter campaign but have since said there are no plans for DLC so what you see is what you get for the time being which makes Amplitude a tougher sell.
Amplitude offers a pleasant nostalgia trip and is worth picking up for players fond of the rhythm games of old and who loved the original. It’s solid, pretty, and plays well even if its track list leaves much to be desired. Still, it’s nice to see Harmonix doing what they do best with the help of its most loyal of supporters. We just hope there’s enough support to give the game some post-release life.
Next Page: Complete Amplitude (2016) Track List
Amplitude (2016) is available exclusively on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.
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