Published on August 29th, 2012 | by rowsdower0
Amplitude: Stop FreQing Out On Me
Last week-ish I talked about Frequency, Harmonix’s 2001 techno-tronic rhythm game. Short version: it owns pretty hard and you should maybe find it and play it if that’s your bag. Today I’m going to be talking about Frequency’s 2003 sequel, Amplitude, and whether or not it retained the same level of quality as the original game. If you haven’t read the Frequency review, I’d recommend going back and starting there, as the discussion of this game might not make as much sense without that background.
First, the gameplay. Amplitude brings a few major gameplay innovations to the table. Both Frequency and Amplitude share the same basic premise: there are songs, each split into its component tracks filled with incoming notes. If you play the notes in time with the song, you get points. If you don’t, you lose health and ultimately fail the song. In short, it’s Guitar Hero without the guitar controller and about 80-90% of the rock.
The scoring and power-ups have been heavily reworked. The basic scoring system remains the same: you receive points for playing two measures of music without making any mistakes. The track will stay activated for a set period of time, after which it will de-activate and allow you to get points from it again. You get a streak multiplier for activating multiple tracks without making any mistakes. In Frequency, this multiplier would only go up to 4x; here, it goes up to 8x, allowing for higher total point scores on songs.
There are two other factors that affect your potential point totals. There are still power-up notes, which will give you a power-up when played correctly. The power-ups themselves have been altered: Autocomplete will still automatically complete a track, but the Multiplier has been replaced with a Score Doubler that doubles the base value of tracks. This stacks with your streak multiplier, allowing you to rack up massive points. Consider a mildly difficult 10 point track. In Frequency, the highest possible number of points you can get out of that would be:
10 points * 6x multiplier (4x full streak + a Multiplier powerup) = 60 points total
Whereas in Amplitude, you could get:
10 points * 2 (Score Doubler) * 8x (full streak) = 160 points
from that same phrase.
Additionally, since there aren’t sectional dividers within songs anymore, the freestyling function has been changed. Freestyling is now a power-up: once activated, you fly above the track and freestyle in the air, auto-completing all the tracks below for about 15 seconds. In Frequency, you got maybe <30 points per second of a freestyling track with a full multiplier. In Amplitude, you can get maybe four times that with the same full multiplier. Add to that the fact that, outside of the new ultra-hard Brutal difficulty, Amplitude isn’t that much harder than Frequency. The alterations to the point system, however, mean that absolute high scores for Amplitude can be three or four times as high as a song in Frequency.
The appearance of the game itself has also changed. In Frequency, the tracks are assembled in a kind of hexagonal/octagonal prism, with the player flying along the inside. In Amplitude, the tracks are flattened out and the arenas, i.e. the “backgrounds” that your tracks float in, curve less. In short, you can see more of what’s ahead from a longer distance. As mentioned above, there aren’t really any more hard section dividers, merely the occasional checkpoint that refills some health. The game’s look has also been altered. Aside from the boss levels, the levels look less Tron-y, but look way more like an early PS2. All the tracks are solid primary colors, and the arenas are kind of generic futuristic cities that all kind of flow together in my mind.
This new layout makes it easier to plan for the upcoming notes and power-ups, but it also makes track completion management more complex. When moving from a completed to uncompleted track in Frequency, you have to traverse at most three or four tracks. In Amplitude, you might across five or six different tracks, depending on what tracks you play and on what order you play them. The speed at which you sometimes have to transfer across tracks to not lose your multiplier feels much more apparent.
What this ultimately means is that completing difficult songs or getting high scores is half about playing the songs right and half about powerup management. Since the freestyler autoplays large sections of the track for 10-15 seconds at a time, you have more respite from tough tracks. This is a bit of a departure from Frequency, which had more of a 75-25 gameplay-powerup importance split. That being said, both games have most of the same architecture in common. It’s not that one game’s gameplay is clearly superior to the other: they’re just different. But the games differ in another way.
Amplitude has a noticeably different soundtrack than its predecessor. Frequency was very much an electronic music-based game, with a few scattered rap and rock tracks and without a lot of mainstream artists. Amplitude, by contrast, has a lot more tracks by artists and groups I recognized, but it feels like Harmonix was only able to license some of the artists’ B-sides. There’s Garbage!…from 2001’s Beautfiul Garbage, when the band changed their sound and it didn’t quite go so well. There’s David Bowie!…from 2002. There’s Herbie Hancock’s Rockit, for some reason! I’m not mad that the series went more mainstream, merely that they don’t seem to have gotten that much bang for their buck. The last stage is still made up of psychotic songs composed by Harmonix-staffed bands, so there’s still some constancy.
Amplitude retains the remix and multiplayer modes from its predecessor and adds on a few variations, like 2 on 2 multiplayer and collaborative remixing. The FreQs have been updated, but I personally think they look a bit doofy and prefer the older, more abstract FreQs.
Overall, Amplitude’s certainly not a bad game. In fact, it’s still pretty good, and whether or not you like Frequency or Amplitude’s gameplay comes down to personal preference. However, the changes in graphics and soundtrack are a bit detrimental. I might like playing Amplitude a bit more, but I’d recognize that Frequency has better songs and is a bit more of a cohesive and polished game.
Final Rating: 80/100.
If these reviews have piqued your interest, you can find copies on Amazon or elsewhere. Harmonix has, of course, gone on to do the early Guitar Hero and Rock Band games and finally enjoy some monetary success. Aside from Rock Band Unplugged, a PSP game from 2009 that I haven’t played, it looks like Harmonix has abandoned the multi-track Frequency style of gameplay entirely and we’ll never see anything quite like it again.
What a shame.