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Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Survival/Horror
Publisher: Lexis Numérique
Developer: VectorCell
Release Date: Jan. 11, 2012


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PSN/XBLA Review - 'Amy'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 16, 2012 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

December 2034. Global warming has taken effect, spreading disease and natural disasters around the world. The small town of Silver City (Midwest, USA) has been directly affected by a comet that has come crashing down.

Survival horror has deep roots. While Resident Evil is often recognized as an iconic title, there have been games like it since the early days of the PC, Nintendo or the Super Nintendo. Horror goes well with video games, but it can also age pretty badly. A lot of the mechanics that were introduced in older horror games were experimental or odd, and many could be abandoned to provide a better experience. Older horror games are still appealing, but it's reasonable to say that a lot of their quirks wouldn't fly in a modern game. That is why Amy is such an inexplicable title. It doesn't just mimic the awkward and often bad gameplay seen in older survivor horror titles; it embraces it, almost as if it's trying to combine the worst aspects into a single unplayable title. The result is likely one of the worst Xbox games to date.

Amy tells the story of Lana, who is the guardian of an autistic girl named Amy. The story opens up with Lana rescuing Amy from the mysterious Phoenix Center. As the pair rides home on a train, there's an explosion in the distance and the train crashes. When Lana awakens, the area is infested with monsters and a creepy corrupting goop, and Amy is missing. Lana has to find her and escape before the pair is killed. It's all quite Silent Hill, but without the creeping horror that made Silent Hill interesting.

Amy's plot is incoherent. Even after finishing the game, I have no idea about the setting, who the characters are or what their motivations may be. It starts off looking like the modern world, but then you encounter a cab driver with a thick Bowery Boys accent who guides you through hacking inexplicable DNA-coded doors with a "DNA cracker" he happens to have on hand. Amy is autistic but has psychic powers and is also a master-grade hacker. Lana is not fazed by this, and none of this is presented as being slightly odd.  Lana's first response upon seeing a locked computer is to get Amy to hack it. The entire game feels like I walked into the theater halfway through a movie — that was produced by aliens trying to mimic human emotions and motivations. To top it all off, the game doesn't so much have an ending as it just sort of stops, all but promising that the sequel is coming soon.

"Dated" is the kindest way to put Amy's gameplay. It feels like a tremendous step backward in time, to a day when Silent Hill was still fresh and new. Lana is slow and awkward, her movements stiff and unnatural. Running around involves pressing three different buttons at once, and even the most basic actions feel like you're wrestling with the controls. I'd rather play Silent Hill, which was more aware of the limitations of its engine and never tried to make combat an involved affair. The same can't be said of Amy.

Amy is made even worse by the inclusion of a game-long escort sequence. The titular Amy will be with you for most of the game. Leave her alone, and she'll be beset by monsters who want to drain her energy. You have to keep her with you at all times or shove her in a closet or under a desk long enough to take care of things. As far as escort missions go, it's impossible to not compare Amy to Ashley Graham in Resident Evil 4 and to realize that she is far worse. You'll frequently have to use Amy to solve puzzles. Psychic powers allow her to do things like project a bubble of energy to silence all sounds, allowing Lana to sneak past enemies, but she can only do this if she finds and draws a small glyph located somewhere in the level. This isn't a case of Amy getting more powerful as the game progresses, as inexplicably, these glyphs are temporary. Once you finish a chapter or die, you'll lose any glyphs in your possession.

This is such a strange design decision. In any other game, you'd gradually unlock more powers, allowing the game to become more complex and interesting as you figure out how to combine those powers. Someone like Elika from Prince of Persia is a fine example. Instead, there's no room for complexity because you're never allowed to experiment. You'll find a puzzle power, use it, and you're done. This eliminates any sense of progression from the game, and Amy is a game that desperately needs a sense of progression. If Amy had gradually gotten more powerful, perhaps the game wouldn't feel like such a slogfest. Instead, Lana is forced to do almost everything.

Combat in Amy is simplistic. It is akin to the very earliest of Silent Hill games, but with several of the less-enjoyable mechanics from later games stapled on. You have two basic combat actions: attack and dodge. To attack, you'll swing whatever weapon you have on hand. There's no difference between weapons and no inventory system, so don't worry about that. Enemies will randomly dodge your attacks. There's no way to avoid this; they just will. The only way to consistently damage enemies is to use the dodge function, which lets you avoid an enemy attack. Repeated dodges "tire out the enemy" and allow you to more consistently hit them. There's no real visual cue or indication of this, so combat is mostly about dodging a few attacks and then swinging back. There's not even any thought in weapon choice. You pick up generic items lying on the ground and swing them. Weapons have durability and break after one fight, so you don't even have to worry about conservation. You trade one weapon for one dead enemy.

