Before Harmonix filled our living rooms with plastic guitars, drum sets, and microphones, the creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band burst onto the scene with Frequency and Amplitude on PlayStation 2. The latter of the two is back thanks to a Kickstarter-funded reboot, returning the developer’s familiar beat-matching gameplay to its roots—without instruments—on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3
And though the revival may not evolve the genre or stretch its boundaries, the new take on Amplitude proves that when coupled with the right tunes, Harmonix can connect players to music unlike many others.
A beat-seeking spaceship is the player’s stand-in during Amplitude, with players moving the ships between tracks that represent each facet of a song (drums, synth, vocals, etc.). Players must match the notes on screen with taps of the controller’s triggers, clearing measures of each musical root track to keep it playing. Start a song on the drums track, for example, and that’ll be the primary sound, but fly over to vocals first, and the song will build in a different yet natural way. Think of it as being responsible for every part of a Rock Band band simultaneously.
The choice in when and where to direct the player’s focus offers a surprising amount of authorship for the player. The song is the song, but favorite tracks are worth replaying in the game’s Quickplay or 15-song Campaign modes just for the sake of hearing how different mixes come together. The game comes with a 30-song set list, and while not all winners, the tracks that do work can transform into fun aural experiments when replaying.
Amplitude’s reboot is heavy on electronic music - don’t expect the mix of the original game’s soundtrack or Rock Band’s rock, pop, and metal leanings. If drum machines, grooving basses, and humming synths do nothing for you, Amplitude may not be the musical experience for you. But even for those who aren’t fans of the genre—myself included—Amplitude’s soundtrack delivered a number of solid and engaging songs to play along to.
And certain songs just make you want to move. Amplitude’s best moments recreate that head-bobbing feeling, transforming the simple taps on a controller’s buttons into musical movements. Not every track is a winner, and score chasing can be fun until your skills plateau for a time, but finding the right song at the right difficulty can feel like a three-minute dream of sights and sounds.
Amplitude’s soundtrack, while big for its price range, will turn off those who can’t stand electronic music, and after playing through every song a number of times the game can lose some of its spark. But with body swaying, foot thumping furiously on the floor, and fingers flying in time to the beat, Amplitude is a reminder of Harmonix’s past and the power of its most recent titles to make the player feel like a part of the music.
Amplitude is now available on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3. For more releases releasing this January, check out EW’s monthly preview of the newest titles debuting.