Frequency was the first and one of the most refreshingly unique games in the music genre, and the fact that it has influenced modern classics makes it more than appealing.
The music genre has been changing dramatically for the past decade or so. It’s funny to look back and remember that the genre was pretty much inexistent in America as we only received some ports from Japan, like Dance Dance Revolution or Parappa the Rapper. But in 2001 something interesting happened, an American developer released one the best games in the genre. Frequency was in fact one of Harmonix’s first games and its main concept was so refreshingly unique that it quickly evolved into something as complex as the “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” franchises.
Frequency has a terrible introductory video, which shows weird people dancing in the most awkward ways possible, but fortunately this FMV doesn’t represent what the game’s about. The basic gameplay is pretty simple: you have to move in an octagonal tunnel, where each wall (also called track) represents a specific part of a song, this symbolizes the different instruments (like guitar, bass, drums, synth, vocal and FX). But in order to complete a song you are required to move from wall to wall, capturing notes from the different tracks. To capture these notes you need to press buttons (L1, R1 and R2) and once you’ve hit enough notes in a particular section that part will start playing automatically.
Moreover, each song has a different tempo making the game a little more realistic. As you move on in the game the notes will scroll down in quick succession so they will be much harder to capture, and pressing buttons at the right time can be both hard and engaging. Many indicators will appear onscreen giving you instant feedback. Apart from the notes and the tunnel itself you’ll see an energy meter, which represents your “health” (if you miss enough notes your life will decrease). Some power-ups are also included.
The whole concept of capturing notes is really fun and addictive, as the different parts (vocals, drums, guitar, etc.) start complementing each other creating the unique effect that you are playing the song. In any given song, you’ll see different portals which represent a natural division between sections. When this happens, the song will stop playing almost completely and there’ll be some silent moments in which once again you’ll need to hit certain notes in a row to complete it.
At the beginning of the game you need to create and name your F-REQ, this is basically an avatar that represents you. Later on, and as you progress you’ll be able to modify certain aspects of it. Additionally, the game includes other modes and these may be played in both single and multiplayer. The solo portion of Frequency includes two main modes: Game and Remix. Game (very originally named by the way) is the main “campaign” which can be played in three different skill levels: Easy, Normal and Expert. Each one has a different number of songs, so if you want to play them all (including the bonus songs) you’ll need to be able to play the game on expert.
The other mode is called Remix, and is much less structured that the campaign. In this mode you are allowed to create your own version of a song and save it to replay it later. Actually, the mode works quite well, as it allows you to put notes or add different effects (like volume, strutter, echo and so forth) wherever you prefer. A tutorial is also included for those who want to understand some of the basic features of the game before starting playing the single player campaign or against a friend. Furthermore, the multiplayer aspect of the game is really good. You can choose to play a regular song or a remix and both are shown through split-screen, where up to four players can join via multitap. As soon as you play this part of the game you’ll soon realize that more power-ups are included, making Frequency as little more different when played with a friend.
Graphically the game is good. It hasn’t aged really well in this regard, but it’s understandable as the only things you see onscreen are a tunnel and hundreds of notes. The game is divided into five different stages and each one allows you to play with a different background. The different designs of these are simple and minimalistic, but at least they add a little more visual variety to the game. The game only loads before and after each song and loading times are actually quite short.
On the other hand, the soundtrack is probably the game’s best feature. Frequency has 25 different songs from various popular artists like: The Crystal Method, No Doubt, Orbital, BT, Fear Factory and many more. Apart from that, it’s amazing that you don’t have to look at the energy meter to know how well are you doing in any given song, as the feedback the audio provides is enough to see your own progress. This is a perfect example of how well audio can be integrated in a game.
In conclusion, Frequency is one of the most enjoyable games in the music game genre. The only problem is that after so many years of its release not many people may be appealed by its idea, especially as games like Rock Band 3 have rendered obsolete every single rhythm game that appeared before it. But considering that recent games like Rock Band Unplugged and Rock Band 3 (the Nintendo DS version) recycled Frequency’s gameplay, nobody can deny that its influence has been immense. And that is something it should be praised.