Amplitude Updated Preview
We take another look at Sony and Harmonix's upcoming rhythm game.
We've had a chance to try out a near-final build of Amplitude, the upcoming rhythm game for the PlayStation 2 from Boston-based developer Harmonix. The new build of the game has been tightened up from the preview build we tried a few weeks ago, and we've had a chance to play the online modes in the game. The experience has left us eagerly awaiting the game's final release next month.
The single-player mode in the game, which was pretty much completely unlocked and let us check out every stage in our last look of the game, was in its final form and gave us a feel for how the game will unfold. You'll start out with a limited number of choices when you create your virtual avatar, called a freq, in the game. You'll find 16 prefab choices and a modest selection of heads, torsos, arms, and legs, if you choose to cobble together a custom freq. Personal touches such as head gear, face gear, and decorative emblems are not available at the game's start--you'll have to earn them as you go through each area. The game's four difficulty settings--mellow, normal, brutal, and insane--grow in challenge and in number of song choices. Mellow eases you into things with 23 songs to open, normal brings the count up to 24, while brutal and insane will offer 25 tracks. You'll find five areas in the game, each with four to five songs, depending on the difficulty level you select. The songs will be broken up into three types: standard, boss, and bonus. Standard songs open sequentially as you clear them, while boss and bonus tracks open after you meet point requirements. Before you start the game, you'll be required to go through a tutorial mode that walks you through the basics of the game. Once you clear it, you'll have the option to move on to the advanced training tutorial or to hop into the main game.
The game's online mode is one of Amplitude's strongest elements, thanks to the extra competition it offers. If you've played the Frequency demo or the original game online with the PlayStation 2 network adapter, you have a taste of what you can expect from Amplitude. Getting online is pretty painless, especially if you have network settings on your memory card already. If you don't have settings, the game will let you jump out and input them. Once your information is set, you just select online from the main menu, pick a freq, and hop in. The first menu you'll come to will let you go to the main lobby, check out tips for the different online game types, and change your freq's password. Once you're in a lobby, you'll have a few options. You can check the list of games in that lobby to see if there are any open games to join. You can set yourself up to host a game and then set the game mode--game, duel, or remix--and choose the game type, the number of players, the artist, and how often power-ups appear. You can do searches for game types or specific freqs. You can also switch between the different lobbies to look for different players. Finally, the game will offer options to upload your own remixes or download any that have been posted, and you can check online rankings to see where you stand.
Online play works well, thanks to the user-friendly interface. You'll be able to chat in the lobbies with a soft keyboard that is functional but a bit clunky. Fortunately you'll also have the option to plug in a USB keyboard and chat like a pro. Getting into a game is a snap, and the game runs nicely over broadband. Narrowband users shouldn't fret, though, because the game will also support dial-up connections.
The game's graphics have been tightened up in the new build in order to keep the frame rate grooving along at a solid pace. Some of the flashier special effects have been scaled back some, while the backgrounds have grown crazier. You'll find dynamic elements in the backgrounds that react to your button presses; our personal favorite changes a tunnel into a trippy kaleidoscope. The visual variety on display is so dense that the game is actually fun for spectators too. You'll find that when you're playing you won't have much time to take in the sights, even on the lower difficulty levels. At higher levels you won't be doing anything but fixating on the nonstop barrage of notes barreling down at you on each track in a song. There are still a few frame-rate hitches that cause the action to dip below 60 frames per second, but we expect they'll be beaten into submission by the game's final release.
The game's audio is shaping up to be top-notch in terms of quality and artist selection. You'll find that the assembled artists are an eclectic bunch with a diverse group of music styles. While Sony will be unveiling the artists in the game over the next few weeks, a glimpse of what's been announced already should give you a good idea of what to expect: David Bowie's "Everyone Says Hi" remixed by Metro, Garbage's "Cherry Lips," Weezer's "Dope Nose," Quarashi's "Baseline," Logan 7's "Uptown Saturday Night," Blink 182's "The Rock Show," Mekon's "What's Going on?" which features an appearance by rap veteran Roxanne Shante, POD's "Boom" remixed by The Crystal Method, Freezepop's "Super Sprode," and Styles of Beyond's "Subculture" remixed by Dieselboy. As for the unannounced artists, you'll find some pleasant surprises in the mix. At the higher levels, most notably insane, the songs will give you facial tics and possibly carpal tunnel syndrome as you try to keep up with the crazy pace, but all the music in the game is a good listen.
From what we've seen so far, Amplitude should handily top its predecessor in just about every area. The enhanced graphics and refined gameplay, especially the online mode, should give it quite a bit of appeal to fans of the original game. The new tutorial mode is brief but to the point and should get newcomers to the series up to speed pretty quickly. The end result of all of the above should be a solid, polished game that you should look for when it ships March 25.
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