We check out Sony and Harmonix's follow-up to Frequency.
Frequency was one of the brighter lights in the PlayStation 2's fall lineup in 2001. The US-developed game took a stylish approach to the rhythm action genre, and its vector-style graphics and eclectic tune selection set it apart from the Technicolor looniness of its Japanese counterparts. For the next installment in the series, called Amplitude, Boston-based developer Harmonix is aiming to top the original game in every way with a visual redesign, refined gameplay, online support, and a slick selection of songs. We recently had a chance to check out an early build of the game and were very pleased by what we saw. Thanks to the host of improvements and refinements on the formula established by Frequency, Amplitude is poised to offer a richer experience by expanding on the elements found in the original game.
For those unfamiliar with the concept behind Amplitude and its predecessor, both titles are entries in the rhythm action genre. You assume the role of a virtual avatar called a freq and are challenged to navigate a series of tracks in the game by matching input commands. The tracks all represent elements of a song, such as vocals, bass, or drums, and will scroll toward you as you play the game. Jewels that correspond to buttons on the PlayStation 2 controller will appear on each track as it scrolls past. You'll "unlock" that portion of the song and earn points by pressing the corresponding buttons on the controller at the right time. The number of points you can earn is increased by using power-ups and maintaining a steady stream of correct button combinations while switching between the tracks. The points you earn will go toward unlocking new songs to play.
While the series' core gameplay mechanic and overall structure hasn't changed much from what we've just described, Harmonix is going through and refining everything and tossing in a few new elements for Amplitude. The game features a number of different modes. Solo is the game's single-player mode, and it features five areas to test your skills in. Each area will have a series of tracks that will unlock sequentially once you earn enough points. The single-player game throws a few extra power-ups into the mix, such as a slow-motion power-up that slows the action down so you can rack up some impressive combo scores. You'll also see visual cues that point out combo opportunities on nearby tracks. In the solo mode, you'll be able to create your own custom remixes. The remix mode has been tweaked to be a bit more user-friendly by offering a more structured experience and better functionality. The multiplayer mode will let you play the standard game against a friend, compete in a duel in which your opponent will have to match your beats. The online mode wasn't available in the build of the game we tried, but the final product is slated to support games for up to four players, as well the ability to upload and download remixes. Finally, the training mode offers two tutorials on how to play the game and one on how to do remixes.
As mentioned above, you'll be represented in each of the game modes by a freq. The options for creating your virtual self have been beefed up since the original game. The character is now a full 3D creation who you'll get by selecting from one of several choices in the "freqmaker" before you start a game. You'll also find several premade freqs available to choose from, as well as a random option that will generate one on the fly. The custom option lets you cobble together a freq by picking from an assortment of heads, torsos, arms, legs, headgear, and emblems, among other things.
While the series' gameplay has been slightly refined since Frequency, its graphics have undergone a serious overhaul. The freqs now sport quite a bit more personality, thanks to their full 3D makeover. Your little avatar will end up getting busy during the game, as his or her animation will change to reflect the nature of the track you're on--such as holding a microphone when you're on the vocal track or a specific instrument. The game's vector-inspired look has been fleshed out and shaped into a vast neon landscape with twists and turns to keep you on your toes while playing. Most of the playfields you'll be on are wide-open areas that lay the tracks out side by side. You'll still find a few of the Tempest-style corridor layouts in the boss-style levels where you'll test your skills against a challenging tune, but Amplitude is all about expanded horizons. The tracks, jewels, and power-ups have all been buffed up with a richer color depth and tweaked designs. The special effects associated with the various power-ups are appropriately flashy and complement the action well. For example, using the auto blaster power-up starts a chain reaction that you can see eating away track deep into the horizon. The scenery throughout the playfields makes generous use of video clips, much like the video wall arena in the original game, and it provides a trippy mix of imagery to complement the music.
The audio in the game, obviously the centerpiece of the action, is very strong. You'll hear a smattering of sounds effects and an announcer who speaks up a few times while you're playing, usually to call out the name of the power-up you've used or let you know when your energy is low. But the big attraction is the selection of tunes Harmonix has compiled for the game. While Amplitude's soundtrack is still a fairly guarded topic--we can only discuss the Garbage, Weezer, Logan 7, and David Bowie tracks--the build of the game we have features a wider range of songs than its predecessor.
Amplitude's improved graphics and refined gameplay are looking good already, and the game seems very promising on the whole. The online component has the potential to add a great deal to the already solid offering, and we'll have more on that in the coming weeks. Amplitude will likely end up being a very solid package that should please fans and newcomers alike. Look for the game in stores this March.
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