Platforms: PC | PS3 (reviewed) | Xbox 360
Publisher: Lexis Numerique
Sometimes, every once in a while, a game will come along that is riddled with the most basic issues. The graphics will lurch between dire and vomit-inducing, the control inputs will seem to require extra fingers and conventions of convenience for the player will be notable by their absence. Yet, occasionally, there'll be a game that warrants love and affection in spite of these things, a game that sneaks up on you with its inventive charm and original disposition. A game that you find yourself still playing, six hours later, even after you used every swear word under the sun in the first ten minutes. A game that redeems itself; one that makes everything worthwhile.
AMY is not one of those games.
A survival-horror title, supposedly, the premise is your typical genre affair. You play as Lana, a character who under different circumstances might well have been one of the most interesting and unique to have graced consoles in a while. Her young companion, the titular Amy, is mute, tense and spends much of the game whimpering. As the game begins, Lana and Amy are on a train, having escaped from a shady research facility where it is suggested untrusttworthy men in white coats have been studying the little girl rather closely. The opening exchange between Lana and a conductor reveals a host of expository cliches, with the rather dodgy animation hinting at the technical horrors to come.
Just as Lana is detailing the escape to a concerned party over the phone, an explosion goes off in the distance, the sky becomes overcast and everything fades to black. Our heroine awakens to find the train wrecked, the conductor seemingly dead, shambling monsters dotted about the station platform and, worst of all, no Amy...the girl who predicted calamity only moments before by drawing a bunch of monsters and fire on an Etch-A-Sketch. So off you go to find her.
It's around this point when everything goes wrong. The camera, usually a sticking point for survival-horror games, until Resident Evil 4 came along and delivered scary brilliance and a malleable POV, is dire. The way it lurches around suggests that there's a drunkard behind the lens, and it makes one feel more queasy than Mirror's Edge ever did. On top of that, the actual process of walking reveals frame-rate and screen-tear issues so fundamentally broken that simple navigation causes headaches. The 3DS has nothing on this.
You do get used to it after a little while, but the clunky nature of simply getting about the place causes other problems too. Combat is a nightmarish proposition. Admittedly, one would expect it to be a pretty horrible experience for Lana, but the odd controller layout, the wayward camera, temperamental hit detection make encounters with enemies one of the worst parts of the game. Yes, it encourages you to sneak about, but when you're constantly snagging on bits of scenery that you can't even see that gets a bit annoying.
Once you eventually find Amy, after coming across the most creepy taxi driver ever, the game reveals its special mechanisms. Amy has got some pretty special gifts, one of which being her healing capabilities. Stray too far from the little girl and Lana will start to decay and rot as the infection that took over everyone else begins to eat at her. It's a nice little inversion of the protective relationship and one that, in better hands, might have created some emotional resonance.
But instead VectorCell decided to have the player engaging in endless switch and key-code puzzles. The DNA scanner, which you pick up in the prologue, has you using the world's worst radar to find patches of useful DNA to bypass locked doors in the near vicinity. This is just the start. Interested parties can also expect innumerable puzzles that basically involve either sending Amy through a crawlspace that Mr. Blobby could get through (but Lana for some reason can't) to pick up a colour-coded keycard, or messing about with elevators because for some unfathomable reason, it might be the end of the world but Amy can't climb a ladder.
The game does a terrible job at giving you information, too, so for much of the time you'll be shambling about with only a light sense of what the hell you're supposed to be doing until an invisible enemy attacks you, or you glitch into some scenery. And don't expect to really be notified of new mechanics, AMY's world is cruel and unforgiving, almost to the extreme.
Suffice it to say, then, you're going to die. Lana can only really take three or four hits and, with stealth being pretty hit and miss, conflict is inevitable. There are one or two moments of brief satisfaction, if you can call it that, that come from distracting goons with payphones, hiding under tables or in lockers to avoid detection or somehow slipping by an enormous open space filled with guards, the helplessness at times is palpable...but Amy is no Amnesia. Such a feeling comes from technical errors, and the fact that the game is clunky at best and horrible broken at worst, rather than any hint of well-worked design. It's made much worse when the military finally arrive and start shooting at you on sight, piling on the misery because there's no option to manually save and checkpoints are even less generous than Scrooge. You will rage-quit, it's almost inevitable.
It's a real shame, because on paper it sounds like a wonderful game. The preview sheets were littered with promise, with games sites gushing as we all name dropped Paul Cuisset (yes, he did Flashback, but he also did Shaq Fu) and predicted marketplace-changing things. You see it's not all bad: the sound design is by far the best thing about the experience and would, in a game less broken, provide a very eerie atmosphere indeed. The whispers just at the edge of the soundscape that swell slightly as Lana drifts further from her young ward are a lovely touch and Lana herself has huge potential as a protagonist: clearly shaken by the events around her, but brave for the girl beside her. Previews give you things to hang your hopes on, and no-one wants to see a game fail.
But of course that doesn't excuse the mess that AMY actually is, neither does the 800 MSP price point. Whether from over-ambition, a lack of funds, a non-existent QA team, whatever it is - there's simply no way of avoiding the fact that this game has very little to offer. What promise is shown, and there is not much, is squandered in a scrapheap of half-hearted design and poor scripting. Concept can elevate an average game to a great one, but it cannot fix what's already broken. Execution is paramount, and in forgetting this completely, AMY puts its own head on the block.
- Sound design is pretty good
- Characters have potential
- This isn't the only survival horror game out there
- The camera
- The puzzles
- Everything else
The Short Version: AMY has a premise with potential, but it's crushed beneath recycled clichés, clunky controls, eye-watering glitches and poor design. There might be some perverse delight in seeing who out of you and your friends can survive the longest before putting a controller through the television, but I doubt it. If it was on a disc, you wouldn't even use it as a coaster.