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PAX East Preview: Amplitude

March 30, 2015 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook PAX East Preview: Amplitudeon Twitter

Our second game preview from PAX East is a new game being developed by Harmonix. Back in May of 2014, the group successfully received backing on their Kickstarter for the game Amplitude. The project received over $800,000, just making past their initial funding goal. Since then the Hamonix team has been working on the game and had an early alpha build available to try out at this year’s PAX East and GDC.

Amplitude is a rhythm action game based off the developer’s earlier titles like FreQuency and the PS2 version of Amplitude. The last Amplitude game was released back in 2003, over a decade ago. This new game is a remake/reboot of the original and hopes to bring the fun of Amplitude to a new generation of consoles and players.

For people who never had the chance to play the first Amplitude game, here’s the basic rundown. You control a spacecraft that travels along a set of tracks, similar to lane highways that you might see in other Harmonix games like Rockband. Like Rockband, each track or lane corresponds to a different instrument in the song. One might be the drums, the other the lead vocals, etc. You’re goal is to “capture” lanes or music tracks by successfully playing phrases in the lanes. Once a lane is “captured” you can move onto other lanes to attempt to activate the others. As you successfully play phrases, the music of those sequences will be added to the song that’s playing, for a short time. You ideally want to keep as many phrases and lanes going to maximize your score. Missing notes drains your energy, much like the “Rock Energy” in Guitar Hero, and can result in a game over.

The booth at PAX East provided attendees with two different experiences of the Amplitude reboot. The first of these was a single player mode, that worked in a similar manner to the original PS2 game. The other was a local multiplayer mode for up to four players. My first run through was on single player, since I wanted to develop some skill at the game before inevitably getting destroyed in a multiplayer match. While I never had the chance to play the original Amplitude back in the day, I have played many of Harmonix’s other rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. It didn’t take long for me to feel right at home timing button presses to the patterns on each track.

The demo offered a few control schemes. All of the tracks require three buttons to enter in patterns. You could either use the square, triangle, and circle buttons, to hit the corresponding right, center, and left beats; or use both right shoulder buttons and one of the left shoulder buttons. While I started out on the square, triangle, circle combination, I found myself switching to the shoulder buttons, especially for the faster songs and difficulty. I found this second option much easier, especially since my fingers could be hovering over each input at all times.

Most important to this experience, the music available in Amplitude is excellent. Some great electronic tunes, mostly original pieces created by Harmonix’s in-house music team. The PAX East demo featured one track by Freezepop, and I was told by the dev team that they plan on adding more licensed tracks from other music artists. While it was a limited selection, the music available works well with the futuristic visuals and sounded great, even when I lost tracks from missing a few beats.

Once I ran a few rounds on the single player, it was time to for me to test my skills on multiplayer. Once all of the participants agreed upon a song and difficulty level, the match started. This felt like a much different experience from the single player. You are still trying to capture phrases and tracks but you’re also trying to compete to get more tracks than the other players. Because there are multiple ships traveling on the lanes, it soon becomes a fight over control of the instrument tracks. You can still get into an occupied lane but you’ll be behind the other player and you won’t be able to grab notes. This is where the power-ups can become the key to turning the tides. For example, there’s a power-up that lets you disrupt another player’s track, effectively ruining their note streak, and another that allows you to launch a player off of a track that you’re sharing.

This all made for a great couch multiplayer experience. You’re not just trying to pay attention to the music tracks coming up, you also need to watch what other players are doing and figure out ways to mess with them and avoid getting messed with yourself. There are no official plans to make the multiplayer an online feature, although that was an unreached stretch goal on the Kickstarter. Members of the Harmonix team told me that the idea is still on the table, if the game does well. They really want to make sure an they can dedicate their time to an online feature that will work well. After all, there’s nothing worse than online lag in a rhythm game.

So far, Amplitude is looking like a solid gaming experience and another great title from Harmonix. The gameplay itself is engaging and the multiplayer is a ton of fun, especially as a couch multiplayer game. I’ll be interested to hear some of the other pieces available to play in the game, since we were only given a glimpse of some of the music in the demo. The experience is different enough from the more recent rhythm games that it can stand on its own, and it’s nice to see an older game title receiving a true to formula reboot. Amplitude is set to come out later this year on PS3 and PS4. You can also pre-order the game, digital art book, soundtrack, and more on their BackerKit site. Additional information on Amplitude can also be found on the Harmonix website.

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