[Review] Amplitude – A Cult Classic Reborn

ESRB:E
ONLINE:N/A [Local multiplayer for up to 4 players.]
INSTALL:2.5GB
RELEASE DATE:January 5th, 2016 [PS4]; April 5, 2016 [PS3]
PLATFORM:Playstation 4, Playstation 3
PUBLISHER:Harmonix Music Systems
DEVELOPER:Harmonix Music Systems
ONLINE PASS:N/A

Foreword

The original FreQuency released back in 2001 on the PS2, to relatively high praise, but poor sales. Cut to 2 years later, Harmonix decides to try again – releasing Amplitude in 2003. Again, high praise all around, but still poor sales. The games all but fade away, becoming no more than cult classics. Now, nearly 13 years later, Harmonix has finally revisited the series that all but got them their start.

A note: The Playstation 3 version of the game is not out yet. It should be out in the near future [According to Harmonix: “In the coming months”]. Once it’s out, I’ll make note of any major differences here, as well as trying to create a comparison video.

The PS3 Difference

Comparison Video

So, the PS3 version of Amplitude finally launched. I said I would update here when that happened – so here we are!

What are the differences? Truthfully, nothing really. Visually, the game has taken a hit – obviously. It’s nowhere near as pretty as it is on PS4. It’s more jagged – just look at the lines connecting notes on the track. Textures aren’t quite as clean, and there just isn’t the same amount of overall eye candy. Tracks, for instance, don’t crumble away as nicely – there are far more particles that show up on PS4. Depth of field is nicer on PS4 as well.

Control wise, it’s identical – you can even use your PS4 controller if you have one, which I can actually recommend – the R2 trigger is much nicer on it.

The biggest difference is in the framerate. It’s a lot rougher, guys. It’s still playable, obviously, but it’s definitely not 60. In a game like this, framerate matters. And while the framerate is stable on PS3, it can definitely make the game a bit harder. In that regard, I can honestly recommend the PS4 version over the PS3.

If the framerate isn’t a major deal for you – then there’s no other difference that matters. The game is identical on both consoles, other than visuals.

Story

Synesthesia
syn·es·the·sia
ˌsinəsˈTHēZHə/
noun – Physiology // Psychology
◘ The production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body. Such as seeing sounds as colors.

It may be surprising, but there actually is a bit of a story here. It’s subtle – but it’s there.

The story is told through small dialogue bits that occur at the beginning of a song in the campaign – the doctors talking to each other, and the internal, garbled messages of the comatose patient. It’s also told through the songs themselves. The lyrics of each vocal track gives you a bit of insight into the mind of the patient, and her relationship to the doctor.

Harmonix went into crafting this campaign as a concept album that tells a story over the course of the 15 songs, and I feel they nailed that.

Just don’t expect some 20 hour opus. You’ll be done with the campaign in about an hour or so, depending on how much trouble you have with any songs.


Presentation

The original Amplitude was created as a game that wanted to convey the phenomenon of synesthesia – in particular, chromesthesia – seeing sounds as colors. Though, in the case of Amplitude, it was mostly just “seeing sound” – conveyed through the notes on the track. Amplitude 2016 takes that idea, and cranks it up to 11. The artsyle they’ve gone with is absolutely stellar. It looks as if you’re inside the synapses of a synesthete’s brain, and it’s beautiful. Bright, vibrant colors pop against the dark, abstract surroundings. You see sparks popping in the distance as synapses fire in time to the music playing. Tracks crumble away beautifully after successfully playing a notechart.

The game is beautiful. No question.

The game is beautiful. No question.

The overall look and sound of the game is much closer in tone to FreQuency, rather than the original Amplitude. I can definitely appreciate that, as Amplitude’s look was a bit chaotic – a lot of super bright colors and flashing lights. It could be a little hard to look at sometimes. Not ugly, but overwhelmingly vivid.

On the other side of the coin, is the soundtrack. And I notice a lot of reviews knocking the game for lacking licensed tracks from various pop artists – like Weezer, or P.O.D., or Garbage – and while I understand that those remixes were what gave the original Amplitude the identity it had, it seems as though some of these reviews aren’t understanding that Amplitude 2016 is less a remake of the 2003 game & more a new game in the series that shares a name with an entry from 13 years ago.

Think “Rocky Balboa” being the latest entry in the “Rocky” series. Not a reboot, perse, but a new chapter.

Personally, I love the soundtrack. The main 15 songs, all created in-house by Harmonix, are all pretty great – Decode Me, Dalatecht, and Energize are the stand-outs for me. That being said, if you aren’t exactly into electronic music such as Drum and Bass, Breakbeat, House or Techno, then the soundtrack is likely to fall a bit flat for you. It’s not something that can be objectively stated as good or bad – it’s all personal taste.

