Amplitude (PS2) - Jason Julier - 8/10

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Amplitude [game information] Version Tested: PAL Genre: Rhythm Action Publisher: SCEE Developer: Harmonix

Sony has transformed the videogame industry by reinventing the niche market as a leisure activity. Games are quite simply cool, and as such accepted by the mainstream, which until recently were extremely sceptical of anything videogame-related. Amplitude is the ultimate fusion of everything Sony has stood for since its arrival in the industry and continues the good work laid down by Frequency.

But what is Amplitude? The premise is simple, and this is what creates its addictive quality. There are three buttons to press in sequence to onscreen events, and by doing so you build up a musical track from nothing to the complete version - or a variation, which you may prefer. There are a few similarities with the Beatmania craze, which has gripped many PSone and Playstation 2 owners. Admittedly, you do have to press a button at the correct moment, but with Amplitude you are firmly in control of where you want the track, and therefore your journey, to progress.

Forget the implementation of a futuristic craft as your means of building these songs; it's immaterial and a disappointing use of creativity. Rather, every song (regardless of genre, artist and era) is built from layering tracks, and putting these together forms a finished song. Studios of old may have offered only 8-track capability, but nowadays artists can layer sounds and instruments, constructing new and devastating soundscapes. In Amplitude, by completing the onscreen sequence successfully, that particular element (vocal, guitar, drum, bass etc.) will be absorbed into the track currently playing. Thus you can add more sounds as dictated by the song, before returning to sequentially place them.

The ideal way to paint such a picture of the manic happenings onscreen - and the dangers of failure - is to think of a common magic trick: the spinning of plates on poles. Here the aim is to maintain as many spinning plates as possible, preventing any from falling off. This creates a frantic scenario of dashing from plate to plate, maintaining its position whilst being totally aware of the other plates (or in the case of Amplitude - tracks). Missing or failing to complete a button sequence removes a little more health, creating a little more pressure. Progress further and the tracks become faster and more complex, upping the creative challenge (albeit one with few rewards, save for the odd bonus track or pointless character model). Yet power-ups and special abilities can be collected and utilised during play, with slowing down and the automatic completion of tracks being particularly useful.

Combining futuristic visuals with a star-studded cast of original artists may sound initially like another trick from the Wipeout book, however anyone who has played the original release (Frequency) is aware that Amplitude is something else, and a particularly attractive addition to any Playstation 2 library. Whereas Frequency found favour with the club generation (thanks to its dance-infused track listing), Amplitude trades upon a new roster of household names - such as Pink, David Bowie, Blink 182, Garbage, Weezer and many more. The clout of Sony as a record label is partially responsible for this sudden upsurge in identifiable artists, but also the desire to take Amplitude beyond the core users who so obviously embraced Frequency.

However, rather than granting unlimited freedom to experiment, many of the tracks are laid out in such a way that it curtails the player, forcing them to follow a linear path. This is where the Freestyle or Remix modes should come to the rescue of those wishing to break through the confines of the main game - but both fail to offer a viable alternative. For those able to connect their Playstation 2 to the Internet, there is the opportunity to engage in a refreshing online mode (obviously contingent upon suitable opponents). Still, Gamestyle welcomes the chance to play a game online which does not rely on big guns or stealthy tactics, and perhaps hints at what Microsoft may attempt with its music release next year.

Amplitude is bold and colourful but the 'technicolor' palette creates an ugly world, one that lacks the brilliance of Rez or the design strengths of Ikaruga. The icon system is cluttered, and during play does nothing to assist the player - especially superficial inclusions like the character dancing. It may look aesthetically pleasing, but the onscreen action is presented in such a way that at certain times your view is hampered, with dissolving track titles producing unintentional errors. The normally robust framerate will occasionally dip, and in a game which relies on the premise of timing, this is unfortunate but not detrimental.

To Gamestyle, it appears Harmonix tried to squeeze a little of everything into this release to accommodate the mass market. A messy mistake, and after the sweetness of EyeToy: Play, one that could have easily been avoided. Take, for instance, the harder difficulty settings - most will not have the opportunity to glance at what track they are about to attempt. Rhythm is everything in this game, and the true test of skill is not purely about reaching the end of the course, but about delivering and maintaining your preferred interpretation of the song on display.

Negative issues aside, there is no disputing this release is fun, challenging, and appealing. In this respect Harmonix have succeeded in delivering another captivating instalment, but one that ultimately may have fans of Frequency favouring the original while simultaneously failing to capture the imagination of the mainstream. Amplitude is without question a fantastic release, but not the glorious and blinding achievement that many have proclaimed.

Game Score: 8/10 Reviewed By: Jason Julier