Amplitude

Amplitude

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 4/3/2003 for PS2  

For us ‘Stateside gamers, finding a decent music-making simulation is a daunting task. We’re not fortunate enough to have games like Beatmania, Keyboardmania, Drum Mania or Guitar Freaks to quench our tastes. Thankfully the good folks at Sony Computer Entertainment have been kind enough to satiate our palettes by bringing their own flavor of Bemani-style game, Frequency. A year later we receive its sequel, Amplitude but as has been proven in the past, when it comes to weird off-kilter games it's hard to keep pace with the Japanese.

In case you’re not familiar with the premise, imagine that you’re traveling along a highway. Every time you zap a disc-like object it plays a portion of a song. Stringing along those discs will unlock a portion of the track so that you can move on to another. Each of the tracks represents one facet of the song such as the guitar, the drums or the vocals. Thus you have the premise of Amplitude and while it effectively improves upon every facet of its predecessor whether or not that equates to a better game is truly in the mind of the gamer.

For fans of the original this is just what you've been waiting for. As Shaq would say, it's "pure Carmelation." Imagine what it would be like if the guys at Harmonix injected a shot of adrenalin into every facet of Frequency and you have a good idea of what to expect from this game. The same twitch-based action that kept you up all those long nights and the bright and shiny lights that amused your cat and gave your kids seizures are back with a vengeance. Suffice to say, if you liked FreQuency you'll fall in love with Amplitude.

Along with the name change (the previous game was known as FreQuency) there are a whole host of changes. At first glance you’ll notice the complete visual overhaul that takes you from the confines of the tube and out into the open. The game is also populated by an entirely new soundtrack which features 25 tracks from artists of varying genres. The online aspects, the game’s most appealing addition, really extends the life of the game by allowing nearly unlimited replay value. The neat remix mode returns from last year and the single-console multi-player has been enhanced as well.

If you’re the type of person who likes to buy those big bulk variety packs from Costco then you’ll really love Amplitude. However, if you’re one of the more picky people who eats the Cherry and Grape flavors from the Popsicle bulk packs while leaving the Lime flavor to gather frost, you may be turned off by the track selection.

While it tries to cater to everyone in the audience, it spreads itself too thin and effectively alienates the majority of the audience. The soundtrack is composed of a mish-mash selection of Rock, Pop, Trance, Drum N Bass and nearly every other genre you can think of. As you may have guessed, some songs translate into the whole scheme of things much better than others. While I had a great time with songs that I thought I would hate, such as David Bowie’s track, I found myself despising some of the game's tracks. One moment you’re playing an upbeat song like Garbage’s “Cherry Lips” and the next, Slipknot’s “Insert random angst-riddled title here” complete with muffled screams and grunts.
Games like Guitar Freaks, Beatmania and even Samba De Amigo succeeded because their direction was clear. Beatmania cast you in the role of a DJ and gave you music that you would expect to hear in a nightclub. Guitar Freaks gave you music that you expect to hear at a rock concert while Samba gave you music that would be in place at Carnival. Contrast this to Amplitude, which throws a bunch of random tracks at you and expects you to adapt. Am I a DJ? Am I a rock star? Am I in a boyband? Chances are, you’ll change roles and tasks so often that you’ll lose track entirely.

While the game features Dolby Pro Logic II support I noticed some discrepancies in the quality of the audio. It seemed that some tracks were recorded at different volumes while others were recorded at different qualities. Sometimes one track would be entirely too loud while the next was mysteriously quiet. Some aspects of the songs, such as the vocals or the drums, would fade in and out for no reason while some songs just seemed to be poor in quality. Thankfully this doesn’t affect the majority of the tracks, but if you know a song like Blink 182’s “The Rock Show” from the inside-out you may sorely disappointed, especially when you hear Mark’s vocals fading in and out for no apparent reason.