There are also 16 other songs, contributed by either Kickstarter backers – such as Insomniac Games and Wolfgun – or indie artists & compasers, such as Jim Guthrie, C418 ( Minecraft ), Danny Baranowsky ( Crypt of the Necrodancer ), and Kasson Crooker/Symbion Project/Komputer Kontroller ( Member of Freezepop and employee of Harmonix. ).

The extra contributed songs run much more varied genres – rock, jazz, etc. and are all equally as good as the main soundtrack.

Harmonix focused more on making songs that were actually fun to play, over getting popular & catchy songs.


Gameplay

It’s Amplitude.

At its core, it’s the same kind of game as any other rhythm game. Match notes in time with the music playing. What makes Frequency and Amplitude different, is the focus on playing every instrument in a song, and keeping a streak going for as long as you can.

In games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, the songs are split into different instruments. Players can choose to play guitar, bass, keys, vocals or drums. Once selected, they are locked to that instrument for the remainder of the song.

In Amplitude, songs are still split into instruments, but they are all laid out, at once, in lanes. Your job is to play a sequence of notes on a given instrument track. Successfully playing that note sequence will cause the track to crumble away, and the music will automatically play for a short time. Once you clear a track, you need to quickly move on to the next track and clear it. So on and so forth. This is called Streaking. As you build your streak, your multiplier increases to a max of X4. This increases the amount of points that notes are worth. Miss a note in a sequence, and your multiplier drops back down to 0, making you start over.

Expect to see this screen often on later songs at higher difficulties.

Expect to see this screen often on later songs at higher difficulties.

You also have a health bar to worry about. Miss a sequence, and your ship takes damage. Miss too many, and the song ends. Complete sequences and your health is restored. Passing through checkpoints also restores a fair amount of your health.

On the 4 starting difficulties, anyway. If you’ve unlocked Super difficulty [Done by completing a Campaign run on Expert, and playing all 15 songs [Meaning you earned enough bars to not only play the main songs, but unlock each region’s “Bonus” song]], you no longer regenerate health. There are no checkpoints either – and the only powerup available to you is Multiply.

Speaking of powerups, they are identical to the previous game – they just have some slightly new names. Cleanse will clear a track automatically for you. Flow clears all tracks, and allows you to kind of remix the song a bit with your ship, while earning points. Sedate slows down the song, allowing you to hit complex note sequences much more easily, and Multiply doubles your multiplier, up to a max of x8. Cleanse and Flow also have an added bonus of recovering a lost streak if you use them right after missing a note.

Take note, however – you don’t have access to these boosts right off the bat. Rather, you unlock them as the game progresses, allowing you time to get used to them.

The strategy of the game comes in finding the best possible path you can take to maximize your score. The more notes in a sequence, the more points it will be worth – but the harder it will likely be to play. Use your boosts wisely – don’t waste them on a simple 3 note pattern. Use cleanse or Flow to knock out a difficult track. Use Multiply on sequences that contain a lot of notes when your multiplier is high. Use Sedate when a pattern seems too fast for you to play.

There are a few notable changes to the Amplitude formula that I feel should be mentioned. First, there are a few different control schemes, including one similar to the more recent Rock Band: Blitz – if the default setup doesn’t work for you, try one of the others. And also remember that you aren’t locked to just using L1, R1 and R2. You can also use Square, Triangle and Circle – or any combination of the six.

One of the big control changes – and a quite welcome addition – is the new “Seek” mode. Originally, you had to move to individual tracks on your own. IE: If a song had 5 tracks, you would have to tap right 4 times to get to the track on the right, and vice versa. Now, tapping a direction simply jumps you to the nearest open track that will let you continue your streak. The old control method is still there, however, if you feel Seek makes things too easy.

They’ve also slightly changed the way you pick up powerups. Originally, you had to clear a sequence that contained the powerup. Hitting all of the notes would give you the boost to use. This is still the general method, however, if you happen to clear a sequence that ends just before a powerup – you will still get it as long as it’s the very next “bar” on the track.

It’s an interesting change, and veteran FreQs will need to get used to it and plan accordingly, as if you have a powerup already that you’re perhaps sitting on to use later, this new method of pickup can throw a wrench into your plans. If you have a powerup and pick up a new one, the new one will replace the former.

There's also a nice, quick tutorial right when you start the game, to help you learn the ropes.

There’s also a nice, quick tutorial right when you start the game, to help you learn the ropes.

The other big difference between this and its predecessor – the addition of Freq mode. Which is an option that allows you to play the game with the tunnel layout from Frequency, instead of the normal Amplitude lane layout. A nice touch, and really helps drive home that this game is a natural progression of the series. Coupling Freq mode with the new Seek control scheme can make some of the later songs much more manageable on higher difficulties.

