The sequel to the sleeper quasi-hit PS2 music game Frequency, Amplitude attempts to build on some of the old, leave behind a few things, and try a few new things entirely. Is it worth buying?
What! Is! The! Fre! Quen! Cy!
For those who have never played Frequency, the game worked something a little like Tempest. You travelled down a tube, trying to catch notes with your “note catcher” in an attempt to create music. Catching two bars in a row would “lock” a track, and the point was to chain together as much track catching as possible to build combos and score a crapload of points.
While the gameplay for Frequency was fairly dull for those of us who have nearly any “note smashing” music game (Beatmania with the turntable has 6 notes to hit; Beatmania IIDX has 8 with the turntable; Frequency had 3), there was a large quantity of name brand electronica acts. You pretty much hit everything on the electronic spectrum, from common and played out (Oakenfold, BT) to a little more underground (LoFi All Stars, Orbital, Dub Pistols) to fairly unfamiliar to society (Meat Beat Manifesto, Roni Size). And even with tons of electronic acts as well as a bunch of in-house musicians with the developers (Harmonix), you had a few rock acts – Powerman 5000, Fear Factory, and the ubiquitous No Doubt.
So, in summary, Frequency was quite playable in single player mode, despite not being a strenuous exercise in the music game department.
Behold The Sequel
Despite not selling terribly well (due to lack of marketing), Sony greenlighted a sequel, entitled Amplitude. Let’s break it down piece by piece.
Probably the most drastic (and mostly welcome) change to the game, Amplitude overhauls the “wireframe” look and replaces it with a fairly lush, vivid world in which you play. The framerate is smooth, the graphics are nice but not distracting; this is everything a music game should be.
However, there’s the matter of the FreQs. See, the “FreQ” is your “online alter-ego”. In Frequency, it didn’t do anything, outside appear in some level graphics; it was a static 2D image you assembled with a bucket of parts, much like a rubber stamp set. This was fine. In Amplitude, however, the Freqs have jumped into 3D. This makes it much *less* creative, and more akin to Tony Hawk’s Create A Skater. Yeah, you have lots of parts, but in the end, the skeleton models are all the same, and all Freqs have the exact same animations.
Animations? Yes, now your Freq can be seen during the level playing whatever instrument you’re on the track for. Unfortunately, they headbang like its going out of style – oh wait, it is. So you perpetually have this thrashing dancing 3D avatar, and it’s neat for about 2 minutes – after which point you never want to see it again.
As I mentioned above, Frequency was redeemed in my eyes for having a nice musical selection. Songs I had heard. Songs I own and listen to frequently.
Amplitude throws all that in the garbage. And that wasn’t an intentional pun – but Garbage is on here, sounding nothing like what you know Garbage to be like. There’s Weezer, Blink 182, P.O.D. remixed by Crystal Method, Pink, Quarashi, Run DMC remixed by the X-cutioners, Papa Roach…all very very name acts.
Unfortunately, as we’ve learned over the years (Sandstorm on DDRMAX USA), name acts do not necessarily equal good music game experiences. Because they’re much more “pop” songs, they don’t have the same progression as a good techno/trance song, so you’re there’s endless lyrics, there’s significantly less variety in the patterns, and it’s just generally less thrilling.
Even artist you’d THINK could pull something interesting out fail. David Bowie half-asses a track called “Everybody Says Hi”. A bunch of DJs get together and scratch the everloving shit out of Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”. WICKA WICKA WICKA WOO.
And even worse, the weaknesses in the music in Frequency are back in force on Amplitude. BT threw away a track on the last game (Smartbomb), and does so again this time around with a track called Kemosabe – just some dull techno under some guy doing the techno rap thing. There was a band on the last game called Freezepop, who did a cute little synthpop track which, sadly, got them to Jenny Rom-esqe status in the music game community. They’re back again, and it just feels like the track could’ve been filled with something so much better. And all the in-house Harmonix songs are dreck this time.
