The beat goes on.
This is a preview. Not a review, a preview. Pre-view. Pre, as in, before, and view, as in, we've looked at it. The fact that we've done nothing but look at it at the expense of every other task to be done this week is merely a function of how dedicated we are to our chosen profession. Nothing to do with how astoundingly bloody brilliant the game is because, as this is a preview, we wouldn't want to say one way or another. In short, we deserve to earn more money, and Amplitude is "shaping up nicely". Or expulsions of cliché to that effect.
It's not unusual...
Notice the lack of witty, incisive "Ed" comments? The boss is out of town. He's in Wales, for crying out loud. Hiking. Far, far away from here, this website, and the possibility of realising that his underlings have been playing one game more or less solidly all week whilst irksome press releases rot and "character artwork" piles up in the corner. Muahaha. That'll learn him. The skiving bastard.
It'll piss him off even more when he realises which game it is we've been so addicted to, because he's the biggest advocate of Frequency - Amplitude's predecessor - that we've ever encountered. He neighed and brayed all day long when we were compiling last year's Top 50 list, so convinced was he that it deserved to displace whatever it eventually bumped out of the way. And on the evidence of Amplitude, he was probably right. Not that we'd know for sure, this being a preview and all.
Amplitude, we're obliged to ambivalently inform you, is a sort of rhythm-action game in which you construct songs out of their various musical elements and earn big points by keeping the tune alive without faltering. In it, the player (or players) are faced with a series of different coloured, evenly distributed pathways, which rise, fall and wobble beneath an odd-looking spaceship thing with a trio of zappers on the front. You are that spaceship, its three zappers correspond to L1, R1 and R2 respectively, or square, triangle and circle if you're a thumb-loving man, and the pathways represent things like drumbeats, vocals, bass and electric guitars, and scratching, etc. The idea is to pick an available pathway using the D-pad, then zap little round objects representing beats as they fall under your sights. You do all this in time to the music, each successful zap emits a note, and you earn points for each bar of music you successfully zap along to.
To the beat of a drum
It's dead simple really. Just difficult to explain. Coming to it cold and watching our master toy with it, we were worried that it might prove too difficult for our chubby digits, but a quick tutorial later and we realised that it's as easy as a very easy thing with an illustrated manual and video guide. All you have to do is complete a couple of bars of music with the zapper and try and chain these nuggets of song together. For each section you complete, the next eight or so bars will play automagically, leaving you to concentrate on other aspects of the song. Keep a drumbeat going, for example, and it'll umph along by itself while you zap the vocals or guitar strings into life elsewhere on the screen, and a few bars later it'll need tending to once again.
After a while, the dextrous gamer will be able to switch between bars quick enough to keep zapping continuously. Doing so without missing a beat earns you a multiplier, which helps tot up your score, and picking bars with more beats to zap makes for a higher score. Helpfully there are power-ups like slow motion, score doublers and freestyler (which lets you scratch using the D-pad) to help you in your melodious pursuit of points, along with a useful autocompleter doobrie, which allows you to play eight upcoming bars in a chain without having to touch them - useful if you're stuck with a particularly tricky sequence and you don't fancy your chances completing it manually. And because there are so many parts to each song, you'll probably never pick your way through it exactly the same way twice.
The challenge is of course keeping the tune going without screwing up too much. If you miss a beat then you lose the chance to complete that bar and your energy meter, kept alive by busting beats (sorry) and crossing checkpoints 25, 50 and 75 per cent of the way through the song, will slip closer to the danger level. If totally depleted, it's Game Over and you'll have to start again. Fortunately - assuming we're not unnaturally gifted at it - this isn't likely to happen for the first 10 or 12 songs on the Normal skill setting, so you get pretty handy with the old path-switching and tune-meddling before you start falling foul of fearsome tempos and complex button sequences. At which point you're so addicted that you persevere despite the hideous difficulty level.
It's my go now
Is it fun? Strictly tasked though we are with providing a solemn and objective pre-overview, we'd like to sneakily confirm that it's fantastic. Once you get the hang of it, it's so compelling that even the most heinously ear-defiling garbage (with apologies to Shirley Manson) can't displace your enthusiasm. In fact, the trickier and more horrifying the music, the more difficult the challenge and the more excited and explosively triumphant you'll emerge. As we reached its latter stages this afternoon, office-dwelling co-workers were claiming their afternoon tea and fag breaks en masse - it's truly is the ultimate game for driving them, flat mates and other halves to distraction. They'll hate every head-splitting second of at least one of the many levels, each bound to its own song, that they're passively subjected to, but you'll find yourself almost impervious to the pain. Amplitude makes bad music fun!
The other good bit is that it forges a spiritual and vaguely psychedelic bond with your fingers, summoning them to life before you can even figure out where they're meant to go. Before long a breakneck fast sequence of beats will have you drumming away on L1, triangle and R2 (our preferred left index finger, right thumb, right index finger control scheme) before your brain's had time to process what you just did. It's like being Jedi or something. Clearly Sony knows its audience, and the sensation of doing things faster than you can think of them is oddly uplifting. It certainly makes up for missing the bus in the morning or getting stuck in traffic.
What's more, it's really quite a sight to behold as a spectator. Assuming you can stomach the music, you'll sit there and watch awestruck as your mate executes frighteningly skilful combinations, watching snippets of music videos and whirling colours saunter past in the background. Before long you'll be egging him on, whilst secretly hoping he comes unstuck so you can claim the pad for yourself and challenge his high score. It's that sort of game. You can even compare percentages of bars completed and all sorts of other stats once a song's complete, and the game even lets you know how far you got if you didn't make it, so if you're hotseating on a difficult song, you can compare your progress.
So far so good. Consider the sheer number of songs on offer, from Weezer and Garbage to Run DMC and Crystal Method, the hidden bonus tracks to be unlocked by hitting high scores, the remix mode and the multiplayer options and you've got a package that could last you for months. Er, probably. Throw in that familiar shoot 'em up-style obsession with beating high scores and perfecting your route through a tune and things look even brighter. You can even play it online, although obviously nobody in the UK is at this point, so we can't really comment on that. However, we're hoping for more downloadable songs, a good ole' high scores table and head-to-head options.
Amplitude is due out in September or October over here, depending on who you believe, and it's difficult to imagine it going wrong between now and then. Because, you know, it's already finished and shipped in the US. Assuming you've got decent enough reactions, it's definitely one to stick on your shopping list. Provisionally, that is. After all, we haven't reviewed it yet, have we? If we did that, we wouldn't have an excuse to waste another week on it closer to Christmas. "Ah."