Review

Amplitude Review

  • First Released Jan 5, 2016
    released
  • PS4

Electric slide.

The original Amplitude created quite a legacy. Its engaging beat-matching template and memorable, eclectic soundtrack not only laid the foundation for developer Harmonix's future projects--including, of course, all the Rock Band games--it also became a cult classic revered by early music gaming aficionados. Now Harmonix has crafted an Amplitude reboot that successfully revives those hyper-engaging mechanics, though its lackluster song catalog undercuts the quality of the gameplay.

For those who missed Amplitude in the early aughts, here are the basics: you blast notes in time with the music as your sci-fi-looking ship rockets down a psychedelic highway. That highway consists of multiple parallel lanes, each of which represents a different sonic element such as drums, bass, or vocals. Each lane contains only left, right, and middle notes, but in order to really rack up points, you must strategically switch between lanes as the song progresses. Every time you miss a note or complete a preset sequence, your current lane falls away into the abyss below, leaving you precious little time to flip over to a new lane.

Like most of the best arcade-style experiences, Amplitude proves accessible and instantly rewarding upfront but always encourages you to continue chasing your next high score. Nailing sequences built on just three notes will be a breeze for experienced rhythm gamers (and the selectable difficulty levels will help ease in everyone else), but lane-switching requires intense focus and lightning-fast decision making that underpin Amplitude's appeal. In order to keep your note streak and score multiplier alive, you have to look further down the highway, identify the first note of the lane you plan to swap to next, and nail that note as soon as you get there, all without missing any of the notes already coming at you--a challenge that provides the game's most demanding and exhilarating gameplay hook.

There's also a subtle layer of risk/reward gambling that only becomes obvious once you've cultivated both your own skills and a deeper understanding of the scoring system: More notes mean more potential points but also more chances to break your streak, so eventually, you start deliberately selecting lanes based on the number notes they offer. When you take risks on note-heavy sections and manage to pull through with a leaderboard-topping score, a strong sense of relief and triumphant hits you like a drug. Not many rhythm games can deliver a sensation like that.

Instruments fade in and out of the mix as you hop between lanes, letting you feel like you're remixing the music as you play.
Instruments fade in and out of the mix as you hop between lanes, letting you feel like you're remixing the music as you play.

Given that pace and precision play such major roles in Amplitude, it's important to note Harmonix's execution here is damn near flawless. Controls--lane-swapping in particular--feel responsive, and clever design details keep the gameplay manageable without holding your hand. Smart, subtle visual cues help stymie gameplay frustration before it even starts.

Unfortunately, there's a problem with this music game: the music. The single-player campaign consists of a 15 song electronica concept album that frames the gameplay as an attempt to repair a comatose woman's brain, and while that's an unbelievably cool idea, there's not quite enough substance for Amplitude's story-driven approach to feel fully-realized. Worse still, many of the custom, in-house-created tracks sound generic and forgettable, especially when compared to the original game's tracklist.

That game pulled music from a huge range of artists and influences, yet every song had an undeniable energy that paired perfectly with Amplitude's mechanics. Most of the reboot's campaign tracks, however, sound cut from the same bland cloth. They're perfectly listenable, but when a game revolves around music, the songs should seep into your blood and play over and over again in your head. That just doesn't happen here.

Given that pace and precision play such major roles in Amplitude, it's important to note Harmonix's execution here is damn near flawless.

The remainder of the game's 30 song tracklist does contain a number of sufficiently pulse-pounding songs--including a few licensed tracks--but many are locked behind a pointless progression wall. Some only unlock after you've completed enough tracks (as many as 60 plays, in some cases), while others can only be earned by performing well in the campaign, which doesn't let you retry individual songs to improve your scores. This forces you to replay already unlocked songs multiple times to hit an arbitrary play count and restart the entire campaign in an effort to earn a higher scores, respectively.

