The party game is a relatively new genre, and it is unique in that gameplay styles can vary wildly from game to game. Frequency is one such game, and by far one of the more entertaining I've played. Focusing on building tracks to create a remix of a popular song, Frequency is a frenetic, dizzying game that teaches you how to handle the beat and rhythm of remixed music. Alone or with friends, Frequency is not for the faint of beat, as the first thing this game requires is a good sense of timing and rhythm.
There isn't any storyline in this game, so you needn't worry about listening to any poor voice acting or laughable comic plot. This is about pure, intense gameplay that sets you to playing songs, trying to reconstruct the same music created by professional artists. You'll manipulate a simple gameplay environment to selectively build small channels of music into a whole song, and you'll have plenty of fun doing it. While this gameplay probably won't be universally popular, it is absolutely amazing to play if you can get into it. Without further ado, the real star of the game -- the gameplay!
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
I could bounce off the walls screaming about how fun this game is to play, and at the same time compose long, bitchy letters about how frustrating it can become. This all has to do with one simple fact: in order to play Frequency, you must have rhythm. Some of you might remember an old joke about a guy singing, "I don't' got rhythm," completely unable to keep tempo with a piano. I first heard the joke on The Muppet Show, watching in adoration of Fozzie Bear's utter lack of rhythmic ability. Well' if Frequency were calling the shots, it'd probably take Fozzie out back and work him over with a two-by-four. Seriously, though, Frequency does require a good sense of timing and rhythm. You could be technically tone deaf and could still play this game, as it relies on the beat for gameplay, but you'll get into it more if you can get into the groove of a song.
There are three different levels of gameplay -- easy, medium, and expert -- and they control the amount of notes you need to hit, as well as the number of songs you'll eventually be able to play. If you're having trouble, be sure to review the tutorials, which give you a full breakdown of just how to master the game, starting from the basic gameplay and explaining the entirety of the game in a simple, easy-to-understand manner.
The gameplay takes place in a hexagonal tube, which represents the different channels you've got access to as you play. Each song is divided into different sections, inside of which you'll try to complete as many channels as possible before the section changes and you need to go through it all over again. The notes themselves are small gems that run by like divots in the road. There are only three different types of notes, and they're separated by their location on the track -- left, middle, and right -- which corresponds to the buttons you'll need to press to activate the notes. You can use L1, L2 and R1, or just Square, Triangle and Circle, depending on your favorite style. The D-pad controls your left-right movement, as you jump your activator from channel to channel, and you'll use the X button to control powerups.
Whenever you pass over a note, you can hit the corresponding button to activate it, playing the music. Each channel represents a different part of the song, like Synth, Drums, Vocals and Guitar. The notes speed by most all the time, but you won't get any music unless you hit them. When you're in a channel, you'll see a series of beats all lit up with a green light carpeting the channel underneath them. Hit all the beats in that section without missing a single one, and it locks the channel, playing every beat automatically. By hitting these sections and activating the beats, you'll slowly lock in each part of the song until you've got the entire thing playing. Most impressively, the beats start and stop on a dime, and you'll be able to hear the slight, slight stutter if you miss or anticipate a beat too much. Concentrate on the rhythm, keep the beats, and the song will sound great.
As you race through the music, you'll need to worry about your energy. It slowly depletes over time, and only successfully locked sections refill it. You won't need to worry on Easy, but Medium and Expert levels can get a little trying. There are also powerup items; the autocatcher, which automatically locks a section; and the multiplier, which multiplies your score for eight measures. You can only get powerup items by finding a measure that has the powerup icon and then completing that measure perfectly, just like locking a section. These really add to the game by letting you get into the music something fierce. I'm a big fan of No Doubt, so I tend to use the autocatcher to lock in the vocal track and listen to Gwen Stefani sing.
Points are accumulated by successfully locking sections of the track, or by completing a full measure of music on the freestyle tracks. The more points you get, the better, because you'll need to accumulate quite a few to unlock the bonus song in each level. Wait, I forgot to mention Freestyle. Freestyle tracks appear whenever you've finished all the channels in a section of music and don't have any way to get more points. They come in two varieties, scratch and axe. Scratch recreates the effect of scratching the record, only this one lets you add a small clip of music from the song you're playing, based on which of the three activation buttons you press. The axe, my personal favorite, adds a fast synth track that you can adjust up and down to go from high to low synth notes, or even play continuously for a rapid background synth track.
