AMY Review

By Stephen A. Johnson - Posted Jan 20, 2012

While this downloadable horror title has a lot of ambition, it's ultimately sunk by inexplicable gameplay decisions and punishing difficulty.

The Pros
  • Ambitious for a downloadable game
  • Sound design is effective
  • Co-Op AI is interesting… in theory
  • Playing is not compulsory for U.S. Citizens
The Cons
  • Is Terrible
  • Is By Turns Boring And Difficult
  • Is Sloppy

I’m a horror fan, so I’ll forgive a lot when it comes to movies and games in my genre-of-choice. I don’t mind some cheesy acting and clichés, as long as it’s scary, and I love finding under-the-radar horror gems and championing them. I touted Deadly Premonition until all my friends were sick of hearing about it, and even found some fun in Obscure: The Aftermath for Wii. So I was primed to like, maybe even love, Lexis Numerique’s downloadable horror game Amy. The game has an intriguing premise, a creepy presentation and comes from an underdog development and publishing company. It’s even French. What’s not to love? Just about everything, it turns it out.

Let me start with the positives. For a downloadable title, Amy is nothing but ambitious. The game tells the story of a deadly virus outbreak, and puts you in the skin of Lana, a well meaning woman trying to survive amidst undead-style ghouls and monsters.  Lana is protecting and guiding Amy, a mute, autistic girl possessed with strange psychic powers.  Gameplay-wise, you control Lana, and lead Amy toward a hospital, solving puzzles, fighting (or running from) undead creatures and trying to get to safety and figure out why everyone is turning into murderous abominations.

Lana and Amy must work together. Each can do things the other cannot. Amy is able to detect danger, but only Lana can swing a bat to hurt monsters. Amy is able to wiggle into small spaces, but Lana is needed to tell her where to go and what to do. Along with the AI-co-op focus, Amy also sees Lana gradually succumbing to the zombie-gas and turning monster if she strays too far from Amy, a process that can only be delayed by the hypodermic needles found strewn about the environment. The game features blasted-out, creepy places to explore, made more unsettling by the excellent sound design.

 



How can something so French be so bad?


So what’s the problem? Everything else. Specifically, the “game” part of Amy is a complete immersion in poor design decisions. The controls are sluggish and spotty. The entire game is an escort quest through poorly thought out, too-dark locales. It’s got that “where do I go now?” feeling in spades. Many puzzles involve acquiring color-coded keycard (remember those?). NPC encounters often don’t make sense, neither does the story. The combat is unpleasant. There are typos in the subtitles. All that is annoying enough, but when combined with a sometimes unresponsive AI partner, unforgiving puzzles and a terrible save system, you have a perfect storm of gaming frustration.

It’s not just that Amy is hard (although it is punishingly difficult), it’s that everything in the game seems designed to hurt you, the player, as opposed to Lana, the character. The game’s checkpoints are sometimes very far apart, and the puzzles often require trial-and-error solutions. Meanwhile, you’re often running up against the time-crunch of Lana turning into a zombie. Make one mistake and you’re dead, sent back to the last checkpoint and forced to repeat a large section of the game, going through the motions of now-mundane tasks, until you make a near-perfect run.

 

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Why is my life a bitter carnival of never-ending grief?

All of this is compounded by the game’s save system. There is none. When you die, you are sent back to the last checkpoint, but without the items you’ve collected, so if you’ve managed to get through the previous level quickly enough to save up some life-extending hypodermic needles, they’ll be gone if you arbitrarily die in the next section of the game. When in a new environment, there sometimes is no reasonable way to prevent your death. If you open the wrong door, that’s it. You’re toast. Sent back in time with no items and a bad taste in your mouth. You can’t even turn the game off and pick it up at your last checkpoint. Instead, you can only begin a new game at the beginning of one of Amy’s six chapters, so if you sit down to start a chapter, you’d better be ready to finish it.

Amy also “features” drudgerous, animated sequences that are often unskippable.. Example: If Lana climbs up a ladder, you watch her do it. Slowly. If you have to climb back down, you’ll watch Lana climb down. Ditto for Amy crawling into holes, Lana climbing onto boxes and many other oft-repeated actions. Such boredom is rarely seen in games these games.

Amy

In later levels, you’re forced to let yourself get infected enough to blend in with the zombies, but not get so infected that you die, provide a new kind of maddening difficulty, which is notable more for novelty than any enjoyment it might bring. It’s like that scene in Shaun of the Dead, only horrible.

Perhaps the checkpoints, frequent failure, and difficult stealth section are meant to give death a “cost,” and add tension, but it just doesn’t work. The balance is just not there in Amy. Most of the time I was praying quietly to myself, “Please don’t die. I don’t want to climb that f*cking ladder again,” as opposed to worrying about the safety of Lana and Amy.

Amy

“I get it. You’re a poor little autistic girl. That’s great. Just hit the f*cking switch when I tell you to!”

And speaking of the title character, eff that bitch anyway. While the baked-in frustrations of the game’s design will kill off most gamers’ interest, even if you are that rare sort of individual who likes this kind of throwback masochistic gameplay, Amy, the character, is just broken. She freezes up sometimes. She often won’t do what you tell her to. She has no intuition at all. She won’t stay in hiding places indefinitely, so she’ll blithely waltz into zombie fields as if on a mission to kill you. Even when working as intended, Amy is a freakin’ mess.

If the idea of the game is to create a loving, care-giving relationship between you and the titular character, it works in the opposite way as is intended. Amy quickly becomes your greatest enemy in the game – a horrible burden who must be led everywhere, has no instinct for danger and won’t. Frickin’. Do. What. You. Tell. Her. To.  I wanted to leave her behind to her fate, but the game doesn’t allow it -- you can’t even crush her skull with a bat. In spite of Amy’s doe eyes and psionic powers, I hate that little girl with the burning intensity I usually reserve for my hatred of Herman Goering. Goering would have looked cute in a little pink t-shirt too, but that doesn’t excuse his crimes.

Anyway, Amy is bad, sloppy, and seems as if it was released in an unfinished state. Make no mistake: It’s not good-bad. It doesn’t have the loveable cult vibe of a game like Deadly Premonition, a goofy-fun gaming experience with similar last-gen graphics and terrible voice acting. Amy is alternatively throw-your-controller frustrating and deadly dull. It swings for the fences, and whiffs badly… but gets an extra half-point for being French.

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Editor's Note: Amy was reviewed using the Xbox 360 version of the game. If any differences are noted between the 360 version and the PS3 version, the review will be updated to reflect those differences.