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Publisher: Lexis Numerique
Platform: XBLA, PSN
Release Date: Out Now
ESRB: M for Mature
This review is based on the XBLA version of the game.
AMY was one of those games that gamers everywhere were dying to test out. As soon as the game had been unveiled, we knew we wanted more. It looked like VectorCell were answering the calls of survival horror fans. Horror in games has shifted too far into the realm of action rather than scares - AMY was going to bring it back. With the game out now it seems that everyone's hearts have been broken with a horrendous game. But is it really that bad? Or is it a diamond in the rough or somewhere in between?
The basics of AMY set it up to be a pretty innovative game. The game starts players up as a woman named Lana who is taking young Amy to a hospital. The girl had been under scientific investigation prior, but something odd seemed up, which is why Lana got her out of there. They hope their train trip will be fine but then something insane happens. First, the duo notices a strange explosion through their window, the train comes to a complete halt, and then Lana quickly discovers that almost everyone around her has become infected. This infection causes people to act in a very zombie-like fashion. Unlike most other zombie games though, Lana herself is infected but Amy is mysteriously safe from it.
The introduction sets up the way the game will play out. As Lana, your body will be constantly under assault from the virus. That is, unless Amy is with you. Not only does she appear to be impervious to it but she also is able to stop your virus from taking hold as well as heal you. With that in mind you can expect that you never want to be separated from the girl. AMY is basically an interesting take on escort missions that we've seen in many games before. Instead of you needing to take a character around and protect them though you must bring a character around because she's the one keeping you alive! It's certainly a cool take on escort missions although playing the game will reveal the flaws of this mechanism.
For the most part, you can stick very close to Amy as you traverse levels. With the press of a button Lana can call to her and have them hold hands. In this way, you can be sure that the child is with you and not wandering slowly behind. However, there are many occasions when you will have to split paths. In fact, most puzzles require that you send Amy off to wait in a room to retrieve goods or to operate buttons. Although Amy herself can't really be damaged by much, these moments are initially terrifying. As soon as you are out of range, Lana's body will become infected. The game is kind enough to have a device on her back which will alert players to the state of infection in her body by changing colors. Green means everything's good, yellow means she is infected, and red means you'd better get fixed up ASAP or else.
Even if you didn't pay attention to the device though it's easy enough to tell Lana's state. As the virus ravages her insides, her character model changes. It becomes greyer, cracked, and much scarier overall. Not only that, but the screen and control of her will change as she nears death. The screen will become redder and she will move more sluggishly. In a smart move, the developers even made it so that if Lana is in a bad state she can pass by "zombies" without them knowing. At such an advanced stage of infection they sense her as one of their own.
Unfortunately, while this all could have been really cool it actually plays out in a much more frustrating way. When trying levels for the first time there are many points when you won't be exactly sure how to tackle a puzzle. Especially when puzzles crop up in newly explored areas you may scratch your head as to where exactly the game wants you to go to solve it. Sure, most puzzles don't require much thought beyond "let's try pressing the buttons in this order" but the searching out of right locations is painful. It's tough because of the fact that Amy can rarely tag along while doing this. As such, Lana will constantly be dying and making searches cumbersome. There are syringes littered around levels which will heal Lana temporarily, but they only do so much. Besides, if you're stuck wandering the same area more than once those syringes you picked up earlier won't be there to save you again. There are a few other methods of healing her but they open up only in later levels.
Because levels aren't exactly smartly designed, you'll be stuck watching Lana suddenly collapse time and time again. It would be cool if they had made sure to check that you could always make it to the right places in time. Even if it were "just in time" that would be much more able to get the adrenaline pumping. As it stands, you might at first be on edge, but then quickly become annoyed. When you're not scratching your head about where to go, the game is then treating you like a child by offering simplistic puzzles. Many involve simply having Amy go into a room and then walking around to a window so you can direct her as to what she should grab in there. AMY seems to really love elevator puzzles as well. No matter where you are, there are always elevators which need buttons pressed to get to certain locations or retrieve items. They quickly become stale and you wish that there could be something more to the game than key card and elevator puzzles.
