Games these days are becoming more complex, more non-linear, and more story-driven than ever before. The hardware now has the capability to drive all three of these aspects to deliver more refreshing experiences, yet there are games that go in the opposite direction and still accomplish the same thing. One of these titles is Sony's Amplitude, the sequel to the rhythm-based game FreQuency. Despite not having complex Bézier curves or voice acting starring Ray Liotta, Amplitude is one of the most addicting games this year.
The concept of Amplitude is simple: you have three buttons (L1, R1, R2 or Square, Triangle, Circle) that correspond to a certain beat on an instrument bar. As a series of nodes makes its way to your Beatblaster (a small machine at the bottom of the screen), it's your job to press the correct button to recreate a song. Once you have finished with one series of nodes, you have to switch to other instruments within the song and perform the same task until the song is over. Other than the normal nodes you must connect with, there are several other types of nodes in the game. The Freestyle node allows you to rack up points without having to worry about hitting the right nodes, the Autoblaster will take out an entire track of nodes and award you with points, and the Score Doubler will obviously give you more points for each node hit. There are also other nodes in multiplayer, such as the Slo-mo, Bumper (knocks a player off a track), and the Crippler (distorts the entire track, making it harder to hit notes). Although the power-ups in the game make it more interesting to play, the ultimate goal of the game is very basic and something that just about anyone can learn within minutes.
New to the series are customizable FreQs, avatars that represent the player on the screen when playing. Before you even start the game you are required to create a FreQ by changing the way they look and how they dress. You can create a normal-looking guy or gal or you can go absolutely crazy with the design by having a FreQ that looks like a robot with a girlish figure and a huge afro. You can customize pretty much everything about your FreQ, and with each stage finished in solo play you'll unlock even more items to mess around with.
More changes have been made to the tracks themselves. In the first game, the tracks were simple tunnels that gave you a good idea of the nodes that were coming next. In Amplitude, the tracks can now bank and curve and dip, making it much harder to see the track ahead of you and forcing you to choose alternate instrument tracks far quicker than before. This makes the playing experience almost Zen-like. While the beats and rhythms change with each song, the game really comes down to you and your reactions. It's the same feeling one would get when playing a game of Pong or Tetris.
Amplitude functions on such a base level that one would think that a kid came up with the concept, but like the aforementioned classics it's that simplistic thinking behind the game that makes it such an addicting title. There are no forces to distract you from your goal, and the game isn't wrapped up in a little story like Sega's Space Channel 5 - it really boils down to you and the game. Aside from the standard Solo mode, players can also enter Remix mode, where you can (surprise) effectively recreate all of the songs in the game by adding different notes, sound effects and instruments. You can also take these remixed songs and play them as actual levels in the game as well, which is a nice bonus.
The biggest attraction of this game is its multiplayer and online capabilities, which bring a whole new dimension to the series. Both dial-up and broadband users can find others online and duel to see who can rack up the most points in a song. One of the best features of playing online is the ability to find friends online simply by typing in their names and then joining their game. You can play with up to three others in both online and multiplayer mode, and the online part of the game functions without any noticeable lag.
The multiplayer modes are what make Amplitude stand out from other rhythm games. Not only can you compete against other players, but you can also play in various co-op modes. Competitive modes include being able to use remixed songs selected by Sony and Duel, where the player who has the most accuracy in a given song wins. The co-operative Remix mode is another innovative feature, allowing two players to remix a song together and then share them with other players.
Looking at screen shots of Amplitude, you probably think it doesn't look like much, and it doesn't. The graphics match the gameplay, and are pretty basic. That's not to say that they're bad though. The trippy ambient effects are nice, and the lighting tricks are pretty cool, but they certainly don't push the PS2 hardware. Even your FreQs are pretty blocky and small.
The song lineup in Amplitude features many mainstream bands like blink-182, but also some more retro acts, such as David Bowie, to give a lot of variety to the game. Obviously the majority of the songs will be from the more recent artists, but it's nice to hear songs that were mastered before the age of Nü Metal reared its ugly head. Other acts featured in Amplitude include Garbage, Dieselboy, Pink, Freezpop, Logan 7, Mekon, Quarashi, Weezer, Papa Roach, P.O.D. and the Crystal Method. The tracks are certainly a lot edgier and harder than in FreQuency, but as someone who likes harder-sounding tunes, that suits me just fine.
Amplitude is yet another example of Sony branching out and giving gamers a fresh gaming experience, which has been quite the trend for its various development houses. For a company with such an enormous lead over its competitors, it would have been easy to merely stand back and let its third-party companies do all the work, but that isn't the case. With games like Amplitude coming out of the house that Kutaragi built, that's definitely a good thing.
· · · Reno