This isn’t to say that all of the tracks are bad or of poor quality, because to be honest, the bulk of them are good. Most of them will have you thumping along in your seat while they're playing and in some cases, you might find yourself humming the tunes long after you're finished playing. For every bad track there are 4 good ones and only about 3 tracks, the Slipknot, Papa Roach and Pink, were unbearable for me. I did feel there was a bit of repetition in many of the trance-like tracks though and I had to suffer to get through them.

Gameplay remains virtually unchanged from FreQuency. You still travel down that virtual highway and there are still three notes on the track. The way the tracks are unlocked has been changed a bit and it works well in some situations and poorly in others. FreQuency was split up into various sections and unlocking a track in that game would unlock it until the next section came up. Amplitude differs in that it unlocks the track for a few bars and comes back, regardless of the next section is coming up or not. This is nice because it keeps you busy with button presses instead of the dead action that populated some of FreQuency as you waited to get into the next section. However, this is bad when it comes to stringing together combos.

You’ll have to be much faster this time around just to keep the combos going and chances are, if you mess up from the start your combo string will be ruined. You have to be very deliberate and careful in your planning. From the start you’ll probably want to start from the very left and move over to the right, all the time keeping the combo alive. Well if you happen to mess up along the way your whole rhythm is messed up and your chances of earning big points are significantly hindered.

It’s not to say that the game’s not fun because it’s still a blast to play. Anyone who enjoyed the previous entry in this series will find themselves loving every minute of Amplitude. It’s because of the way the tracks are laid out. They’re challenging and at the same time, are very rewarding to the gamer. Completing a huge string of 10+ notes on a 120 BPM song is a real rush that makes the gamer feel like he accomplished something. In that respect the game is still as addicting and engaging as ever.
Alright, so the game comes with a complete graphical overhaul but it takes its toll on the gameplay. For one the path is now flat instead of cylindrical. While it makes it easier to see the path ahead, it makes it harder to move quickly from one side of the track to the other. The landscape has also changed immensely, forcing you to travel along a road filled with bumps and turns. Sometimes the track will curve uphill, concealing the next set of notes and forcing you to attack them blindly. At times the bright and vibrant backgrounds are too distracting and conceal some notes from your plane of view.

You’ll now see your Freq (virtual persona) playing the instrument that you’re currently on. While its model and animations are fairly basic it’s still nice to see that the guys at Harmonix went the extra mile to engulf the gamer in the game. Editing and tailoring the Freq to your liking is also a real treat as you’ll have plenty of items to outfit them with. This plays a huge role in the online element of the game as various items show just how skilled you are. Experienced gamers will immediately recognize items that can only be unlocked by beating the game on the harder difficulties settings and adorning yourself with them will earn you massive amounts of respect.

In terms of multiplayer there are far more options this time around. Single-console playing is just a blast, thanks to a horse-like game that has two players dueling it out on a track. The multi-player remix mode is really sweet as it allows for you and your buddies to get together and mix up a favorite track. Likewise, the online aspect is great as the people who play the game tend to be very professional and considerate of others. It’s very rare that I would run into an idiot kid whose purpose seemed to ruin everyone else’s experience.

There’s a neat ranking system in place that will allow players to duke it out for bragging rights. I found the system to be pretty good although it seemed to be far more rewarding for the lower ranking players than it was for the higher ranking ones. On the whole though, the online play was great and bordering on excellent. I ran into a few stability problems here and there, noticeably with lag between the times the notes arrived and when I hit them, but nothing too crippling.

Harmonix and Sony have done a great job of providing fans of FreQuency with more of what they have been craving. While there are a few problems with track selection and music quality, it appears that the series is definitely headed towards stardom. I just wish that the designers would go with on solid direction for the game and run with it. The random jumble of tracks and genres really hurts the experience quite a bit but with a little direction, this game could be a real force in the marketplace.
This solid entry into Sony's music-making series will be pleasing for those who were fans of the original. While I had a few problems with the track selection for the game, it's still a fun and engaging experience.

Rating: 8.6 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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