Rewarding players for exploring content and performing well makes perfect sense, but withholding songs in order to do so holds the entire experience back. With multiple difficulty levels and different audio mixes depending on which lanes you select as you play, 30 songs would provide plenty of entertainment if every song was available in quickplay from the moment you started the game. As it stands, quickplay feels hamstrung by the limited song selection, the campaign doesn't warrant multiple playthroughs, and the final unlockable difficulty setting will only appeal to hardcore score-chasers. Amplitude's potential longevity suffers as a result.

Amplitude's backgrounds generally don't react to player input. Dynamic changes could have made the sensory overload even more intense.
Amplitude's backgrounds generally don't react to player input. Dynamic changes could have made the sensory overload even more intense.

Thankfully, local multiplayer partially remedies this shortcoming with a healthy dose of couch-based competition. The game is plenty demanding when playing solo, but when you add up to three other players, the action gets downright frantic. You can block opponents by diving into adjacent lanes, mess with your enemies by deploying special power-ups, and even partner with a friend for two-on-two battles. There's no online option, but the gameplay works extremely well on a shared couch. By focusing on Amplitude's exemplary gameplay--thereby shifting the focus away from its somewhat lackluster music selection--multiplayer extends the game's long-term appeal.

It also encapsulates the Amplitude experience as a whole: the slick, thoughtful mechanics prove as engrossing as ever, even if the music can't quite keep tempo. Ultimately, Amplitude fails to recapture the magic that elevated the original to cult status, but it does deliver an impressive and enjoyable slice of quick-hit rhythm gaming fun.

Back To Top
The Good
Beat-matching, lane-swapping mechanics
Smart visual touches
Strong local multiplayer
The Bad
Too many songs are generic and forgettable
Locking songs behind a progression wall stifles the fun
7
Good
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Scott Butterworth spent a solid 12 hours cruising down Amplitude's trippy highways. He also roped in some coworkers for couch-based competitive multiplayer.
54 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
  • 54 results
  • 1
  • 2
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for leikeylosh
leikeylosh

Scott Butterworth is an awesome name. Sounds british.

Avatar image for goodgamesguy
GoodGamesGuy

Pretty fun game, not too shabby.

Avatar image for thearcticsloth
TheArcticSloth

hahaha, Scott....are you married? Is there a Mrs. Butterworth...okay I'll stop. Overall this is well put. The game is fun but the music isn't good enough to make me want more

Avatar image for wilson_diabetes
Wilson_Diabetes

@thearcticsloth: Where did your name come from.....I mean, why are you called 'the Arctic Sloth'??

Avatar image for thearcticsloth
TheArcticSloth

@wilson_diabetes: It came from my brain after drinks and stuff.

Avatar image for wilson_diabetes
Wilson_Diabetes

@thearcticsloth: Cool.

Avatar image for butterworth
butterworth

@thearcticsloth: My mom is Mrs. Butterworth. That counts, right?

Avatar image for thearcticsloth
TheArcticSloth

@butterworth: Yes it does, forgive my unconventional upbringing that didn't lead to me automatically thinking that <3

Avatar image for cherub1000
Cherub1000

Haha, thought this was a racing game kinda like Wipeout from a quick glance!

Avatar image for xsonicchaos
xsonicchaos

Whoa! Is this what they call a "review"? I think I remember these. Good times... Thanks for the nostalgia, Scott!

Avatar image for goodgamesguy
GoodGamesGuy

@7tizz: Still invading Sony game articles I see hahaha.

Avatar image for timmerous
timmerous

@7tizz: Think you made a typo there, Gamespot have a equivalent word system with their review scores and 5 is mediocre. This got 7 though which is good so what you meant to say was:

Another good Sony exclusive...shocking.

No need to thank me for helping you out.

Avatar image for Rushaoz
Rushaoz

@7tizz: Fanboy much? If mediocre, just as mediocre as anything on Xbox. Oh by the way, how are those exclusives coming along? lolol Poking fun at you console plebs amuses me. Keep 'em coming.

