Am­pli­tude

EDGE - - GAMES -

PS3, PS4

Were a videogame’s suc­cess mea­sured by how ef­fec­tively it trans­ports you to an­other place, great rhythm-ac­tion games must be among the most tri­umphant. Sunk into the state of pure con­cen­tra­tion and flow that dif­fi­cult mu­sic games de­mand, it’s easy to forget who, or where, you are. The sig­nals trav­el­ling from your ears and eyes to your brain trans­late seam­lessly into the move­ments of your hands, with­out in­ter­ven­tion from your con­scious self. Play­ing

Am­pli­tude on Ex­pert feels like a mind-meld be­tween hu­man, mu­sic and videogame. It’s si­mul­ta­ne­ously bliss­fully re­lax­ing and in­com­pa­ra­bly energising. It’s not un­usual to come away from a prop­erly fin­ger-bend­ing song with shak­ing hands and wide, star­ing eyes.

Ex­pe­ri­enced Freqs, as play­ers of Har­monix’s early twitch games style them­selves, will be ju­bi­lant about

Am­pli­tude, a Kick­starter-funded rein­ven­tion of the rhythm-ac­tion PlaySta­tion 2 favourite from 2003. The new Am­pli­tude in­duces the same synaes­thetic thrill and wields the same re­flex-chal­leng­ing dif­fi­culty, and can­not fail to de­light any player of both the orig­i­nal game and 2001’s Fre­quency.

Am­pli­tude puts you in con­trol of a lit­tle space­ship, a Beat Blaster, that trav­els down the screen on fa­mil­iar note high­ways. Each rep­re­sents a dif­fer­ent track in the song: vo­cals, drums, bass, and usu­ally at least two dif­fer­ent synth tracks. The mu­sic is de­con­structed into three-but­ton pat­terns, on L1, R1 and R2 (al­though this can be remapped if your fin­gers strug­gle with it), that dance across the high­ways. Sur­viv­ing through a song is about hit­ting enough note se­quences to avoid de­plet­ing your ships’s en­ergy en­tirely, while scor­ing well on them is about chain­ing se­quences to­gether seam­lessly to cre­ate mul­ti­pli­ers. Its mu­sic is com­plex, high-en­ergy elec­tron­ica that makes you feel like a switch may have tripped in your brain af­ter pro­longed ex­po­sure. One in­escapable dif­fer­ence be­tween 2015’s

Am­pli­tude and its 2003 pre­de­ces­sor is the com­plete ab­sence of li­censed mu­sic in the cam­paign. In 2003 we had mixes of Garbage and Run-DMC, Pink and Papa Roach, even some more ex­per­i­men­tal Bowie, along­side less well-known elec­tronic artists. Bereft of a sin­gle recog­nis­able song to draw you in, the new Am­pli­tude’s ap­peal rests en­tirely on its beat-match­ing game­play and fu­tur­is­tic vi­su­als. With its per­spec­tive-bend­ing note high­ways, colour­ful pul­sat­ing lights, elec­tric pat­terns and ex­pand­ing and con­tract­ing ab­stract shapes, Am­pli­tude mir­rors the odd vis­ual lan­guage of the brain it­self, when you shut your eyes and let the synapses fire. Play­ing Am­pli­tude isn’t dis­sim­i­lar to hav­ing your brain chem­i­cally stim­u­lated, the game work­ing to split colours and vi­brate the dis­play now and then to amp up the sen­sory feed­back.

For novices, there are three less de­mand­ing dif­fi­culty modes to work through be­fore join­ing hard­ened Am­pli­tude fa­nat­ics at the top of the leader­boards. The chal­lenge comes not from mas­ter­ing new me­chan­ics – you don’t graduate from three but­tons to four to five, as in Gui­tar Hero – but from the in­creas­ing com­plex­ity and speed of the pat­terns. On Ex­pert you’ll be match­ing ev­ery sin­gle synth note and drum­beat in a song, even at 190 beats per minute. On Am­pli­tude’s hard­est songs the notes fly down the screen so fast that it’s wholly im­pos­si­ble to con­sciously process them – in­stead you have to sink into a trance and sim­ply let the mu­sic flow through you.

Am­pli­tude’s cam­paign mode, which con­sists of 14 songs (plus un­lock­able bonuses) com­posed es­pe­cially for the game, is ap­pro­pri­ately framed as a jour­ney through some­one’s brain, your Beat Blaster a mi­cro­scopic piece of nan­otech­nol­ogy. The rest of the 30-odd-strong track­list is made up mostly of songs by non-Har­monix artists such as fan favourites Freezepop and Sym­bion Project, plus a few cameos from other de­vel­op­ers, in­clud­ing a track from In­som­niac Games and one from mu­si­cal dun­geon-delver Crypt Of

The Necrodancer. The na­ture of this mu­sic will be off­putting for some – it’s far from gen­tle, and some of the tracks are as much of an as­sault on the ears as on the re­flexes. The con­cept-al­bum na­ture of the sin­gle­player mode jus­ti­fies the ex­clu­sion of th­ese li­censed tracks, but some of the best mu­sic lives only in the Quick Play menu.

It’s all avail­able in mul­ti­player, too, with up to four beat blasters on dif­fer­ent con­trollers. It’s an ex­cel­lent op­tion even when there’s a large skill dif­fer­en­tial, since not only will the most ad­vanced play­ers have harder tracks to deal with, but ev­ery­one else can also gang up on them in a 3-ver­sus-1 mode. Powerup items find whole dif­fer­ent uses here than they do in sin­gle­player: Dis­rup­tors warp the note high­way, Cleanse powerups can be use to blast tracks out from un­der your ri­vals, and you can use Flow strate­gi­cally to freestyle over some­one else’s lane and mess up their vis­i­bil­ity. Am­pli­tude with friends of­fers the most com­pet­i­tive rhythm-ac­tion mul­ti­player around, since rather than just match­ing your op­po­nents note for note, you can ac­tively in­ter­fere with them, rac­ing for the best lanes and pulling dirty tricks.

There’s been noth­ing quite like Am­pli­tude in the 12 years since it ar­rived on PlaySta­tion 2, so even if this res­ur­rec­tion were noth­ing more than a vis­ual up­date, it would still stand out. The new mu­sic and re­freshed, glo­ri­ously fu­tur­is­tic aes­thetic make it more than this, though the way it feels to play re­mains un­changed. It’s still a plea­sur­able kind of sen­sory over­load, a bold, en­er­getic rhythm game that scales to your abil­ity and makes you feel con­nected to the mu­sic in a way few other games can match.

It scales to your abil­ity and makes you feel con­nected to the mu­sic in a way few other games can match

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