Frequency for the PS2 was an innovative and highly unorthodox game that didn't receive the attention or sales it deserved when it came out late in 2001. This is a shame, but developers Harmonix and publisher SCEA have decided to give the idea a second chance with a revamped sequel called Ampitude. Even though Amplitude strongly resembles Frequency in its play mechanics, controls, and presentation, there are many elements of the game that are vastly improved or streamlined. Amplitude's high-octane interface, play modes, and graphic approach have been radically redesigned to make for a more robust and intense gaming experience. It's a brilliant idea that mixes music composition with shooting and reflexes to create an evocative experience that's unlike most other console titles to date. As in Frequency, the object of the game is to build songs track by track until they're complete. As you begin, you see a series of orbs that represent notes. They slide down from the edge of the screen. Unlike the first game, the track sections don't go around in a full circle and are connected side to side. This simplified approach makes the gameplay a bit easier to understand and less confusing. Once the orbs reach your target, you can zap them by pressing one of three buttons, which makes a sound. You need to time these exactly, otherwise you'll lose this note and it's accompanying bar and will have to wait until the next bar comes down and start again. The notes come down in left, right and center and pressing the corresponding button will capture them. Chaining these notes together successfully forms bars. Beating two bars in a row will complete that section of the track, and you can move on to the next section of the track.
Each track represents a different instrument such as synthesizers, guitars, drums, vocals and bass. Once you complete a section, you can move on to another area, to build up the track with additional elements. However, you may have to go back and restart a section, since these tracks won't last forever. The more chained notes you catch, the higher your score goes and you can enable the score multiplier when you chain several bars together. However, missing a note will cause your energy bar to decline. When the indicator goes down to zero, the game is over. However, during each game, there are checkpoints that restore your energy when you pass through them. Additionally, you're energy increases when you complete a bar and you can catch special power-ups including slow motion and auto-completes. These can help you along the way, especially when you reach difficult sections of the tracks. During the course of the game, players will visit one of the five different virtual game worlds, and can unlock additional levels and tracks later on. You have further motivation to keep playing because once you beat a song, a new mode called Freestyle is unlocked. There are two types of Freestyle: Axe and Scratch. Both allow you to create and play a new sound over the existing track. This is really cool, but the downside is that only one instrument is available for each track, which is slightly disappointing.
This is very similar to how the gameplay worked in Frequency, but the developers have included a few enhancements to make the game feel fresh. As in the first game, there are several difficulty levels, where the notes move down faster with more complicated sequences to beat. Beating the harder difficulty levels earns you a lot more points. Getting a high-score is important because each area of the game has a hidden bonus track that can only be unlocked if you reach a certain number of points. At the end of each level, players will now face a boss level, which is going to be harder and very different from the tracks that precede it. While this is a music game, that doesn't mean your reflexes will be wasted since the action at later levels resembles a frenetic shooter. Each track has several levels of difficulty that become increasingly elaborate, giving Amplitude a sustainable challenge and high replay value.
Amplitude comes with its cool new gameplay modes. In addition to the solo game, players can now play the game with up to four other players in either co-operative or competitive modes. In the co-operative mode, both players work together on the same track to complete a section simultaneously. This is quite a lot of fun, but not as cool as the Duel mode, which is very challenging. When Dueling, one player sets down a group of notes which the other player then has to match perfectly. Its like the main game, though the patterns here can be as hard or easy as your opponent wants them to be. There are several sub-games in duel mode, including pattern play and free-for-all. You can set the patterns that are set down to be any of the three notes, or specific ones, and since these depend on your opponent's whims, playing in Duel mode can be either incredibly fun or intensely frustrating. Still, the ability to play against someone else is a clever addition to the series that will definitely keep your interest level high.
As in the first game, you select an avatar, called a Freq, who is you alter ego in the game. This is similar to the system in the first game but the Freqs are more active. They're much more present this time and animate this time around and dance in time to the music. After you complete a song, you are treated to a short animation of them dancing. Another cool new feature allows you to unlock extra Freq elements such as clothing, sunglasses and, hairstyles that allow you to customize them even further. The new Freq characters are much more alive than the static images in the first game and this makes Amplitude feel much more robust as a game than Frequency did. In addition to the cooler Freq characters, Amplitude's sophisticated remix mode has also been enhanced and gives players more flexibility when it comes to imprinting their unique styles on tracks. You begin by laying down some simple note to create the track, and can then over-dub these notes in the track if you want a fuller sound. Players can change the instrumentation, add special effects such as echoes and scratches. You can also create groups of notes called loops that can repeat throughout the track. In addition, remixers can adjust the BPM for each track to make it sound almost completely different. The remix section works like the rest of the game as you use the same tunnels and adjust the notes as they flow by the note-catcher. It's a remarkably intuitive system that allows you to stop and start a track, replay sections, turn sections on and off and many other cool options. There's a cool tutorial that teaches you the basics, though after this, the game gives you a tremendous freedom to mess with the tracks. Once you create a mix that you're satisfied it, you can save it your memory card, or even upload it to the game's online servers so other players can hear it.
Yes, you heard right, the game is now connected to the internet. Amplitude's most significant change lies in the addition of online play, which allows you to compete with other players via broadband or dial-up connections. Connecting to the servers is quite easy and the game performs flawlessly with little lag or drop-outs. When online, players can compete against other players in the Duel mode, play co-operatively, chat and upload and download mixes. This makes Playing Amplitude online feels like an extension of the main game and the challenge of playing a live opponent makes the gameplay even better. This is a much-appreciated addition that makes the game more of a collective experience and a virtual community. Going online is a smart move and this interaction increase the game's replay value substantially.
The experience is even more futuristic because Amplitude's visuals seem a bit more robust this time around. The most immediate difference are the backgrounds which are more elaborate and detailed than in the first game. Amplitude will also feature more and different special effects that give the game added punch and intensity. However, the biggest change from Frequency will be the music itself. While Frequency focused intently on electronica, Amplitude features a much broader array of artists from different genres. There are 25 songs in all and the roster includes an eclectic mix of well-known artists including Herbie Hancock, David Bowie, RUN-DMC, Pink, Garbage, Dieselboy, POD, Weezer, and Blink 182. While some of the songs are better than others (depending on personal preference, of course), their increased variety makes Amplitude and increases its longevity.
Overall, this is a solid-sequel to Frequency that builds on the successes of the first game intelligently. The addition of online play and the enhanced remix section only adds to the fun. Amplitude is a highly polished and undeniably cool music game and based on our early impressions, carries the series forward. With a broader selection of music, better graphics and online play, SCEA's Amplitude improves on Frequency in most of the important areas. A simplified interface makes jumping between tracks easier. While the controls and general feel of the game are similar, everything seems smoother and more fleshed out. The game's blend of music with challenging gameplay makes Amplitude a solid example of synergy in action and one of the more unique and addictive PS2 music titles on the market. Amplitude's online play, additional modes, improved graphics and greater variety of music makes for a much-improved game that will excite music fans and gamers alike.