Kickstarter is great, isn’t it? It gives a ‘power to the people’ vibe that allows gamers to help fund the creation of long sought after titles – look at Shenmue 3, Yooka-Laylee or even Mighty No. 9. These are games that fans have wanted to play that may not have seen light of day if it was not for the power of crowd funding.
The same thing applies to the rejuvenation of the cult hits of yesteryear. Harmonix, developers of the critically acclaimed Rock Band series, had a cult hit of their own back in 2003 – Amplitude, a sci-fi themed music/rhythm based title. It reviewed well and had a decent fan base, but it didn’t see enough commercial success that publishers would get behind a sequel more than ten years on. Fortunately, whilst publishers weren’t interested in backing a new Amplitude, gamers were – so much so that they smashed the Kickstarter goal of $775,000.
More than twelve years on since the release of the original, we’ve finally got our hands on the new Amplitude. Built around the code that the original was based on, it doesn’t try to re-invent itself too much but instead offers the same experience that gamers loved all those years ago. Is that same experience enough though, especially seeing how Harmonix themselves have evolved the music/rhythm genre so much so that you can actually imitate the role of a rock band in the comfort of your living room? Fortunately it’s a yes, though not without a few hitches along the way.
The core gameplay of Amplitude sees you manoeuvring a ship known as a ‘Beat Blaster’ across multiple lanes that each represents a musical instrument. Across these lanes are targets that need to be destroyed by pressing the corresponding button, either ‘L1’, ‘R1’ or ‘R2’. Destroying all the targets in a sequence keeps that instrument playing automatically for a short time as you switch to the next lane and try to complete the sequences for the next instrument. You’ll be quickly switching between the likes of ‘synth’, ‘drums’ and ‘vocals’ as you attempt to keep the song playing in the background, but don’t be surprised to have only hear half a song playing at times – it may sound like a fairly simple process, but it requires a lot of skill and patience to master Amplitude, especially given the fast pace each song hits.
Akin to titles like Rock Band, the priority focus is to rack up as high a score as possible. The more sequences you complete without missing, the higher your score multiplier. On the other hand, if you keep missing targets then your energy will eventually drain, resulting in failure and having to start the song over again.
There are power-ups to be unlocked that can help you along the way though. There’s a good variety including a power-up that will clear a whole sequence ahead of you whilst another will momentarily slow down time, allowing you to hit each target with ease. The game doesn’t necessarily tell you what each power-up does until you use it though, leaving you using power-ups and hoping for the best with their initial use – you’ll always be satisfied with their result though.
The power-ups certainly help you out though, especially on some of the game’s higher difficulty levels. As with most rhythm based games, you’ll have more fun on the more challenging higher difficulty levels. Whilst I started on the easiest difficulty, it only took a few songs for me to hit it up a difficulty level and then only a few more songs to hit it up again. That’s not to say that the easier difficulties aren’t enjoyable; they’re very competent at introducing you to the game. It’s just so much more satisfying to be hounded by lanes of targets that slowly envelop your screen – maybe I’m just a sadist, though. You’ll find that you eventually hit a euphoric state though that sees your brain switch off and your fingers seemingly destroy all targets without a single thought process – it’s these moments where Amplitude is at it’s very best, and they’re certainly more satisfying on the higher difficulty levels.
Of course, these higher difficulty levels are also home to some of the more frustrating gameplay elements, such as combos being broken when not being able to react quickly enough to a lane’s first target. Given the fast pace that the game follows, it can be a little unfair when you switch to a lane only to have your combo broken because you’re unable to actually see the first note in time to hit it. I’d like to say it’s down to my lacking Amplitude skills, but it was too common an occurrence to be a one-off.
It never stops the game being fun though and you’ll have a blast playing through the thirty plus songs included in the game. Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of variety in the music choice; most tracks seemed to fit under the electronica genre and some tracks felt a little forgettable, especially during the fifteen tracks that make up the game’s campaign mode. That’s not to say they’re bad by any means – there’s just nothing that really stands out. It’s disappointing, especially considering that the original Amplitude had tracks from the likes of Blink-182 and the late, great David Bowie.
Fortunately, some of the bonus tracks available are great. There are a few guest appearances from other game developers including Ratchet and Clank developers Insomniac Games and C418 of Minecraft fame. My personal favourite has to be ‘Crypteque’ from indie game Crypt Of The Necrodancer, though.
There’s not much to the games aforementioned campaign mode. There’s a slight narrative on offer, but you’ll become completely oblivious to it as you play. I found that I played through the campaign for the sake of progress and unlocking more tracks – especially since the best tracks featured in the game are restricted to the quick-play mode.
There’s no other game modes that stand out outside of the campaign. Most of your time will be spent trying to better previous scores and work your way up Amplitude’s leaderboards – either to better your friends or, if you’re good enough, to see if you can get into the top percentage of players. Whilst I’ve never been too obsessed with leaderboards in games before, I couldn’t help but to find myself constantly trying to improve my scores, something owed to the fun nature of the game and the fact I was slowly breaking into the top ten percent of all players. You’ll also unlock more songs the more you play, so it’s win-win really.
There’s a multiplayer aspect on offer that includes both free-for-all and team game modes, but that’s restricted to local-play only. Whilst there’s plenty of fun to be had, it’s a shame that you’re not able to get online and take on other players from around the world. The feature was actually on offer as a stretch goal during the Kickstarter campaign, but without that goal being reached we’re instead limited to local play.
I think Amplitude does a great job of doing what it set out to do – re-create the classic experience for modern platforms. It’s as enjoyable as ever and with the improved aesthetics (which look great by the way) and 60fps gameplay, Amplitude has never looked or played better. Admittedly, there’s a lack of variety with gameplay modes and the soundtrack isn’t as good as the original, but for the fairly low price point there’s something here for both Amplitude veterans and those new to the series. Some classics never get old and hopefully Amplitude’s rejuvenation will allow the series to live on into the near future.
– Some real stand out tracks and guest appearances from other developers
– Addictive gameplay that keeps you hooked
– Looks and plays better than ever before
– Soundtrack isn’t as strong as the original
– Lack of online gameplay
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4