Xbox Live Arcade Title
Thank you to Bastion for providing a copy of this game for review.
You might have noticed while browsing through this site that I’m not really the sort of person to bash games, go on long rants about how they suck or anything else of the sort. I’ve often found that even in the most mediocre games there’s still fun to be found, and at the end of the day a lot of work goes into creating games: developers will often go without sleep or even seeing their familys to craft their chosen medium, and as such being unnecessarily harsh like some sites out there seems…..wrong. But sometimes a game comes along that even I can’t find some fun in, and this time around that game’s name is Amy.
It’s really a shame, because despite the framerate stuttering and jerking around like some sort of spider in a spasm the intro sets up a nice amount of intrigue. As the game begins we’re introduced to Lana and her young autistic ward, Amy, whom she’s liberated, as they’re travelling on a train from a mysterious location only known as the Centre, a place where there has clearly been some weird things going on as Amy is able to hack military grade computers and throw around freaky Jedi-like powers with ease. Lana, on the other hand, is a refreshingly normal person who, unlike most “normal” characters in games, isn’t capable of defeating entire armies with minimal effort despite having only just picked up a gun for the first time ever. In fact she’s an incredibly vulnerable character which lends itself well to the games survival-horror theme, but at the same time she’s also a very bland character who has little personality, which, when coupled with Amy being mute, makes it quite hard to actually get invested in the two characters. Anyway, I’m digressing: it’s not long before a comet hits the Earth and the train comes to a grinding halt via the time-honored method of crashing dramatically and everything starts to go wrong, because suddenly everyone’s favorite brain-munchers have returned for yet another game! Yup, you guessed it, Amy features Zombies. Oh joy, more of the bloody things. It’s not that I don’t like zombies, at least when they’re not trying to kill me, but the sheer amount of them that exist within gaming is possibly going to create some sort of zombie black-hole that destroys the entire Earth or something, and that can’t be good, can it
At first Amy’s storyline is certainly interesting enough to instil a desire to see the game through to the end, taking a leaf out of the classic chiller films by providing just enough information to get you guessing. But after the first half-hour the story disappears with just a few hints and snippets scattered throughout the six or seven hour adventure, finally re-emerging at the end to provide a rather unsatisfying ending that doesn’t really answer any of the game’s own questions while setting up for a sequel. On the one hand I certainly understand not answering everything in the first game, but as the credits rolled I was left feeling rather unhappy at the lack of real answers in the first game. Surely after playing through all of this I deserve something? To summarise, then, the story is enjoyable and certainly intriguing, but ultimately doesn’t deliver.
Something else which quickly becomes apparent during the games short intro is the voice acting, or more precisely, the bad voice acting . Amy, being mute, is of course entirely excusable in this department, but her guardian Lana certainly is not. By the end of the game Lana’s flat acting had convinced me that she actually really didn’t give a damn about Amy or anything else for that matter – every line she delivers is just flat. Likewise the rest of the small cast of characters encountered deliver mediocre at best performances. But the rest of the game’s audio is actually fairly solid. While in most games broken glass on the floor or bits of debris are usually just visual only and don’t actively effect the game, in Amy they do: walk across glass and it crunches underfoot while gravel and debris sound surprisingly realistic. It’s not just for presentation, either: these things have an active effect on the game, because you’re going to spend a lot of time sneaking around and stepping on something like glass is a surefire if attracting attention. They also serve to beautifully punctuate the normal ambient sounds of the game, helping to create a more tense atmosphere. The music however, is pretty much your average generic horror theme and never impresses.
The games graphics don’t quite manage to match up to the audio (voice acting withstanding) quality of the game. Granted, this is an XBLA title and so I wasn’t exactly expecting breathtaking vistas and stunningly detailed models, but still, Amy is disappointing, mostly thanks to the games art-style which is fond of grey, boring corridors and rooms. Even on the rare moments when you do get outside it’s still a colorless world, although this is hardly surprising as it’s a horror-survival game and they have a firm belief that having anything other than grey is simply not allowed. Because the game can’t rely on color that makes the art-style even more important, but Amy’s enemy designs, environment designs and general style are really quite boring. It’s not a technically impressive game, either: there’s some decent models in the game , Lana being one of them, but there’s also a load of ugly ones, with a character you meet almost right at the beginning being one of the ugliest I’ve seen in the while. Animations don’t fair that much better: again, there’s a couple of decent ones, but for the most part the characters move like they’re made of wood, with facial expressions to match. This presents the biggest problem for Amy, because without the ability to speak we must rely on her expressions and animations to make us care, but all she does is nod or shake her head and that’s it. Throw in some graphical glitches such as screen tearing and you’ve got a game that is visually unimpressive.
