Amplitude PS4 Review: Block-Rocking Beats

Amplitude PS4 Review: Block-Rocking Beats

The classic 2003 music rhythm game makes a return following last year's successful Kickstarter campaign.

Back in 2001, Harmonix created the rather brilliant FreQuency – an early music rhythm game that ultimately put the developer on course to create the first Guitar Hero. But not before it produced a 2003 sequel to that inaugural title, called Amplitude.

A more polished and buttoned-down version of FreQuency, Amplitude challenged players to ride six parallel note highways, shooting note gems that represent different aspects of the music track that's currently playing, such as drums, bass, synth and vocals. Doing so successfully causes that aspect of the track to play (and also scores points and generates energy), and as more and more note gems are hit on each of the different note highways, the individual aspects of the music build up and the piece sounds in full. Miss note gems, however, and that aspect of the track will stop playing, the music will start to break down, and you end up losing energy, which eventually brings the game to a premature end. Needless to say, this isn't what you want to happen.

It's a simple concept – basically a rhythm rail shooter – but one that's made difficult in practice due to the fact that there are three lanes of note gems per note highway. To make the music play, you need to press the correct buttons that correspond to note gems sitting in each lane in time to the music, while switching from track to track to keep each of the different aspects of the song playing. The trick here is to hit all the note gems within a specific sequence – usually a couple of bars of music – which causes the note highway you’re on to disappear temporarily, enabling you to switch to another one. The end result is a quite hectic game where decent hand-to-eye coordination and a good sense of rhythm are the keys to success.

The 2016 remake of Amplitude – successfully Kickstarted back in May of last year – basically follows the same gameplay mechanics as the original. However, a big difference this time out is that while the original 2003 Amplitude featured a roster of songs from a number of popular recording artists such as Blink 182, David Bowie, and Weezer, the new Amplitude's music is largely sourced from Harmonix itself – with some additional help from indie artists like Jim Guthrie, Kodomo, and Freezepop. While this might disappoint some, I actually don't mind it at all, since I really like a lot of the new tracks, most of which are an interesting mix of progressive electronica.

The game has two basic modes: Campaign and Quickplay. The former is a jaunt through a 15-song concept album that essentially represents a journey into the mind of a comatose patient who's been experimenting with synesthesia. Tracks are tackled one at a time, and slowly become faster and more complex as you progress through the 15-song set. The goal is to simply play through all the tracks, which concludes the Campaign.

Quickplay enables you to play any songs you've unlocked in Campaign mode individually, and also features another 15 songs to unlock for a total of 30 in all. Unlocking all of Amplitude's songs isn't particularly challenging, and it only takes a few sessions to garner almost everything the game has to offer.

Does that mean the game lacks content? Not exactly. While unlocking songs doesn't require much effort – especially if you tackle the game on Beginner difficulty, which even the most ham-fisted and musically unsympathetic gamer should be able to muddle through successfully – there are leaderboards to challenge you, and it's here that you need to up the difficulty level to be competitive. The top difficulty settings are exceptionally challenging, and require a high degree of skill to be able to beat them, giving the game plenty of lasting appeal… assuming you're happy to repeatedly play along with its roster of songs.

Which takes us back to the game's music. It an obvious thing to say, but you really need to enjoy this game's particular brand of up-front, thumping electronica to get the most out of it. Like I already said, I'm a big fan of the game's soundtrack, but it's definitely not for everyone. Amplitude's trailer gives you a good idea of what you can expect, and to be blunt, if you're not enamored with the music featured in the trailer, you should probably not bother buying it.

Assuming Amplitude's soundtrack does work for you, the game is a lot of fun to play. Harmonix is no slouch when it comes to getting music rhythm gameplay right, and Amplitude is no exception. It’s perfectly polished with just the right amount of forgiveness to give the game a really excellent feel. You can get into a flow of button pressing that makes it almost feel like you're playing the music, especially on higher difficulty settings. The timing and design of the note highways is just spot-on.

Backing up the quality gameplay are suitably abstract and psychedelic background graphics. While they don't impinge on the clearly-rendered note highways, they're nevertheless bright and colorful and really give the game its own unique style that matches the action and soundtrack very well indeed.

As a whole, Amplitude is a nicely executed Kickstarter project that should appeal to those who liked the original game. The electronic-heavy soundtrack might alienate more rock-oriented fans, but I think the 15-song concept album works really well, and the additional 15 songs – some of which have been created by other video game music composers – are generally interesting and quite varied within the overall electronica theme.

However, even though the game has four more songs than the original Amplitude, there is nevertheless an inherent element of repetition to the gameplay. Polished and finessed though it is, unless you crank up the difficulty setting, the campaign doesn't take long to play through, and unlocking the songs is quite straightforward, leaving only highscores, and the game's fairly limited local multiplayer mode as a draw. While I did enjoy challenging the leaderboards – I'm an old-schooler who grew up highscoring on arcade games – some may find this aspect of the game not quite strong enough to keep them coming back for more.

Ultimately, Amplitude is a game built for fans of the original. If you're one of them, enjoy thumping electronic music, and like the idea of challenging leaderboards, you'll likely get your money's worth out of this game.

Very simple, but nicely designed.

Lasting appeal
It only takes a few hours to conquer the Campaign and unlock most of the game's songs, and then it's down to Amplitude's leaderboards and somewhat limited multiplayer mode to sustain interest.

The game's progressive electronica soundtrack is terrific, assuming that genre of music happens to be your cup of tea.

Trippy, psychedelic visuals work really well with the action

Looking and playing very similarly to the 2003 original, the new Amplitude packs a thumping good progressive electronica soundtrack which suits its slick and nicely polished gameplay perfectly. Where the game does fall a little flat is in its lasting appeal. It doesn't take long to beat the campaign and unlock almost all of its tracks, and once you've done that, the leaderboards are the only place where a long-term challenge can be found.


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