Developer: VectorCell / Publisher: Lexis Numerique / Played on: PlayStation 3 (also available on Xbox 360) / Price: 800 XBL, $9.99 PSN / ESRB: Mature (Use of Drugs, Blood, Intense Violence, Language)
The concept was promising enough: take the moodiness and look of a survival horror game like Silent Hill and pair it with the hand-holding escort charm of Ico. Amy is actually not an entirely new idea when you consider the rescue premise of Resident Evil 4 and that unusual triumvirate of escort games from Namco Bandai (Enslaved, Knights Contract & Majin). Still, Amy was generating its fair share of buzz these past many months because of its gameplay, not to mention its endearing title character, complemented by her watchful guardian. Unfortunately, the end result makes Amy the first unquestionable disappointment of 2012.
Amy kicks off the most current wave of post-apocalyptic games that includes I Am Alive and The Last of Us. The title character is a mute child inexplicably immune to the effects of a radiation outbreak. Escorting her out of the hostile infection zone is a woman named Lara. While Lara is susceptible to the effects of the radiation (and has to take medication to survive), she can remain free of its effects whenever she is in very close proximity to Amy. It’s an inventive gameplay motivator to keep Amy nearby, even though there are enough hazards throughout the game that would compel you to protect Amy just as much as Lara needs protection from radiation.
By the time you’ve reached the middle of Chapter 2 (out of 6), you’ve experienced practically all of Amy’s gameplay features. It starts off like a familiar survival horror game, both in exploration and in controls. The latter resembles the melee combat of Silent Hill, where one button is held down to get into the wind-up pose while another button executes the attack. The combat goes slightly beyond being one-dimensional by also featuring a dodge move and the enemies often provide enough visual cues for this defensive maneuver to feel useful. This would also feel rewarding if not for the fact that the offensive part of the combat often feels sluggish.
Your primary melee weapons are the sticks that litter Amy’s levels. It’s a good thing there is an adequate abundance of sticks because they wear out easily. Between these and the various non-combat items, this game works like those many adventure games where you’re spending time finding keycards. Developer VectorCell takes exploration and item usage further by employing the same cause-and-effect item mechanics that were popular in 80’s and 90’s PC adventure games. It’s a rewarding experience when executed well and it’s a frustrating exercise in obtuse thinking when done poorly; unfortunately, Amy falls in the latter group.
For example, sometimes it just takes seconds to find both a locked door and the key card needed to open it. In one situation, the key card is in a room that only Amy can access and that room itself is encased in a larger room that is equally inaccessible unless you destroy the room’s glass wall. To complicate the task a monster that can kill you with one hit just barged into the level. So Lara and Amy have to distract the monster first by ringing a phone, then hiding in a locker while the monster answers the phone. The monster then inexplicably walks to an area and just stands there while his back is turned to everything else in the level. This gives Lara and Amy the opportunity to sneak out of the locker and get into the room with the glass wall. But how do you break the glass without alerting the monster? Fortunately, Amy is not only impervious to radiation, she can enable some magic powers by learning and drawing glyphs. The convenient glyph in this situation conjures a soundproof bubble that lets Lara shatter the glass quietly.
So yes, there’s even a sneaking element to Amy. It’s just too bad that you spend so much time figuring out what does and doesn’t alert the guards and monsters. A text tutorial could have saved time in explaining that the enemies field of vision is also vertical (so walking on catwalks is a risk). And the type of sounds that alerts others are annoyingly inconsistent. Walking on glass gets a guard’s attention from two rooms away, but a loud sliding door from one foot away doesn’t?
I spent the bulk of my 2011 holidays playing and savoring Skyrim, a game that has clearly spoiled me on the conveniences of being able to save any time, not to mention a welcome auto save feature. These benefits actually did not diminish the challenge and addictive elements of the overall game. I bring this up only because Amy‘s save functionality is practically the polar opposite; it’s horrible in fact. The save system only preserves your place at the beginning of each chapter without taking into account the items you have accumulated. There is one exception that will allow you to keep and stockpile items from previous chapters: just don’t die. Get ‘Game Over’ and you start the latest chapter with just a flashlight. Oh, and good luck not throwing your controller at your TV when the game crashes, which happened to me three times. Amy reminds me of those 8- and 16-bit adventure and side-scrolling shooters games where you were better off restarting your whole playthrough if you lost a special power-up or weapon and died. The difference is that Amy doesn’t have enough going for it to make you want to restart.
In retrospect, Amy’s presentation serves to teach game media and consumers a lesson in taking pre-release screenshots with a grain of salt. As image stills, Amy looks great in emulating the same dark, dirty, and disturbing visual design of Silent Hill. Seeing it in motion is a much different story, especially with the poorly animated cutscenes. On top of that, the soundtrack is forgettable and Lara’s voice actress can’t decide if she wants to sound American or like a French person speaking English.
The fact that Amy’s concept was so intriguing sadly magnifies the feeling of gross letdown in its execution. It’s easy to wonder if this game went through any kind of quality assurance testing because any tester would have noticed the flaws with the save system, and lack thereof. It’s such a glaring, simple, yet deal-breaking issue that a patch might very well convince me to raise my score by two full points. That still wouldn’t be a lot since the complicated gameplay—even if you do figure out certain sections after hours of trial and error—provides very, very little entertainment and sense of satisfaction.