Monday, January 23, 2012

REVIEW - Amy.


Survival horror titles have been entirely absent from the current gen since Siren: Blood Curse dropped almost four years ago, and the idea of a new entry in this most cherished of genres that offers a few interesting twists is a delightful proposition. Amy offers two such twists - and those two Good Ideas are good - they just happen to exist in a game that is, in all other ways, mediocre or just plain bad.

If one were to take a step back and compare Amy to the heyday of its genre - the PS2 - it's not entirely awful. What's awful is that it keeps a very great deal of what made much of those games awful, and finds new ways to disappoint along the way.

I want to like Amy. I like some of Amy's ideas very much. The fact that player-character Lana is suffering from the same zombification infection that plagues the game's setting is lovely. Without a constant feed of syringes to keep the infection at bay, her skin will grow pale, her cheekbones hollow, her eyes sunken and dead. Ugly black veins spiderweb across her face and out from her mouth. She hears mad whispers - the world turns red, and her vision begins going a bit liquid.

When she's that far gone, Lana can even walk unmolested among the game's undead enemies, passing through them as a fellow nightmare creature - until she reaches out and holds the hand of the game's titular tot.


Amy, a mute girl who takes instruction well and seems to have psychic powers, will cure Lana of the infection whenever they are close. A white shimmer flows over you when you take her tiny hand, and she cleanses you with a touch.

Many have lamented the concept that Amy is essentially one long escort mission - but that's hardly true. The girl herself does not seem very threatened by the monsters that stalk this game, and given that your survival relies entirely upon her close proximity, if anything, she's the one escorting you.

I like that. I like that Amy's protector is also a monster - that the only thing stopping her from becoming a monster is the girl she's promised to help. I like that your ostensibly helpless ward is - much like Elika from Prince of Persia '08 - a supernatural powerhouse.

She never hinders, only helps.

God help me, I also kind of like that Amy is - more than anything - a throwback to the survival horror games of yore, when we accepted and even championed terrible combat as a necessity of the genre. Unfortunately, Amy isn't just a throw back - it's a long bomb.


Its puzzles - if one would be generous enough to call them that - are tedious. We're talking about weird "hack the computer" puzzles that see you rearranging symbols until the game lets you advance. We're talking about pointless elevator puzzles that have you standing on one while Amy flips a switch across the room, and then having her stand on one while you flip a switch placed in the stupidest location possible.

The ones that really annoy are when you guide Amy into a little crawlspace, so she can hit a switch or open a door from the other side. This wouldn't be offensive if Lana were a bit meatier than she is, but the woman is as skinny as a runway model (complete with impressively high cheek bones and short pumps) - she could fire through those spaces just as easily as her tiny ward.

There's a great deal in Amy's construction that, similarly, just makes no sense whatsoever. The game asks you to ignore its rote combat and the way it will introduce a mechanic by making it the only means to move forward and then not telling you it exists - but if a game is going to ask that of us, it had better step up, elsewhere.


We could ask, for example, that it have a compelling narrative - worth suffering the game's slings and arrows, elsewhere. Amy does not have that. It has a bare-bones, uninteresting story with voice acting and dialogue that feels totally at odds with the game's setting. It even switches voice actors for Lana here and there. One line of dialogue will be from one actor, and the next from another - it's somewhat stunning, really.

We could ask for a survival horror game with somewhat enjoyable combat - but bare-bones, wiffy-feeling melee is one of the tropes of the genre Vector Cell have decided to champion.

We could ask for gorgeous presentation - or at least interesting art direction - but Amy doesn't offer it.

We could ask for decent checkpoints, or a manual saving system that would allow us to make reasonable progress before breaking for the day - but we have, maddeningly, been denied that.

Perhaps - most within reason - we could ask for a game with mechanics, design and rules that are consistent throughout the experience. We could ask for a title that doesn't change its own rules several times over the course of a single level - rules that we, the player, consider rather important when they are the difference between losing a half-hour's worth of work in the game or not.


I do not use the term "work" loosely. Amy is simply not a fun game.

In its attempt to put an interesting spin on the survival horror genre by way of its mechanics and protagonists, it trips over its own inane, amateurish design. There is tension in Amy, but it's entirely the wrong kind.

It's not as a result of the game's atmosphere. Amy barely has any.

It's not a building fear of the next terrible monster hiding around the next corner - combat is simple, rote and not too difficult to master.

No, while playing Amy - along with a general sense of boredom - you will constantly be aware of a creeping terror that here, there, anywhere, the game will suddenly assume you know something it never told you, and kill you for not knowing it. Then, through no fault of your own, it will send you back to the beginning of the level (and there are only five).

In that way, it's not fear, really. It's an long, slow-burn appreciation of the fact that that this game is just going to make you more and more angry until you decide it's not worth it and walk away.

As you attempt each level, again and again, Amy reveals itself to be a tedious, insipid little title that shames the bad old survival horror games.

Honestly, this is worse than Galerians.


THE GOOD
  • I like that Lana is infected just like everyone else, that Amy is her lifeline, and that the infection can even be used to your advantage
  • it's rather pleasing that Amy herself is rather like your super power
  • a throwback to classic survival horror
THE BAD
  • classic survival horror was much better than this
  • amateurish writing and a story that goes nowhere
  • boring combat
  • Amy's autistic. Is it just me, or is anyone else a little tired of autism being the flavor-of-the-month go-to mental illness?
  • totally forgettable presentation
  • awful stealth implementation
  • the electrical mines are just stupid. they seem to only exist to make you walk slower - as if this game really needed another thing to slow it down
  • it bothers me that Lana is a rail-thin blond sporting high heels and a miniskirt. It's like, c'mon - can we try something else?
  • whoever designed Amy's checkpoint system should be tried in the Hague
  • the game, its enemies and its mechanics will change, here and there, just because the devs want you to do something different...
  • ...and they expect you to do that different thing without suggesting what it is in any way, shape or form - and until you figure it out, it's killing you over and over - which makes Amy...
  • a tedious, frustrating, forgettable experience
THE VERDICT
This is a bad game.

3 comments:

  1. To be honest, I'm considering doing a feature where I vehemently defend Amy for being so true to the classic survival horror formula.

    We would not be nearly so angry at this game if it were 1997.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, but you can't base an argument on what a game might have been a decade ago. Even a joke argument.

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