Avatar image for consolehaven
ConsoleHaven

@Rushaoz: This was actually crowdfunded. A fully licensed sound track was part of the stretch goals that didn't quite make it, which is too bad, but, backers knew what they were getting when they backed the project, and Harmonix happily delivered.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@7tizz: Won't the console wars get tiresome for you? :\

Avatar image for Bowser05
Bowser05

"Locking songs behind a progression wall stifles the fun." Sorry, but that actually would be a major selling point to me. The accomplishment of unlocking things and being rewarded for progressing is something too many games don't do these days.

Overall this game sounds like the perfect fit for me. Can't wait to pick it up.

Avatar image for lenyora-sama
lenyora-sama

@Bowser05: Definitely beats locking them behind a paywall

Avatar image for butterworth
butterworth

@Bowser05: "Rewarding players for exploring content and performing well makes perfect sense, but withholding songs in order to do so holds the entire experience back."

Avatar image for leondelon51
leondelon51

@Bowser05: It's my favorite music rhythm game, and I say that as Someone very familiar with the genre. I knew gamespot would post a generally inaccurate review when I saw how they were playing it on their video last week... Watch some expert gameplay, then start it up and keep breaking down the boundaries of what you know to be physically accomplish able with three buttons (: I paid 101$ dollars to see this game happen, and it's so good I would have paid 200$

Avatar image for ps3gamer1234
ps3gamer1234

@Bowser05: More like download up.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

I will say here that Butterworth's remark about the track selections is very subjective and likely to differ from person to person.

However, if the progression system is indeed the way he said it is, that's awful. There have been a lot of game developers who use grind-unlock systems to drag out the experience.

(The following is just an opportunistic rant.) I blame game consumers who value time-lengths of gameplay experience too. I understand some of their argument for such a preference, but there are pitfalls for this, the deepest being a bad-case scenario of quantity over quality. This just lets developers like Harmonix implement such systems and get away with these.

Avatar image for KBABZ
KBABZ

@Gelugon_baat: One of my biggest disappointments years ago was the 2012 Most Wanted. That game had every car available from the start (you just had to find them), so you never felt like you were progressing, ascending up the ranks in the same way you did in Burnout 3 and Revenge. Worse, events were tied to cars, and every event is shared between at least four or five cars, so it got repetitive and a time-waster extremely quickly for me.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@KBABZ: Well, that certainly wasn't a good progression system either, but I don't entirely agree with that part about finding cars. In my eyes, that's more interesting than grinding XP to unlock shit.

Avatar image for KBABZ
KBABZ

@Gelugon_baat: I really liked how it worked in Burnout 3, personally. Basically, you start with the slowest class, and as you clear events you unlock a new class of car that's faster than the one before it, comes with three new cards and a brand new series of events on new tracks designed for those cars. Keep that going until you reach the Super class, the most blisteringly fast in the game. Along the way, if you earn Gold medals, or play the game well, you unlock extra cars and events.

Guitar Hero followed a similar idea, at least what I played in III; do well with the songs in one setlist, and you unlock five more songs that are a bit more taxing.

Unlocking most everything from the start is great for those with little time to spare, but at the same time it also kills any and all sense of progression, and accentuates the idea that, in the overwhelming presence of being able to do anything, you have a tendency to do nothing.

Back to the point on finding cars; it would have been neat to have certain cars that you can find, but the lack of a rank system for cars like in previous Criterion titles means it feels more like you're running on the spot or, pardon the pun, spinning your wheels and never going anywhere.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@KBABZ: Completing challenges, like those events you mentioned, are certainly better, but only if the rewards are straight-up unlocks - not XP shit.

However, I am wary about those performance-dependent rewards. Sure, the player has an incentive to get better, but how exactly "better"? If this means memorizing tracks, well, that's for followers of racing games - but not for me. I went out of this genre years ago because it felt like rote learning.

Avatar image for KBABZ
KBABZ

@Gelugon_baat: Well for Burnout 3 at least there is no XP. The performance unlocks are from Takedowns (making opponents crash) or Burnout points (points you earn during the race for drifts, long boosts, Takedowns, etc) for races, or Crash Cash (basically insurance costs of the crash you caused) in the Crash Mode.

