Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Amplitude (PS4)

From the creative minds at Harmonix comes a game that is all about sensory overload. This game of which I speak is actually a remake of a cult classic of the same namesake. It is known as, "Amplitude". Amplitude, at base level is a game that utilizes similar mechanics such as those which are tied to games like 'Rock Band 4', and Disney's "Fantasia: Music Evolved". By this I mean you will be hitting targets via specific button presses in time with songs that are each associated with the game's included soundtrack. As far as a story goes Amplitude does include it's own underlying plot about nano-technology packaged in a tutorial style campaign mode, and in providing such content said story implies the use of pseudo-surgery on the human psyche within a particular patient. The game itself combines trance-like music from various artists, mixes it with some intense psychedelic visuals, and adheres it to the rhythm style gameplay that comes with the interactive music experience. Along with the challenging, and musically driven gameplay presentation also comes high scoring opportunities tied to an online leaderboard, and a separate mode of play known as "Quickplay". For those of you looking to best your friends with noteworthy top scores you'll find that, that is also an option if you choose to buy the game.

Amplitude's main menu, as simple as it may seem contains some complex tweaks, and game modes which serve to further unlock options which are initially unavailable at the beginning of your playthrough. When you first startup the game you will be taken through a basic training tutorial which will get you familiar with what it is that needs to be done in order to obtain the highest score possible. Like most instrumentally focal video games "Amplitude" has lanes with hit markers (Cells) on them that will eventually line up with your aiming crosshairs as they draw closer, and connect with them. Hitting the "Cells" in sequential order as they pass into one of three aiming crosshairs within the lanes (which are tied to different types of instrumentals including Drums, Bass, Synth, Guitar, Vocals ...) is a must in order to keep your streak multiplier count up, and your energy level from depleting. To do this you simply press the appropriate button/s at the right time, and your ship will zap the currently lined up cell. Unlike most instrumental video games "Amplitude" is slightly more of a shmup (shoot'em up) experience in that you will be piloting one of four different colored coded, and individually named nano-craft through the various regions of a human patient's brain.

In front of the hovering ships which ride along preformed musical tracks (in the literal sense) are three horizontally lined crosshairs of various shapes, and colors according to to the selected ship type you have chosen. As your ship moves forward along any given lane a string of cells will pass closer to the crosshairs (L1 = Left, R1 = Center, R2 = Right) as the selected song selection plays out, and will require that you press the appropriate button/s in order to complete the string, or "Streak" without failing. If you miss hitting the button at the appropriate time, or press the wrong button the streak will be broken. In turn your streak multiplier (which is a sectional meter on the right hand side of the screen) will also reset, and the energy meter (left side of the screen) will deplete as well. It is important that you keep the streaks going by completing the cell strings, and by switching between instrumental lanes via the "DPad" after you've completed a streak. Passing through gates will also replenish energy if you can make it to them in time.

When it comes to modes of play you'll find that "Amplitude" has two options available from the start including "Quickplay", and "Campaign". You can play "Quickplay" which is basically a single playthrough done throughout the length of one personally, or randomly selected song. This mode incorporates the basic gameplay mechanics I just mentioned, but also adds in "Nano-Boosts" which are unlocked as you continue to play, and beat your best scores. Nano-Boosts are essentially power-ups that are obtained by completing cell strings with the nano-boost icon showing on top of them. They included such things as streak multipliers, lane clearing power-ups, and even power-ups that slow down the speed of the playing music among other things. You can activate/use the nano-boosts once you obtain them by pressing "X" on your controller. As far as the previously mentioned scoring opportunities go your playthrough efficiency will be tallied up in a few different percentages including that of your ranking on the online leaderboard after you have finished with a song. Among said end song score tallies is your current and best streak count, completion percentage, score, bar rating (3 bars that fill in when you reach a certain score), and rank among friends. I should also mention that "Quickplay" playthroughs can be done on different difficulty settings including "Beginner", "Intermediate", "Hard?", and "Expert" which are each indicated by first letter on the ranking leaderboards.

The second mode of choice comes in the form of a "Campaign" which acts sort of like an extended tutorial with the same gameplay as before, but with added voice-overs tied to the performed nano-surgery that you are supposedly participating in as you pilot your nano-ship while zapping cells. It takes you through the soundtrack song by song, and through the patient's various brain regions as you try and deal with the underlying medical problem. As with "Quickplay" your progression will carry with it your high scores, and will afford you bonus content in the form of unlockable nano-boosts, and additional songs. Should you wish to stop after as song you merely have to press "SQUARE" in the associated menu in order to save your current progress, and quit.

Past the single player experience there does seem to be a local competitive option for up to four players, but only in the "Quickplay" mode. It's in this mode where the different ship types, and even some of the nano-boosts come into play. I imagine that each player would be assigned to a lane, and that they'd compete to get the most streaks completed in a single song playthrough. That is in theory though as I don't have anyone to try the game out with in person.

As far as options go there is an "Options" menu in the main menu listing which houses the "Training" mode as well as audio/video synchronization settings that affect the way the crosshairs, and cells collide in-game. Along with that particular main menu extra also comes the "Credits" which are exactly as they sound. If you are interested in seeing who is behind the creation of "Amplitude" then definitely give the credits a viewing. Who knows you might also get a trophy out of it. One never can tell.

Now For the Verdict ...

I have a mixed bag of feelings about this game, honestly. In some ways it looks, and sounds amazing, but in other instances it seems a bit lackluster. By "lackluster" I guess I mean flawed. I was definitely not lying when I said "Amplitude" was a "Sensory Overload" earlier on in this review. Even for me (a guy who isn't prone to having seizures) the visuals were taxing on my eyes, and caused me to miss tons of cell strings as I tried to complete streaks. The applied button layout was also not easy to pick up on further causing frustration as I tried to keep in time with the music, and gameplay elements. Challenge is one thing, but when said challenge is tied to the use of controls that's another entirely different counter-productive matter. I feel that the control scheme could have been more user-friendly. Aside from that I also noticed instances in the game where the lane transitions didn't allow for continued streaks due to the timing of each lane's ending. Sometimes at the end of a lane when I had to DPad over to the next lane the cells were placed in such a way that I'd miss them, and cause a streak break without no way around doing so. I don't understand why that is when the point of the game is to keep the streaks going. 

Also the instrumentally labeled lanes seem to have no differences at all when you interact with them via lane change, or through cell stringing. The only noticeable change in audio that I heard was when I hit the vocal lane, and the vocals cued in. That in itself puzzles me. This game was very confusing to me even though I understand it at a base level. Perhaps a more in-depth tutorial, or "Training" mode would have helped? Let me also not forget to mention that some of the music was so all over the place, and in such a nerve racking way that it only caused more problems with focusing on what needed to be done. Thankfully not all of the music included was a pain to listen to though.

As far as a recommendation goes I'm gonna have to say pass. If, however you are a fan of the original game, and understand the mechanics behind it then you might actually like it more than I did. I've personally never played the original, and have never really been into music rhythm games. You'll definitely have to factor that into the rest of my review when making your decision as to whether or not to buy it.

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