I don't think I'll disagree when Erin says that Amplitude sounds an awful lot like top-forty radio. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing probably depends heavily on individual tastes. Still, Frequency's more underground selection of music did give it a big advantage. Frequency was as much about discovering a song as it was about playing it. A song would reveal itself one track at a time, and there was a certain sense of excitement once an entire song was going. Since most of the artists featured in Frequency didn't normally show up on top-forty radio, there was also an element of surprise in unlocking a song that helped to heighten that sense of discovery.
The move to something more mainstream, as Erin noted, hurts Amplitude in many ways. But at the same time, when compared to its predecessor, the sequel is also better defined because of it. One of the first things I noticed were how much more concrete and tangible the backgrounds were in Amplitude. Even though Frequency will ultimately be one of my favorite games of the PlayStation 2 generation, the backgrounds in it still bore me to tears. Mostly made up of geometrical shapes bobbing in space, Frequency's backgrounds repeated the same dull blues, greens and purples. They were far too abstract and muted to have any kind of resonance. Amplitude's backgrounds in contrast, are suggestive of a massive, futuristic urban world. Players move along on a six lane super highway in the sky, traveling through places like 'Neotropolis' and the 'Beat Factory.' The backgrounds also have prominently ubiquitous features found in most modern mega-cities: video screens and giant billboards. Some of them hang on buildings while others float freely in space, and the whole effect is like seeing a vision of New York's Times Square far into the future. Both the video screens and billboards display images of particular artists, playing back their music videos or just cycling through still images of glossy mug shots. It seems an appropriate set of visuals for music coming from chart-toppers like Pink and Blink 182. Amplitude feels very much like a celebration of modern pop music and its excessive commercialism.
It should be obvious by now, if it wasn't already apparent from the score, that I liked Amplitude much more than Erin did. Of course, I'm coming at the game from a different perspective. The main difference is that while Erin believes the point of Amplitude is to act as some sort of musical creator, I believe it's more interesting to consider Amplitude as a kind of simulated instrument. As difficult as the game can get, I can't imagine that Amplitude is more difficult to master than an actual musical instrument. If anything, Amplitude is music simplified. Players are basically chaining together long strings of short samples with well-timed button presses—something reminiscent of playing a keyboard preprogrammed with various samples. Additionally, if the nodules Erin mentioned were to be considered musical notes, travelling the 'highway' in Amplitude would feel an awful lot like reading sheet music sideways. I can certainly understand Erin's concern about Amplitude's move towards more mainstream acceptance. Yet at the same time, to me, the point of Amplitude and Frequency seemingly is to demystify music for the masses. Consequently, it needs to be accessible to as many people as possible.
Still, I do have my own concerns about Amplitude, although much of it may be outside the control of the developers. But during the course of the game, I couldn't help but think that Amplitude would have been a much more interesting experience had been released for PC where not only is the online infrastructure more robust, but also where the gaming community much more active.
Something that probably would have been a no-brainer for a PC version of Amplitude would have been the ability to upload/download not just remixes, but newly licensed songs or even original compositions by average gamers. Song catalogues could be tailored to individual tastes and replay value would be increased exponentially. Expansion packs would have gotten me excited too. Playing through the 2002 remix of Herbie Hancock's Rockit made me think how much I would have enjoyed an Amplitude expansion featuring various 80's songs. Mars' Pump Up The Volume or Devo's Whip It would really work well with the Amplitude formula. Serve it up with healthy portions of punk and new wave and I'd be in heaven.
However, the PlayStation 2 doesn't have a hard drive, and much of Amplitude's online features feel more like token gestures than they do a real attempt at expanding the game's reach. Who knows, maybe the online component will be more fully realized when the next installment of Amplitude comes out. By then, more people should have hard drives in their PlayStation 2s along with all the necessary connections to get online. Or maybe Harmonix could just head directly to the PC and bypass the consoles altogether the next time around.
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