Amplitude (2015) Review : We Didn’t Start the Fire

Before Harmonix and Activision went their separate ways and Rock Band was a glimmer in Harmonix‘s eye, Amplitude challenged players to mix up their favorite songs by giving them (and up to 3 friends) control of musical laser spacecraft, propelled along a glowing musical track. Along the way, colored dots (representing notes) pop up to the left,right, or center of the track and the player must press the button corresponding to the notes in time with the music. After successfully hitting all the notes on a section of the track it will fall away, forcing the player to move the D-pad left or right to another track picking up the beat on a different instrument.

Players can chain together different combinations of notes in a song and (depending on their success rate) hear a sort of ‘remix’ of different parts of the song. If you’re really good at flipping those triggers, you might even hear the complete version. As the player progresses through a human brain blasted with mad crazy beats (which, seriously, is actually the story) songs and rhythms become faster and more complex, creating a frantic button-tapping (and visually engrossing) thrill ride.

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Fans of the original Amplitude will be astounded by the improved graphics,bright lights and funky sounds that 2015’s amplitude brings to the table. Each level features a custom visualizer, generated in perfect time with the game’s music and a lot more entrancing than the one before it. The colors of the different tracks (which represent the instruments composing the song) burst with color. But although the lights might be pretty, the music is the star of the show.

From bubbling bass to ethereal vocals and screaming synthesizers, the games features some great original tracks. A swathe of talented sound designers such as C418 (Minecraft), Darren Korb (Transistor), and Insomniac Games (Ratchet & Clank) keep every track feeling fresh. Though long-time fans may lament the lack of household names like David Bowie or Run-DMC, the track listing is still nothing to turn your nose up at. Those familiar with the series will welcome is the responsive controls and precise yet frenzied gameplay.

2888072-3488975445-27503Just as it did in ‘03, Amplitude feels smooth, fast, and intuitive almost consistently. Even on higher difficulties, when songs accelerate and become more complex, motion remains buttery-smooth. As songs get more complex, they contain more instruments. Multiple sets of drums, vocals, bass, and synthesizers side-by-side are easy enough to manage at first, but when gaps are created by successfully completing sections of each track, blind spots make it difficult to discern which direction to shift to next. Coupled with the winding nature of the tracks, it can sometimes get downright difficult to spot notes. At best, this presents an extra challenge to the player. At worst, it results in feeling cheated by a narrow field of view.

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In spite of some tricky camera work, what really keeps the new version of Amplitude from completely outshining its predecessor is the lack of multiple types of (sorely needed) player feedback. Ideally, when the player is successful the instrument upon which they hit the note should sound off a bit louder than the others.Unfortunately, sounds created by the player aren’t quite loud enough, and the bass sounds particularly muddy, instead of punchy and vibrant. Since the game doesn’t give you the option to adjust the audio manually in the menu, I tried calibrating my speakers and using headphones, but to no avail. Hopefully it’s just a bug that gets fixed soon, because when the bass doesn’t punch and the synths don’t wail, it leaves songs sounding a bit flat. A real disappointment, considering how much audiophiliac satisfaction lays in wait here.

Unfortunately the haptic feedback built into the Playstation controller isn’t used to give the player any tactile feedback, either. Instead of rumbling in time with the players success, it remains completely still. Not only that, but the speaker on the controller isn’t even used for any kind of audio immersion. Shocking, considering Harmonix liberally employs the light bar on the PS4 controller. In Spite of the array of color Amplitude insists on emitting from the PS4’s controller, it doesn’t flash along with successful player input. Missteps in immersion like these keep the revival of this series from really wowing a new audience in the new decade.

Yet, the last decade isn’t a bad place to be for rhythm games. Even with the reintroduction of Guitar Hero and Rock Band in 2015, the music and rhythm genre hasn’t returned to the success it experienced in the years following Amplitude’s debut. Though Amplitude won’t rekindle the wildfire success it once enjoyed, it delivers a fresh experience with beautiful graphics and fun gameplay that will satisfy fans of the series and newcomers alike. It’s just unfortunate that a few gaffes in audio mixing and player feedback keep this entry in the series from escaping its predecessor’s shadow.

 

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