The rewards for these are always an unlock, either a new car or a new Event (which could be on a new track). Probably the neatest are the Burning Lap unlock; these drop you into a car at least two classes ahead of the one you're currently in and ask you to complete one extremely fast lap, so you get a taste as to what you'll get in the future.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@KBABZ: Well, I certainly would like those race types where the player is scored according to actions taken. But the Burning Lap event you mentioned? No. Seems like a slog to me. Furthermore, with that kind of event where the opposition has a straight-up advantage, the only way to win that I can see is to exploit any stupidity and/or predictability on their part. I have played too many games where I had to do this.

Avatar image for KBABZ
KBABZ

@Gelugon_baat: Oh, you misunderstand! Burning Lap events are basically time trials, except you earn four times as much boost for drifts and near misses. Since you're in a much faster car, boosting makes it more difficult since you're not used to that type of speed, but it's the only way to get the fastest Gold Medal time.

There are no events where you're scored for actions taken, with the exception of Road Rage which is specifically designed for scoring Takedowns (making an opponent crash though shunting and shoving). The rest are down to either your time or your placement in the race. Takedowns, Crash Cash and Burnout Points are purely for unlocking extra cars, but they aren't required for reaching the end of the game and completing every event; Medals fulfill that purpose.

Avatar image for Sound_Demon
Sound_Demon

For a game review site you guys barely do reviews. Directed to anyone this concerns.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Sound_Demon: Dude. Did you know it was December last month?

Avatar image for Byshop
Byshop

I've put a few hours in on this. I dig it much as I dug the originals, but I haven't worked my way through the whole tracklist so I can't comment as to the overall quality of the music. If it's a bit lackluster, hopefully they'll flesh out the selection through DLC (an option not available to the original PS2 versions).

There were two differences that I had noticed between the original and this updated version when I played:

1) Changing tracks now skips "inactive" tracks. Frequency and Amplitude fundamentally used the same gameplay mechanics but Frequency's playing field was a "Tempest-like" tube and the tracks were on the interior. In Amplitude, they changed the shape of the playing field to a flat course. This introduced an artificial difficulty element to Amplitude because in Frequency you were never more than half the course away from the next track (because it's a circle) but in Amplitude you could potentially have to move from the far left to the far right (or visa versa) to reach the next track. It was the only thing about Amplitude that I didn't like relative to Frequency. In the new game, when you hit left or right it automatically moves you to the next available track, removing this artificial difficulty element the flat course introduced.

2) The course curves much more steeply than in the previous game. With any rhythm game, proficient play at higher difficulty levels means looking ahead to the sequences you -will- be hitting versus the ones you're on now. In this game, the course can curve so steeply that by the time you're finishing the track you are currently on the first notes of the next track you need to switch to might be off-screen. This could happen in the previous game, but with the more exaggerated track curves in this game it happens far more often. You need to know what track you're going to switch to -and- at least the first note (if not first couple) to be able to play on the harder difficulty levels.

And where's my grooving avatar?!?!?

Moderator
Avatar image for KBABZ
KBABZ

@Byshop: For point 1), you'll be happy to hear that after you beat the Campaign once, you unlock Freq Mode; three guesses what does does to the track geometry!

Avatar image for Byshop
Byshop

@KBABZ: Oh, that's cool. Good to know that. Thanks. I never disliked the Amp-style course, but jumping across five tracks in a fast song on hard was a pain in the butt.

Moderator
Avatar image for KBABZ
KBABZ

@Byshop: Certainly sounds useful! I will say though that the 'hilly' nature of the Amplitude format remains.

Coming from Guitar Hero, I personally prefer the single-track nature of that game, since the focus is more on hitting the notes than it is about track management; switching tracks is confusing to me and almost always ruins my combo because I just cannot manage the switch from one track to another in time.

Avatar image for lindigj
lindigj

@KBABZ: But this game isn't about coming from Guitar Hero or trying to be like Guitar Hero in any way :) The original was what spawned Guitar Hero and is every bit about track management as it is about hitting the notes. It is part of what makes the game so frantic and addicting.