Lastly, there's also a mode called Remix. While it doesn't progress quite the same way as the normal game mode, it still lets you construct a song using the channels and clips that you've been playing with in the normal mode. This time, you can put them when and where you want, dictating the cues and strengths that each section plays with. Don't like the vocals? Cut them out of the section you're working on. After you've laid down each portion of the game, you'll be able to add various effects to them to enhance or make subtle the effect that they've got on your song.
Frequency supports two-player split-screen play. Aside from the fact that you're competing with a friend, this is almost exactly like the normal game, with only a couple of notable differences. First, you can both work on different channels at once, which enhances the feel of the game by making the songs much more rich to play with. Second, you're competing based on points, and that ultimately determines who gets to make the more prominent music. You'll get first choice of tracks, and a slight volume increase for being in the lead. Third, there are a few new powerups you'll need to worry about if you're going to crush your opponents.
The Freestyler turns your track into a freestyle track, letting you axe or scratch your way to more points. Using the crippler disables your opponent's activator, preventing him or her from hitting any notes. If you get your hands on a neutralizer, you can use it to undo any of the work your opponent has done on a single track, taking away points as well as progress. Finally, the bumper shoves your opponent backward, placing you in the forward position to gain control of the channel.
Frequency doesn't have the greatest graphics in the world, but I think you'll find that mostly subjective. As a party game, it has a large array of worlds you can play in that, while functionally identical, have a unique character, movement and overall theme all their own. They have been constructed in such a way as to not detract from the gameplay, yet give the player (and friends) something to stare at while the song plays through.
Most of the time, if you're playing, you'll be paying more attention to the track as it twists and winds through the level. Think of it like a long, hexagonal tube, which continuously turns (only slightly -- no need to worry about nausea) as you play. In many ways, it is reminiscent of old wireframe games that you'd see on the first-generation console systems. The tracks themselves get fairly colorful, and the end of each song goes through a kaleidoscope of colors that is rather dizzying. Most impressive, though, is the fact that these graphics don't get in the way of the gameplay, and are simple enough to complement it.
The trippiest thing I found about the graphics is the aftereffect. When I was finished playing, I'd been so intent on the beat and timing that I'd stared at the screen until I got into the flow. When I stopped, everything in the room was still spinning. It's just that addictive.
Audio is the name of the game. Frequency is an amazingly well-done title with great sound and a diverse collection of music. Although it is eminently enjoyable with a stereo TV or sound system, you won't get full enjoyment unless you've got a surround sound system with subwoofer. If you do, kudos to you on how great this will sound.
If you're a fan of any particular genre of music, you'll probably have something to enjoy in this game. There are five different songs on each of the five different levels, and one of those songs is always a secret track that's locked until you gain enough points to unlock it. They're all mixes of some sort, from artists like No Doubt, Powerman 5000, Paul Oakenfield, QBert, Meat Beat Manifesto, Freezepop, Lo Fidelity Allstars, Fear Factory and The Crystal Method. There's even more where that came from. Not only do these songs make excellent choices for this game due to their various beat patterns and speeds, but they're also an incredibly diverse collection of some of the industry's finest music. There's something for everyone to listen to, and given the beat-driven nature of this game, they're all fairly catchy as well.
The most important thing I can say about Frequency is that it is very hard to sound poor while playing this game. Hitting those beats keeps the music flowing and flowing well, even if you're only listening to a couple of channels of music. Only during the remix mode might your music come out a little stunted, but the more practice you put into it, the better you'll get.
Frequency friggin' rocks! As one of my friends put it, it's like an addiction that you just can't get enough of, even if you've played the game a gazillion times. Intuitive, friendly, and most importantly fun gameplay is at the heart of this fine title, and it certainly excels at being a party title because of it. Simple to pick up and learn, but very, very hard to put down, there are only two negatives I would put on it. First, it is a party game, with only one style of play which merely varies in difficulty. Second, it's not the kind of thing that just anybody can sit down and play, as even with the tutorials, some people just can't hold enough rhythm to handle the beats. Still, even with the negatives, it's pretty fun to watch.
Without a doubt, though, if I didn't own this game I'd snap it up in an instant -- if not for its lasting appeal, then for its intense, easily replayable gameplay.