Unlocking Freq mode is simple. Just complete the campaign on any difficulty.

Unlocking Freq mode is simple. Just complete the campaign on any difficulty.

Another new feature pertains to the campaign. Boss songs. These differ from the normal campaign songs in that you must have a certain streak multiplier before crossing certain thresholds. If you don’t have the required multiplier [X2 for Region 1, X3 for Region 2 and X4 for Region 3] your ship will take major damage. In each region, the distance to these checkpoints increases – meaning you have to keep your streak for a longer time. It’s a nice little twist on the basic gameplay.

Boss songs can get pretty tricky. Be careful, and focus on keeping your streak alive rather than trying to score high.

Boss songs can get pretty tricky. Be careful, and focus on keeping your streak alive, rather than trying to score high.

Now – for everything Harmonix got right, there are a couple of missteps here. I like the leaderboards – it’s certainly nice seeing my friends’ scores and seeing where I stack up against them – but I really wish I could directly compete with them. There is local multiplayer – and trust me, it’s a lot of fun and can get really hectic. – but I wish they had managed to get the backing needed to add online play.

The other misstep is the lack of the most unique feature of Frequency and Amplitude – the Remix mode. In the original games, you could take any song in the game, and make your own remix of it. Very few games actually did anything like this and it was a lot of fun to mess around with. You could have, feasibly, an endless amount of songs because of it. It not being in the game is pretty disappointing. There are no two ways about it. It stings.

I’m really hoping the game succeeds well enough for the team at Harmonix to actually add these things later.


Replay Value

Like any rhythm game, replay value here comes in the form of practicing and striving to better your score. Reaching for those gold bars. Extra songs unlock as you play other songs, and there are 3 bonus campaign songs [Which are part of the total 15] that only unlock if you’ve gotten enough bars on each region in the campaign [Each region has 4 main songs, and you need to earn at least 10 bars total for a given region to unlock its 5th, hidden song. You can earn 3 bars per song, and gold bars don’t count as extra.].

As you play through songs - either in campaign or quickplay - you'll unlock even more songs to play.

As you play through songs – either in campaign or quickplay – you’ll unlock even more songs to play.

If you have friends who are interested in the style of music this game presents, you can also have a lot of fun with the couch multiplayer. It features co-op, competitive and co-op competitive. You and 3 other friends can all play on 1 team, striving to get as high a score as possible in a song, you can split into teams, either 2 v 2 or 3 v 1, or you can all play against each other. There are also unique boosts in the multiplayer – Disrupt and Eject. Disrupt messes up an opposing player’s track, causing it to jump around and wiggle, making it hard to focus on the notes. Eject does just what it says – sends an opposing player flying off of the track they’re on allowing you to steal it from them.

Boosts like Cleanse make an appearance too, and work the same as they do in the single player – only you can now use it to steal a track from another player.

The competitive multiplayer is really all about being as much of a dick as possible to your opponents to get all of the points for yourself. And it’s a ton of fun.

Trophy-wise, the list isn’t too hard. that said, you will need to step up your game and practice if you hope to earn the Platinum. You need to be able to get through the entire 15 song campaign, without failing, quitting or retrying, on Expert. Earn 3 Gold Bars on 3 separate songs, and even clear every song on Super difficulty. There are also some local multiplayer trophies, so hopefully you have a friend or two to help out with that.

Expect to spend some time practicing these songs if you want to earn that platinum trophy.

Expect to spend some time practicing these songs if you want to earn that platinum trophy.


Final Verdict

Honestly. Why are you still reading? Why have you not gone to the PSN store and just bought the game already? It’s truthfully one of the better games I’ve played on the PS4 so far- it feels good. The controls are tight, the soundtrack is great, and the overall gameplay is as good as it ever was. Actually – it feels even better than the previous games.

As an Amplitude fan from the game’s start, this is exactly, no, more than I actually expected out of the game.

Yes, the lack of online play and Remix is definitely a bummer, and I do wish they were here. However, I can’t really say that their omission has really hampered my overall enjoyment of the game.

It’s Amplitude. And it’s what I’ve been waiting 13 years to finally see.

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PROS CONS
  • Excellent soundtrack that gives the game an identity.
  • Beautiful visuals.
  • Gameplay is as tight and responsive as ever. Maybe even moreso.
  • Online & Remix modes are currently not available.
  • FINAL VERDICT
    Click here or on the verdict image to the left for full disclosure of what these ratings mean!

    About James Headrick

    James is an aspiring game reviewer that plays primarily on the Playstation 3 & 4. He also works freelance as a graphic designer, doing print and branding based design.
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