Harmonix became a household name with the Guitar Hero series, but a few years before it caused an influx of plastic instruments to pile up in living rooms across America, it created a musical gem for PlayStation 2 owners: Amplitude. It wasn't terribly different from Rock Band, but instead of playing along to the music with instruments, you fired at notes with a space ship. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense on paper, but in essence, you're still filling in various musical phrases on tracks that represent different instruments, so it's just as fun at the end of the day, minus the joy of using faux instruments.
Now, just over a decade later, Harmonix is back with a new Amplitude game, which is due to launch sometime next year. We recently had the chance to give a pre-alpha build of the game a try, and while there are still many fine wrinkles that need to be ironed out, it's already feeling like a sound follow-up to its predecessor. In fact, Harmonix actually began development on the new Amplitude by using the code base from the original, and this is evident once you start playing. It feels very similar to the original, which isn't surprising given the simple concept behind the game. You move your ship from track to track, and with your ship's three blasters, fire away to the beat of the music when a note passes into one of your reticles.
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It's a simple premise, but Amplitude keeps you on your toes as you try to stay on the occasionally frantic beat. You need to juggle multiple tracks, one for each instrument. You can lose health if you don't hit a note on your current track, but if you successfully activate every note in a phrase, which lasts for a few measures, it will autoplay for a while so that you can move on to another track and keep the music going. Phrases will eventually become deactivated during the course of a song, and you need to continue to keep phrases active if you hope to make it to complete the stage at hand. Miss too many notes or fail to focus on activating phrases, and you're done. There were only a handful of songs available during our demo, but Harmonix plans to have over 20 by the time the game ships. Many of these tracks are being produced in house, but there will also be a few songs from notable guest artists such as the vibrant band Anamanaguchi.
If you've got some friends handy, you can hop into multiplayer matches where each player must fend for themselves, and by using items earned for good performances in game, you have plenty of chances to troll your friends. The question is: focus on your own score or your opponents misery?
Harmonix's latest game is coming sometime next year to PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, and if you happen to own both systems, you're in luck; Amplitude supports Cross-Buy, so if you buy it for one console, you automatically get it for the other. If you're lucky enough to make it to Sony's PlayStation Experience even in Las Vegas this weekend, you'll also get a chance to play the game early.