Speaking of death, you'll probably die quite a bit in Amy, but very little of it will be your fault. Enemies are fast and lethal, often killing you before you can finish wrestling with the controls. After you adjust to the controls, the slowdown and frame rate drops frequently, so you'll get hit without a reasonable chance to react. I have no idea how a game with a combat system built around precision dodging could be released with these sorts of frame rate issues, but here we are. There's also a "contamination" system, where hanging around icky muck too long causes Lana to slowly transform into one of the creatures. At high contamination, you can walk past enemies without being attacked. It's a neat idea but utterly worthless because the game is terrible about communicating how infected you are. Lana wears a sensor on her back that supposedly shows how infected she is, but it's almost as useless as a barometer, and you can drop from alive to dead in a second.

Lethal enemies are not necessarily a bad thing, but they are when compounded with some of Amy's other flaws. First, and foremost, Amy doesn't have in-game saves. Until you reach the end of a chapter, your choice is to power through or lose all the progress you've made. The only exception is the in-game checkpoints, where you respawn after you die. The problem is that the checkpoints are ludicrously far apart. You can often go 20 minutes without seeing a checkpoint. That means that if you should stumble into one of the game's instantly lethal traps, you lose 20 minutes of gameplay. These aren't 20 minutes of engaging gameplay, either; they're 20 minutes of re-solving puzzles you've already solved. Hiding from a giant monster is slightly tense the first time you do it. Doing it again and again and again because you got killed by the inconsistent AI is a firsthand view of purgatory. There are some slight elements of randomization, but nothing that makes it fun. Once, a painting fell off a wall when I walked back from a checkpoint. The second time, it didn't. Exciting.

The game's checkpoint mechanism single-handedly goes out of its way to strangle any fun the game may offer. Amy is a game where death is fast and pretty much unavoidable if you screw up, and the result is that the player is afraid to try anything. Older Resident Evil or Silent Hill games had save points, but even those were under the player's control. If you beat a hard boss or got past a hard section of the game, you could save just by going to the nearest point, all of which were placed in at least semi-convenient locations. I never thought I'd encounter a save system that made me long for the days of Resident Evil's typewriters and ink ribbons, but Amy does.

The checkpoints also inconsistently save what was on your person at the time of death. The game occasionally remembers that I have a lead pipe or syringe in my inventory if I die. What it almost never remembers is what powers Amy has found throughout the course of the level. The latter is a far more serious problem because you need those powers to progress. You can reach a point of the game where it is impossible to progress because Amy forgot how to shoot her silencing ball. Other people online have reported the same problem, and the only solution appears to be restarting the same tedious chapter. I'm not even entirely clear on where or why items are wiped, except that powers seem to vanish consistently. This might even be something you can work past if the doors didn't lock behind you — but they frequently do. Happen to die in the wrong place? Good luck advancing.

To further compound upon Amy's many sins against game design, the game has absolutely no forgiveness for breaking sequences or doing things out of order. This doesn't mean gaming the system to try to skip parts, but not reading the game's mind and knowing exactly what you were supposed to do. For example, early in the second chapter, a hell beast shows up and charges at you. This is an instant kill unless you hide before he gets to you. If you happen to open one door before a different one, he instantly rushes and kills you, and it's back to the last checkpoint. It's even possible to render some puzzles unsolvable by doing this, forcing a complete restart of the level.

Amy can't make up for its gameplay shortcomings with interesting visuals. The graphics are OK for a downloadable game, but not particularly good. Sometimes, the humans look more like monsters than the monsters do. Their glassy doll-eyed stares are creepier than the poorly textured beasts that you're fighting. Far more bothersome are the aforementioned frame rate issues. Amy chugs. There are times when the frame rate dipped severely during combat, which is inexcusable. Even when you're walking around, it drops and skips. The animations are awkward and look silly. The designers couldn't be bothered to have Lana holding the equipped weapon; it magically appears in her hand while attacking. The voice acting is only slightly above dreadful. The voice acting often sucks any possible tension from a scene as it renders a sequence goofy and ridiculous.

Amy is the special kind of bad that rarely comes along, spoken of in the same breath as Superman 64. The plot is incoherent and unenjoyable, the characters are bland and unlikeable, and the setting is poorly established. The gameplay is broken and awkward to a degree that would be inexcusable in 2000, let alone 2012. Not even the budget price of $10 can come close to making this remotely worthwhile.

Score: 2.0/10

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