Frequency was one of those games that really snuck up on unsuspecting gamers. With all of the music gaming focus squarely set on Konami's Dance Dance Revolution line of games, the stage was set for Harmonix to surprise some people—and they did just that. Despite Frequency's extremely demanding difficulty curve on harder settings, it was easy to get hooked and keep trying, just to unlock all of the songs and see what else was in the game's eclectic collection of rock, techno, hip-hop, drum & bass, and other music genres that were represented in the game's soundtrack. A sequel seemed inevitable, and fans have impatiently waited for one for almost eighteen months. Amplitude is finally here, and it's time to see if the wait was worth it.
The object of Amplitude, as it was in Frequency, is to successfully complete various music tracks by tapping controller buttons in time with the notes that are shown on the screen. There are three "targets", and as notes pass through any of the targets, players must tap the corresponding button on their controller. As players do this in succession and complete a music track (such as a bass line or guitar riff), they must cycle to another track and do the same thing. As each track is completed, the actual song begins to come together, as if players were actually playing it themselves. It's really a cool effect, but make no mistake about it—as you move through each successively harder difficulty level, the notes become more numerous and the rhythms become harder to match. Amplitude does provide two training levels to learn the game's ins and outs, and playing through the easiest difficulty settings (Mellow and Normal) is the best way to get acclimated. Once you try the Brutal and Insane difficulties, though, look out—this game takes no prisoners.
There are some key differences between Amplitude and Frequency. The first big difference lies in the game's playfield. Frequency's playfield consisted of music tracks within a Tempest-like cylinder. If there were eight music tracks, it was easy to cycle back to the first track (usually the drum beat) from the eighth track because it was a cylinder and you would cycle from the eighth track right to the first track if you continued moving clockwise. Amplitude moves away from this to a single horizontal line of music tracks, moving from side to side. Frequency veterans may not like this as much, but it poses less of a problem as you play and is, in fact, easier for newer players to get the hang of. Another big change between Frequency and Amplitude is that the open ability to freestyle—that is to add scratch effects or axe effects to a completed music section—has been changed to a power-up icon which can be picked up during gameplay. While it's possible to score a lot more points using the Freestyle option in this game, it's a loss for fans of the first game.
Speaking of power-ups, these are obtained by completing certain music tracks during gameplay. Players will spot potential power-ups quickly, as the notes will be shaped differently than the usual diamond-shaped ones that dominate gameplay. Power-ups in the single-player game are vital to getting through some tough tracks. The Autocatcher power-up automatically completes a track when used. The Slo-Mo power-up does just what you think it does—it slows the game down, so that completing complex tracks with tons of notes and button presses is a lot easier. The Multiplier power-up doubles your score for each track for a limited time, and is vital in the harder difficulties for being able to unlock the bonus songs on the later stages. The multiplayer power-ups are different and are used to gain an advantage over opposing players.
As with Frequency, Amplitude boasts some tracks from some very recognizable music acts. P.O.D., Garbage, Weezer, Run-DMC, David Bowie, Blink 182, Papa Roach, Slipknot, Pink, and Herbie Hancock all contributed tracks to this game. Frequency favorite Freezepop also returns with a new track in Amplitude, and there are some lesser-known groups and acts as well that represent more music genres. Personally, although Sony and Harmonix did a better job of diversification this time around as far as music selection, I personally wasn't as blown away with some of the music choices as I was in Frequency. It's really a matter of personal preference, but there's no denying that Amplitude certainly has a harder edge this time around and focuses a bit less on the techno or big beat end of things, which I'm a bit disappointed about.
Amplitude certainly looks nice. The new playfields are much more interactive with the music and with players' input. Some stages will show short clips of the currently playing artists and will occasionally flash lyrics on the screen. Others have electrical or lighting effects that are pretty cool. The visuals are certainly in a higher resolution than they were in Frequency—the graphics easily look a lot sharper. The tracks also can take players up and down hills and valleys at times, making for a neat visual ride. Of course, the visuals aren't really the star of the show in Amplitude, but it's nice to see that Harmonix decided to make improvements rather than just let things ride.
As with Frequency, Amplitude also allows players to create their own mixes of their favorite songs in the game. Players can change drum beats, add effects, and can produce their own versions of each song and save the mix to a memory card. While perfecting a new mix can take a little work and a fair amount of time, the end result can be satisfying to some players. Players can also import their mixes into gameplay and try to get other players to play through the new mixes. This was an underrated feature of Frequency, and it's good to see that Harmonix saw fit to bring it back in Amplitude. Amplitude boasts online capability, too. For PS2 owners that have a network adapter, being able to play online against other Amplitude players makes for nearly unlimited replay value.
The bottom line on Amplitude is that it's a solid sequel to an excellent game. I think that the music selections could have been better, and I think that, with the DVD-ROM medium, there could have been more than a mere 25 songs overall. Some will also argue that the move from a cylindrical playfield to a horizontal playfield makes stringing successful completions of music tracks harder when you have to move from the extreme right back to the extreme left-hand side of the playfield. Nevertheless, Amplitude will hook many Frequency veterans with its new challenges and online play, and players who are still new to the music game scene will likely play Amplitude to the hilt. Will we see a third game in the series? Maybe, but not until after the next Harmonix project is completed—a partnership with Konami called Karaoke Revolution, which might make American Idols out of all of us later this year.
5/24/2003 Peter Skerritt