Avatar image for KBABZ
KBABZ

@lindigj: Oh I know; you'd have to be extremely daft to not see how Guitar Hero is basically a one-track Amplitude with more buttons to hit. I'm just trying to explain where my preferences come from and why Amplitude throws me for a loop.

Avatar image for grin89
grin89

is this f-zerox?

Avatar image for Aldarish
Aldarish

playing with the face buttons? /shudder

Avatar image for kee1haul
kee1haul

Meh. Hasn't this been out for a while?

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@kee1haul: You do know that this is the PS4 version, don't you?

Avatar image for butterworth
butterworth

@kee1haul: Six days.

Avatar image for Frequenxy
Frequenxy

I want to know if the reviewer played FreQuency and Amplitude back on the PS2. If not, he's missing out. As far as his comment about not being too impressed with the song choices, and therefore not being as fun or addictive, he needs to play on a high difficulty. You have to play more notes and it become more and more intense, and at least for me, that's where the fun truly lies, even if you're not too fond of the song itself.

Avatar image for butterworth
butterworth

@Frequenxy: I did play the original Amplitude, yes, and while the higher difficulty levels definitely make the game more challenging, they didn't increase my enjoyment of the music. In fact, I felt less inclined to stick with the really tough songs because I simply didn't like hearing them over and over again. Like I said in the review, the mechanics are still excellent, but none of the music really grabbed me. And without the music inspiring me to push forward, the whole experience started to sputter.

Avatar image for Frequenxy
Frequenxy

@butterworth: To each his own, but I highly enjoy the challenge and the types of songs available are definitely my style, however I would argue that the song selections shouldn't be a huge influence in final score/review since music is very subjective. I was "meh" for the majority of songs in GH 1, 2, & 3, but the high difficulty made me keep coming back and playing it, thus increasing my overall enjoyment with those games.

Overall though, I'm just glad Harmonix finally released this. The two prequels are some of my favorite games of all time, and I've been craving a new one for ages.

Avatar image for lrdfancypants
lrdfancypants

@butterworth:

Wasn't this done on a Kickstarter budget?

I wonder if that limited the songs they could have compared to the original.

Avatar image for KBABZ
KBABZ

@lrdfancypants: All of the tracks in the game, at least for the Campaign, were composed by Harmonix. The tracks are all samey because they did the same genre twenty times, thus none of them are able to stand out from the pack. So I feel the blame there should be laid upon the Harmonix composers.

There's no mood progression either; with Guitar Hero you usually started out with a slow selection of songs such as Slow Ride, and then progressed up to more momentous, ripping tracks like Raining Blood. This benefits the gameplay too; slower music means the gameplay is easier and ramps up over time. And you feel like you're going somewhere almost, seeing new things. Hearing 20 songs that sound exactly alike doesn't do the game any favours.

Avatar image for lrdfancypants
lrdfancypants

@KBABZ:

I didn't say the same genre did do the game favors.

It sounded, in the review, that the original had licensed songs vs in house for this one. In my mind I remember this being on a small Kickstarter budget which would explain the lack of licensed songs.

He never responded so I don't know for sure.

Avatar image for KBABZ
KBABZ

@lrdfancypants: As far as I know this is correct. To me the fault of the music is that it's all so similar; being composed in-house, it would have been possible to have the music go through a journey and progression, changing moods whilst still sticking in the same general electronic genre.

  • 54 results
  • 1
  • 2

Amplitude More Info

Follow
  • First Released Jan 5, 2016
    released
    • PlayStation 3
    • PlayStation 4
    A rhythm-action music game for PlayStation®4 & PlayStation®3 based on Amplitude™, the 2003 cult classic by Harmonix!
    8.8
    Average Rating5 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Amplitude
    Developed by:
    Harmonix Music Systems
    Published by:
    Harmonix Music Systems
    Genre(s):
    Music/Rhythm
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Everyone
    No Descriptors