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Amplitude (PlayStation 4) artwork

Amplitude (PlayStation 4) review

"Let's get FreQy."

Rock Band probably keeps the lights on over at Harmonix. It's what the studio is most famous for, and the development team is good at making it. Before Rock Band and its predecessor, Guitar Hero, Harmonix released a pair of lesser-known PlayStation 2 rhythm games called FreQuency and Amplitude. Those games certainly had their fans, but while their influence can be felt in certain Rock Band spin-offs, a proper return to the series has been a long time coming.

Successfully Kickstarted back in 2014, this new entry maintains the core gameplay of its predecessors. Your player character ship flies along one of six physical tracks, shooting note markers to the beat of the music. Each track corresponds to one instrument, and hitting the notes plays the music from that instrument. After successfully hitting all of the notes in a single short phase, that track will fall away and the instrumental track will play on its own, freeing the player to move to another track and get to work on another instrument. Clearing phases and jumping from track to track without missing notes causes the song to play smoothly and your score multiplier to increase.

Amplitude (PlayStation 4) image

At this point, such gameplay system can be considered “classic.” It hasn't been drastically changed, but it has been further refined. Moving between tracks is quicker and smoother now, and it's easier to see distant tracks here in the age of widescreen displays. (The farthest tracks, on the opposite end of the playing field, can still be out of view, meaning sometimes you won't know what note you have to hit after you jump until you're right on top of it.) Power-ups can be used to give you a little boost, completing a phase automatically or temporarily slowing down the gameplay to make it more manageable.

Both competitive and cooperative multiplayer are included for up to four players. The camera pulls out, showing all tracks at once, which is less dynamic and flashy, but easier to read. Tracks re-spawn more quickly to match the number of players. In competitive mode, players can use special power ups to warp each other away in the middle of a phase or cause a player's track to become temporarily distorted and harder to read. Multiplayer is fun on its own, but the feeling of actually “playing” a song is lost. I only tested multiplayer with two players, but it got pretty hectic, especially in team mode where both ships were the same colour. I imagine four players going at it all at once may be too chaotic.

Amplitude (PlayStation 4) image

Amplitude's trippy, colourful backgrounds pulsate to the music. They're flashy and beautiful, somehow managing to never draw the eye away from the more straightforward action at the forefront. The backgrounds fit well with the game's 30-song mostly-electronica soundtrack. While the previous Amplitude featured songs from then-popular artists like Blink-182 and Papa Roach, this game's campaign consists of 15 original songs created specifically for the game. Some old fans may not be pleased with this, but I think it's an improvement. They're generally excellent songs that are a great match for Amplitude's style and gameplay.

The first 15 songs are unlocked by playing the campaign. There are three sections, composed of four songs each, with a bonus song available to unlock in each section if you perform well enough in those four songs. Once unlocked in campaign mode, songs are available in quick play. The bonus songs can be difficult to unlock if you're not very good at rhythm games, or if you're playing at a high difficulty level because you want to challenge yourself. Individual stages within the campaign can't be replayed without restarting the campaign entirely, so if you fail to unlock a bonus song your first time through, you have to play the whole thing again. It doesn't take very long, since it's only a maximum of 15 songs, but it seems like an unnecessary barrier for those who just want to gain access to everything so they can play in quick play mode.

Amplitude (PlayStation 4) image

The remaining 15 tracks, which are unlocked simply by playing any songs in any mode a set number of times, are from guest artists (such as Jim Guthrie and Harmonix besties Freezepop) and indie video games (including Crypt of the Necrodancer and Skullgirls). A handful were included as rewards for specific extra generous Kickstarter backers. These songs are more varied than the numbered campaign songs, but mostly fit right in the mix. There isn't really a bad song in the whole set.

Amplitude's return is welcome. The new game is plenty of fun, though it could use a bit more polish in a couple of areas. You don't need to love electronica to have fun here, but it is the most represented genre, so take a look at some gameplay videos if you're not sure the soundtrack is for you. Otherwise, Amplitude looks and sounds great, and serves as a worthy successor to a long-dormant series.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (January 18, 2016)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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