Amplitude is a revamping of Harmonix’s first rhythm-game series for the current generation.
Amplitude on PlayStation 4
I was a KickStarter backer for this title. A lot of people seem to think that this means I’d be inclined to give a positive score, I feel differently. Given that my contribution was more than the typical cost of a game, I approached playing this game with increased scrutiny. As a big fan of both Frequency and its sequel, the original Amplitude, I feel like my expectations were almost unreasonably high for this current-generation take on Harmonix Music System’s classic beat game.
If you’re not already familiar, Amplitude is a rhythm game that follows in the footsteps of Harmonix’s first major release, Frequency, and its 2003 sequel, also called Amplitude. Taking to KickStarter in May 2014, Harmonix raised $844,000 from fans to develop a new release in the critically-acclaimed, yet commercially unsuccessful, series.
The premise for Amplitude is one that most of us are now familiar with, partly due to the success of Harmonix’s much more successful brainchild, Guitar Hero. Players navigate a series of tracks using a “beat blaster”, and must keep rhythm with the game to build each piece of a song. Unlike the single-instrument Guitar Hero, or it’s multiplayer successor Rock Band, the player is responsible for a wide variety of track pieces, including drums, bass, synths, vocals, and more depending on the song being played.
Borrowing from its direct predecessor, Amplitude uses a “highway” layout to present the different lanes. The game’s new Seeker movement, though, improves on the previous design significantly. While the prior game could become nearly impossible to keep a steady streak when reaching across multiple lanes, this new feature moves the player immediately to the next lane that needs to be cleared, rather than moving one lane at a time. This is just one of several small touches that really help the new release stand above the previous games.
Amplitude’s most interesting new feature is the Campaign mode, which tells a story through pre-song voice overs. Supported by a thematically-appropriate 15 song ‘concept album’, the game takes players on a journey through the human brain, working to save a comatose patient with nanotechnology. It’s an intriguing addition to the gameplay, and the common threads tying the songs together bring a great unity to the experience.
Of course, 15 tracks is hardly enough for a full rhythm game experience. Amplitude features over 30 tracks in all, with the remaining songs available for Quick Play and Multiplayer modes. Most of the game’s music is locked from the onset, but playing through either the Campaign or Quick Play modes will unleash these pretty quickly. Completion of the game’s campaign on any difficulty also unlocks the ‘FreQ Mode’, a throwback to the series’ first entry, when songs were presented in a looping tunnel rather than the flat ‘highway’ of the later titles.
For fans of the earlier games, Amplitude is an absolute must-have. While remaining true to its roots, the updated features and game modes bring an all-around great experience. I will admit that the updated track list feels a bit limited, especially with the relatively short Campaign mode, but the fun that was there in the original titles is certainly alive and well. I don’t know if Harmonix has any plans to expand on the game with DLC, but given the success of this model in other notable rhythm games recently, it wouldn’t surprise me if the option opened up later.
While Amplitude’s relatively small offering of songs is a negative, it also allowed Harmonix to really dial in on getting each of the tracks right. Across the game’s four standard difficulty modes, each of the tracks feels perfectly represented by the button-guiding beats. The song list is also somewhat lacking in “star power”, with most of the songs being created by relatively-unknown artists — many of whom have a direct connection or history with Harmonix themselves. This does detract a bit from the prior experience, which brought everything from Powerman 5000 and Weezer to the table, but it does flow nicely within the game.
Suffice it to say, Amplitude may not be a perfect game that includes every single thing a fan of the previous games could want, but it certainly met my high overall expectations. It’s not often that I find myself “buying in” to a crowdsourced project, and rarer still that I would spend more than the typical cost of a game on one, but I’m definitely pleased with the result of doing so this time around. I can’t say for certain it will hold much appeal to those who aren’t interested in the genre, but for anyone that is, I consider this a nearly essential purchase when the game releases on January 5th for both PS4 and PS3.