From the growling roar of Slipknot to the pounding beats of Symbion Project, the original Amplitude from 2003 was both a cult classic and a game dear to my own heart. More than ten years on, original developers Harmonix — best known for Guitar Hero and later, Rock Band — have revisited their roots with a reboot-slash-sequel. Does it live up to the original, or slowly drown in a mire of nostalgia?
Amplitude plays fairly straightforward, especially for anyone familiar with other track based rhythm games like Rock Band. You pilot a craft that travels down lanes of an initially silent song, with each lane representing a distinct part of the song such as the bass line or vocals. Lanes are populated with small orbs for each note, beat or syllable of the current lane, and when an orb passes in front of the player you simply press the corresponding button.
Clearing a sequence of one lane will explode the lane, activating its audio in the background for a short time while you switch to a different instrument. You’ll slowly build up the entire song, although lanes will reset after a short time meaning you need to continually cycle back to them to hit more notes and refresh each instrument.
Amplitude‘s visuals are saturated and pervasive, dark lanes and background punctuated by bright neon colors. Lanes, each representing one distinct part of the song such as bass or vocals, are color coded; a pink track ahead immediately signifies that it’s a drum track, helping you to prepare to focus on the beats and percussion of the song for that segment.
Having so many vivid elements on screen has a price; readability for lanes drops quite significantly at higher difficulty settings, thanks to a tough combination of increased lane travel speed, note density, and loud colors. Combined with insufficient contrast between notes and their lanes, and the result can sometimes be frustration, ultimately failing sections and ending a long streak due to a lack of on-screen clarity rather than player error.
A strong soundtrack is 80% of any rhythm based game, and in usual fashion Harmonix manage to compile an excellent array of songs. In contrast to the original Amplitude soundtrack which featured a wide selection of genres and artists, songs are exclusively electronic this time around, with the core campaign focusing on a concept album which loosely follows the thought patterns and processes of a comatose patient.
The main songs in the game offer solid variety — players will initially learn to play on slow trip-hop and vocal trance anthems, with tempos and energy levels increasing as they progress on to furious drum and bass. Some songs surprise with how they develop; “Astrosight” catches the player off-guard with its dark tones, and end-boss style song “Dalatecht” confusingly switches from orchestral drum and bass/jungle to an early 1990s happy hardcore song midway through. Overall, the main tracklist feels very strong, and it’s likely you’ll find a song or two that truly entrances you.
The bonus songs, on the other hand, feel weak. The variety is much higher here, with everything from feel-good rock to smooth jazz from Kickstarter backers and staples of recent music/rhythm games such as tracks from synthpop band Freezepop and indie musical roguelike Crypt of the Necrodancer; however, many songs feel out of place or simply sloppy. Given how bonus songs in Harmonix titles often reveal diamonds in the rough, Amplitude having so many generic pop/dance songs and embarrassing tracks — such as Insomniac Games singing about their history of game development or the achingly dull minimal track from Minecraft composer C418 — sometimes feels like a disappointment after grinding to unlock them.
The default control scheme of using three of the shoulder and trigger buttons for the three note columns is surprisingly easy to get accustomed to; simple controls alongside a basic tutorial swiftly ease new players into the game. In game, aligning upcoming button presses with the background audio is simple thanks to the game amplifying the audio for whichever track you’re currently playing.
Gameplay is very fluid and the controls soon feel very natural, letting you focus on really getting into the game — and this is where Amplitude truly shines. The game is fantastic at getting you into a groove, and when you find a song that resonates with you everything else around you melts away as you fall into a state of absolute focus. Very few (if any) other games help you get “into the zone” anywhere near as well as Amplitude.
As difficulties rise, you’ll want to make use of power-ups strewn throughout songs in predetermined spots. Fully clearing a section with a power-up on it grants you that power ready to activate at any time, although picking up another power will overwrite it. These powers range from extremely useful on tricky segments — sedate slows the game down temporarily, while cleanse immediately clears the track you’re on — to simpler things such as a temporary score multiplier.
However, although power-ups are generally useful, sometimes they’re a hindrance. The “flow” power-up detaches you from the lanes for a short time, autoplaying the whole song and letting you skip over a tricky section. While this sounds good, additional sound effects play which audibly clash against the song, as well as every lane resetting upon its expiration meaning the song resets to silent again. If you enjoy the songs you’re playing — and generally, you wouldn’t be playing songs you hate — then this power-up just seems to ruin it. I’ve purposefully missed sections to avoid replacing a useful cleanse with flow.
Amplitude also comes with local multiplayer modes: co-operative pits teams against each other to reach high scores, whereas competitive is an every man for himself mode to see who can achieve the best score. Additional power-ups are available in multiplayer, allowing players to sabotage each other and steal their lanes. While multiplayer is fun, a lack of online multiplayer means that most players will be left with just the single player experience.
Overall, Amplitude is a fun and thrilling title that is excellent for escaping from daily life, demanding absolute concentration at higher difficulties. If you’re a fan of rhythm or music games, especially titles like Guitar Hero or Beatmania, then Amplitude is a must-have; if not then, you’re best off grabbing the free demo from the PlayStation store to judge for yourself.