Dancing like you've never danced before? Or just a maniac on the floor? Amplitude ups the ante, but is it any better than the first? Kikizo investigates.
By Kikizo Staff
Amplitude (am-pli-tood) n. 1. greatness of extent; breadth or scope. 2. Physics. the maximum displacement from the zero or mean position of a wave or oscillation.
Amplitude is neither of those things. What it is, is the sequel to Harmonix's sublimely addictive debut console title, Frequency. It is the first fully online-enabled music title for the PS2. It is a title whose playlist spans the spectrum of musical taste. But most importantly, it is fun. Amplitude, as is to be expected of a sequel, refines much of what is to be found in its predecessor; the presentation is vastly improved, as are the visuals; the soundtrack, having been broadened in scope, now encompasses an eclectic selection of alternative, pop, dance and hip-hop artists; and the gameplay... well, that remains much the same as before. That is to say, excellent.
Like Frequency before it, Amplitude revolves around the concept of 'activating' songs. To do this, players attempt to hit a series of nodes deviously arranged on the left, right or center portion of each track, thereby activating the corresponding aspect of the song -- such as bass, vocals and drums -- for a short period of time. By activating consecutive tracks without faltering, combos can be achieved that reward the player with score multipliers based on the number of consecutive tracks achieved. While Frequency had players navigating an octagonal tunnel of sorts, Amplitude allows players to traverse the translucent highways of a virtual cityscape. Improved aesthetics aside, these futuristic byways do much to alleviate the sense of claustrophobia and even confusion present in the first title. Another consequence of this new approach is the undulating structure of the highway; its twists and turns, dips and rises can impair your range of vision, making seeing upcoming nodes just that little more difficult, if only slightly.
Though arguably somewhat of a stretch, Amplitude's gameplay can be suitably described as an amalgam of shooter and puzzler, requiring players to be both nimble of mind and fleet of well... er, fingers. As in the former, practice and an intimate knowledge of what lies ahead are vital to success; and like the best puzzlers, a flair for combo-creation, and the ability to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself, are the key to attaining high scores. In fact, the latter difficulties require so much focus and concentration that the music becomes almost incidental to the experience. And thus, when distilled to its base elements, Amplitude offers nothing but good old-fashioned twitch-based gameplay. The kind grandma used to make.
That's not to say that the music is not an intrinsic part of the title, but rather, it's a testament to the finely tuned gameplay that despite the musical preferences of the player, songs that would never be tolerated in any other medium, are endured repeatedly in the elusive search for perfection. Although little of the core gameplay has changed, those refinements that have been made add considerably to the experience, so much so that it becomes difficult to revert back to playing the original. A considerable feat on the part of Amplitude's developers to be sure. Veterans of the series will be somewhat miffed at having to endure the long-winded tutorial before being let loose, but this is a minor qualm and one quickly forgotten once play begins proper.
Like much of the title, the FreQs -- those flat, 2D portraits of days gone by -- have evolved substantially, and now subsume the role of your online envoy, so to speak. These highly customizable beings represent you in online matches and groove to the beat during solo play. The ability to unlock new body parts, accessories and insignias to further customize your avatar makes for a strangely compelling experience as players vest themselves in the creation of a creature that is uniquely theirs.
The multiplayer and online play, while periphery to the experience, add a considerable amount of depth to the title, allowing players to compete against friends and strangers on a whim. The multiplayer game differs somewhat in that players are no longer able to move freely about the tracks. Instead, each player is assigned a single track, with the objective being to score as many points as possible on your given track. Multiplayer-specific power-ups add yet another wrinkle to the experience, allowing players to disrupt one another's play.
As touched upon briefly, the presentation is vastly improved over its predecessor; an aspect immediately noticeable upon startup. The virtual world in which Amplitude takes place lends itself to a greater sense of cohesion throughout the product; gameplay and menu interaction actually take place across various sections of the city. The improved visual acuity, while certainly welcome, borders at time on sensory overload. The constant background motion, the panoply of flashing neon, the pulsing and vibrating and rotating... the sheer amount of on-screen activity, can prove somewhat distracting to all but the most focused of minds. This is seldom a problem, but one that rears its head at the most inopportune times, resulting in a momentary distraction that can ruin a perfectly good streak. On the whole though, the surreal environments are more of a boon than a hindrance.
The music, as is to be expected, is fantastic, perhaps moreso for the sheer diversity offered than the inclusion of any one particular band or star. Clearly having learnt from their previous endeavor, Sony and Harmonix have broadened the scope of the soundtrack considerably, offering well-known tracks from the likes of P.O.D, Blink 182, Weezer and Pink in addition to a slightly more obscure playlist. A total of 25 songs in all. Oddly enough, the music is perhaps the one aspect of the title that requires little description. It's a conglomeration of beats that will appeal to a large number of people, yet unavoidably will disappoint just as many.
Arguably, the best music-rhythm title available for the system. It is to the PS2, what Parappa the Rapper was to the original PlayStation; an ostensibly niche title, yet one whose deceptively deep gameplay manages to appeal to a gamut of players, both casual and hardcore alike.