Game reviews – Amplitude HD and Hardware: Rivals

Bland songs to match beats to in Amplitude HD and frustrating subpar Hardware: Rivals

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 January, 2016, 2:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 January, 2016, 2:00am

Amplitude HD

Harmonix

January – that frustratingly slow month in gaming when everyone’s still playing the epic open-world games they got for Christmas, and us critics are stuck reviewing the leftovers from development hell. But it’s not all bad: sometimes we get an impressive update of a long-forgotten classic. Case in point: Amplitude HD.

Available for the PlayStation 3 and 4, this remake is a crowdfunded reboot that completely overhauls the graphics, refits the control scheme in line with modern methods, and firmly keeps the gameplay exactly where it should be. The thing that made Amplitude so great the first time around was its fast-paced, arcade-style music-based thrills, and thankfully, most of that has been retained.

Careening along a cosmic highway in your sleek space vehicle, jumping from one lane to another as you switch from vocals to drums to bass, racking up the endless combos as you keep the song stream alive. The game was one of the very first to blend traditional beat matching with modern pop songs, and it was an incredibly visceral experience when released back in 2003.

Amplitude hasn’t lost much of its pumped-up lustre on the gameplay front. Precision and pace are still major factors, and it’s incredible how developer Harmonix has heightened those attributes with this update, each on-screen cue and responsive control completely adding to the experience.

Unfortunately, where the game falters is in its music selection. The original offered a varied and genre-bouncing selection ranging from ‘90s/noughties favourites Weezer and Blink-182, to classics such as Run-DMC and David Bowie. It’s understandable that licensing and budget just couldn’t cut it this time around, but the main campaign has 15 tunes that blandly blend into one another, while the remaining 30 are borrowed from sister indie games or through indie artists such as Wolfgun and Jim Guthrie.

None of the songs here are exactly bad per se, but when you the main crux of a game is built around keeping in tune with sounds you dig, the thrills quickly dissipate. If you’re new to the world of Amplitude, that might not matter so much, but rose-tinted fans heavily on the nostalgia might find this HD upgrade a little lacking.

Hardware: Rivals

Sony

Last year’s Rocket League was a surprisingly addictive experience: a jacked-up blend of car racing and competitive sports, in which players sped around in monster trucks, trying hilariously to smash a gigantic ball into a goal. It was a fresh, old-fashioned multiplayer online experience, the kind that stood out among a world of bland first-person shooters.

So we were excited when we heard about Hardware: Rivals, a PS4 game that sounded like a riff on the classic Twisted Metal formula of missile-fuelled vehicular mayhem. It unfortunately doesn’t work like that, though. A successor to the long-forgotten early online adopter Hardware: Online Arena for the PS2, in the 13 years since, little seems to have been done to brainstorm or develop the follow-up.

There’s the now standard sleek and shiny visual body of course, but underneath all you have is a limited set of stagnant options. Four game modes, four stages, four types of vehicles – a strange obsession with that one number, and none of them pushing any sort of multiplayer boundaries. You’ve got the choice of deathmatch for example, with this particular tank, or maybe team deathmatch with another tank. Or how about team domination with your pick of a buggy, or, oh look, team elimination with a different buggy?

After the initial disappointment we were still determined to give the game a shot, but it felt as though the controls were mapped to develop early onset arthritis, the back trigger buttons in the standard accelerate-reverse configuration, but the firing options frustratingly set on the front triggers. Why torture us, we can only quickly ask, before once again being let down trying to manoeuvre our vehicle – tanks are exceedingly clunky, and while the buggies are super fast, they’re also incredibly weak, making this an often unfair contest.

But play long enough, and you’ll get the magical XP, able to unlock such wondrous abilities as … new skins? And the ability to see more on a map? They really couldn’t have given us say, another vehicle maybe or a different set of levels? Sad and subpar, Hardware: Rivals isn’t worth the software its programmed on, a failed opportunity that could have been so much more.