Before the musical camaraderie of Rock Band and before the introduction of plastic instruments with Guitar Hero, Harmonix was making a very different kind of rhythm game. The developer has long been a master of this genre, with a history on PlayStation stretching back to 2001 with the release of FreQuency on PS2. Its 2003 follow-up Amplitude went on to become a cult classic thanks to its satisfying gameplay and catchy soundtrack. More than a decade later, and after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Amplitude is back – but has it still got its groove?
For anyone not familiar with Amplitude or FreQuency, you're tasked with matching the beats on several musical tracks at once – drums, bass, vocals, etc – with the aim of hitting as many right notes as possible. That's all there is to it, and this iteration of Amplitude captures the moreish nature of its predecessor's gameplay. It is easy to find yourself playing the game for a long time, even though the songs typically don't last more than a couple of minutes each. Players of all skill levels will be able to get something out of it, as while the barrier to entry is very low, the higher difficulties can be insanely tricky to play, which should please the Amplitude die-hards among you.
Something that may not be so pleasing is that the track list features far less well-known music, and many of the songs were created in-house at Harmonix. While none of the songs are bad, the soundtrack doesn't boast the famous names the PS2 iteration enjoyed, with David Bowie, Blink-182, and Pink helping to vary its roster of tunes. This means that, instead, we have a heck of a lot of electronica and not much else among the 30 songs that the game launches with. Again, the music isn't bad, but it does lack the fun and the variety of the previous games. There are one or two exceptions, though, in the form of some guest tracks from other games that make a change from the ubiquitous thumping techno.
You'll spend most of your time in Quickplay, where you can pick a song that you've unlocked, pick a difficulty, and start playing, either on your own or with up to three others in competitive multiplayer. While it can be pretty hard to read what's going on, Amplitude is a great game to play with friends, and it encourages sabotage and arm-punching by throwing in some power-ups that you can use to mess with each other. If you're playing solo, the power-ups serve to either make your life easier, such as Sedate, which slows the tempo for a short time, or help to increase your score faster, such as Multiply, which doubles your score multiplier.
Unfortunately, the release does suffer from a couple of small issues. The game itself doesn't have a great deal of content, and initially most of the songs are locked, requiring you to play X amount of times before more become available. This seems like an unnecessary obstacle, and when you see that the later songs can take up to 60 plays to unlock, you may question whether it's worth it. The game's "Campaign" is fairly pointless and will likely not get much of a look in, other than as a means to unlock more songs. Still, playing the game so that you can play more of it isn't a terrible thing when the gameplay is as tight and compelling as it is here.
This is a game clearly made for long-standing fans, and made by a passionate team that strived to recreate the gameplay experience of the original on modern hardware. In that sense, Amplitude is a total success. The way that the game draws you in with its psychedelic visuals, how your brain switches off and your fingers become one with your DualShock, the satisfying way that the tracks disintegrate when you clear them – it's all here. If you can forgive the game's problems, you're left with a very solid rhythm game, and an experience that's as fresh today as it was 13 years ago.