If these were the only issues with the game then it would still be worth playing for some people, it seems. However, more basic parts of the game are problematic which means that many will rightly ignore it. Controlling Lana is just a pain. The controls feel very evocative of survival horror games when they were still a new genre. For example, most people know of the infamous tank controls of Resident Evil. While that game is still well-loved it is probably not because of the controls. While horror fans have dealt with terrible control schemes through the years, more modern games have spruced them up. It seems supremely odd that AMY would retain such antiquated controls. Gamers demand higher control polish for basically any game these days and so this is one of the game's biggest faults. However, the controls are not inherently "broken" as some have reported. They're just done in a very awkward, old style that requires a fair bit of playing to become accustomed to.
Something that could be considered hugely problematic about the game is how it saves. In an attempt to emulate older horror games, you are not completely in control of saving. Instead of offering limited saves or at least save points however the game will only save once you beat a chapter. It will also have a few checkpoints dispersed in each chapter, but they are oddly spaced out. You might expect the game to save after each puzzle or at regular intervals but it will only do so at certain predetermined points. Because they are spaced out anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes apart you may find yourself playing the same parts over and over again. If you get frustrated by a section though you'd better not quit the game either. If a player quits before reaching the next chapter then once they start the game again they will have to begin from the chapter start once more. Checkpoints only save for the current game and not for future playing. The decision to take saving away from the player is confusing and will rightly annoy gamers.
When AMY was in development it was always shown off as being a game based around hiding as opposed to fighting. This was one of the main things that got horror fans' blood pumping. Fans of older horror games have long-since desired returns to roots instead of FPS zombie/monster games. Despite VectorCell's best intentions, the game still ends up focusing on fighting. There are enough enemies that will come attack you that the easiest way to proceed is to simply smack them with a wooden plank. Some enemies are unkillable (or at least very strong) so you must be stealthy around them, but the only way to find that out is by first attacking them because you think you can. If Lana doesn't die by infection, she will die after a handful of hits from a regular enemy or one from a stronger being.
There might be an ever bigger death blow to the game than its controls. It is the story, or more so, the interaction of the two main characters. With the game being called AMY, one should expect that she is a very interesting character (or at least one which you really want to protect). Neither of these ends up being the case though. Amy certainly seems to have some interesting things going on in her head but the same cannot be said for Lana. She's mostly an empty character. Sure, she says scared things and angry things but it feels like she is simply acting badly. She rarely seems truly fussed by anything going on around her - or Amy. The relationship between the two characters should be powerful and airtight. Instead, it seems that neither are all that protective or loving to the other. It feels like they're stuck together and although Lana knows she should protect Amy, she doesn't really care much anyway. Oh, and those zombies? They're not scary to the characters either.
With all these negatives it seems that AMY should be "the worst game ever" or something like that, doesn't it? However, that is not the case. The game certainly feels old and difficult, but that doesn't mean it's completely without merit. The graphics are some of the best for anything released on XBLA or PSN and that deserves mention. Graphics certainly don't make or break a game but they help with this one. The locations are dark, splotched with red puddles, and have some decently icky looking enemies. Lana's changes, like mentioned before, are also quite stunning and cool to see happen in real time. Alongside graphics, the sound design is also well done. It is honestly pretty scary to be hiding and listening to an enemy's footsteps as they draw nearer.
Although the acting of main characters feels forced and the story isn't too creative, there is still something about it than can draw players to master the game and finish it. It may be due to the rather steep difficulty that comes in later levels, but the desire to beat AMY can fuel some through it. Not only that, but when the game isn't annoying you with repetitive puzzles or clunky controls, it is able to be creepy which is something most modern horror games are sorely lacking. Still, it seems most gamers have already written this game off and it's easy to see why. It isn't easy to recommend the game to everyone, but longtime horror fans might find it worth playing.
+ Creepy atmosphere
+ Innovative gameplay concept
+ Higher quality production (graphically) for a downloadable title
- Antiquated controls
- Horrible saving function
- Lack of interest in characters and their plight
Overall: 4 (Out of 10)
Only the biggest horror gaming fans need apply. There is some good to be found if you can get past AMY's annoyances.
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