(Side note: By Jenny Rom-esqe, I mean this: there’s an artist on the Dancemania series called Jenny Rom. She’s done a whopping three songs that have appeared on DDR. There are portions of the music game community that treat her like she’s better than the Beatles. Same thing happens with Freezepop.)
I generally judge the musical selection on games by how many songs get stuck in my head / how much I want to listen to songs outside the game. As embarassing as this is to admit, I had Butterfly stuck in my head for 7 hours the first time I heard it. I sought out the tracks from the new licenses on MAXUSA (Golden Gate, Venus, Steve Rhyner) because the tracks were GOOD, even if the steps were not. With Amplitude, I have no desire to go listen to any of these tracks. There are MP3s available from Harmonix for some of the songs. I won’t even download them, I’m that disinterested.
The game plays largely the same as Frequency. Unfortunately, the very minor changes to the gameplay really, REALLY destroy the single player mode as I’ve played it thus far.
One of the reasons the gameplay – which again, is based on chaining together combos – worked reasonably well in Frequency is because the tracks were in a loop. You could spin around from the last track back to the first fairly easily, even if there were two freestyle tracks in between. Here, the game is a level playing field. You CAN’T go from the right-most track to the left-most without passing over every other track in between. This is really annoying when you’re trying to combo and the leftmost track is the only other track with notes in it because, guess what? You can’t make it over to it without missing a note 99% of the time.
Another problem is that when you capture a track, it’s for a set length. It’s not a variable length phrase like it was in Frequency; thus, you can chain together a seemingly endless combo by just plodding across all 6 tracks, and then shifting back over to the first one because you’ll have one bar free before you get more notes. This makes it really easy to run various songs.
And then there are the empty spaces. At the very least on the levels I’ve played (Mellow & Normal, I haven’t broken into the upper difficulties), you don’t get ANY notes for two bars after a checkpoint. If you clear all the tracks, you are left doing nothing until more show up. In Frequency, freestyle tracks appeared and you could doodle around for more points. Here, you stick your thumb up your ass and maybe you’ll keep your multiplyer going. There just shouldn’t be long downtimes in music games. Hell, there shouldn’t be long downtimes in ANY “twitch” game.
Freestyling, by the way, is now done via a powerup. There’s also a new powerup for slo-mo, which is cool but seems more cosmetic than anything else.
(There’s a “remix” mode where you can edit songs and make your own levels, but this is woefully underused and fairly complicated; in any case, I haven’t played with it yet on Amplitude.)
So, I’m annoyed with the graphics, I don’t like the music, and I’m not keen on the gameplay changes. What could possibly redeem this game?
Salvation In The Form Of Multiplayer Networking
In Frequency, Multiplayer was by far the weak point. You couldn’t capture tracks, just play them; so unless you had four people going, you didn’t even come close to hearing the whole song. This defeats the purpose of “playing” music.
Amplitude, thank god, fixes this. You capture tracks just like everywhere else. This makes multiplayer viable. But who has a multitap and three friends always ready to play?
Also in the “thank god” department, Amplitude makes beautiful use of the network adaptor. Amplitude is a blast to play online. The games are competitive, cutthroat, and often close. You won’t even think you’re playing a network game unless you occasionally get an “invisible bumper” from you jumping on a track just a hair after another player (since it shows you there first locally, and then updates the game state). The game finding is well done, the chatting can be done via a USB keyboard (my iMac keyboard works great) or by virtual keyboard, and there’s a repository for uploading your personal remixes, should you go that way.
Amplitude, in a strictly single player sense, sucks. I called Frequency a “Poor Man’s Beatmania” on multiple occasions, but that implied I wanted to at least play it. Amplitude’s single player doesn’t deserve a comparison to Beatmania because it’s not on the same level. What I did like was destroyed; what I didn’t like was increased. This is not a shock.
But even with all that said, I can’t give this game a negative review simply because online play is THAT good. It’s quick, it’s addictive, and it’s really, really fun.
So, if you don’t have a network adaptor, skip it.
If you do, snag it.