But enough, I’ve spoken about story, graphics and audio but haven’t yet touched upon the most important thing of all: the gameplay. Oh boy, where do I start? The controls are where the initial problems start: Lana feels like a tank to control, seemingly weighing about a ton and have the turning radius of a whale on dry land. I’m willing to attribute part of her lack of grace to the fact that she’s wearing high heels, but only part of it. Should Lana have been on her own this problem wouldn’t have been so bad, but the games central mechanic is that you must escort Amy, usually done by holding her hand, and that just serves to exasperate the problem. To hold Amy’s hand, assuming she actually even responds to the command, which she sometimes won’t, you need to hold down the right bumper. To sprint you need to hold down the left bumper and hammer the X button while pushing the left stick forward, so to sprint while holding Amy you actually have to use three buttons and a stick, all the while fighting the game’s irritating camera which seems determined to make life a misery for you and your strange little ward. It’s a prime lesson in how to design an awkward control system, and that’s without mentioning Amy’s power selection wheel which also uses a rather baffling control scheme as well. Actually taking Amy anywhere quickly proves to be a frustrating experience, though: clip a wall, turn too fast, move a touch too fast or any other number of things and Amy will let go of your hand which leads to some damn frustrating moments when speed is key, such as trying to hide in a cupboard before a gun-toting soldier shows up and blows your head off. Her willingness to let go off your hand at the slightest touch mixed with the awkward controls and heavy movement mean you’ll spend the majority of the game walking, so as not to make life to difficult for yourself. She also has a nasty habit of getting herself into trouble by walking up to zombies or crunching through class and alerting absolutely everyone to your presence.
Amy also plays a vital part in another of the games major components: puzzles. But while the word puzzle conjures of thoughts of fiendish levels that actually make gamers use their brain (a first for some FPS players), Amy’s puzzles are rather more…..simple. At their peak puzzles might require you to send Amy to a switch that activates the elevator that you’re on, so that you can then hit another switch which activates the other elevator that Amy is standing on, all so that you can find a Glyph for Amy to draw so she can gain force powers and break through some wood that one solid kick would have bloody well sorted out. At other times you might have to send Amy through a conveniently placed hole in the wall, which, and I know this sound petty, Lana herself could have fit through, so that she can hit a switch or get a keycard. Yup, this game has keycards – I hate those things, I really do. I’m going to be picky here, though, because as I mentioned Lana herself could have actually gotten through every single gap in the game, yet insists on sending an almost helpless 8-year old through. In fact, if Lana herself had gone through those holes with Amy they could have probably cut out a considerable amount of time from their journey and avoided several dangerous situations. This is most apparent at one point in the game where Lana sends Amy through a hole to unlock a door. As Amy is busy, Lana has to defend against a horde of zombies, almost getting killed in the process, despite the fact that she could have just gone through the damn hole herself! And if I really wanted to get picky then I could also point out that Amy being unable to climb ladders is utterly stupid, and again could have saved them both from considerable trouble.
But I’m digressing again. In short the puzzles are simplistic and boring to solve and require almost zero intelligence to do so, with the only actual excitement coming from the occasional moment where you have to make a noise to distract some zombies so that you can get through a door. Strangely, you can create said noise by walking up to a payphone and making it ring. I’m just curious here, but since when can payphones do that!? However, one decent element is added in the form of contamination. According to one small loading menu snippet of information, Amy has been decontaminated, and such if Lana holds her hand she is immune to infection and also gets healed. Should Lana leave Amy she’ll slowly become infected, and if she spends too long away from Amy, or without injecting herself with syringes found in the levels, she’ll die. It’s a good way to add a little tension to the puzzle solving, as taking too long could very well result in your death. But the single most disappointing aspect is that Amy’s supernatural powers aren’t incorporated into the puzzles designs as much as they should have been, almost giving the impression that her powers were added at the last-minute or something.
And yet the basic puzzles will actually stop you in your tracks, but not for the right reasons. Solving the puzzles is simple enough, it’s the terrible level-designs, trial and error nature and lack of signposting that’ll leave you stumped. Finding a keycard to open a single damn door can have you wandering around the level like an idiot because it barely shows up on the screen, while at other times you might find yourself unable to progress because you missed a movable object whose prompt will only display if your standing in exactly the right two inches of terrain. It all comes down the simple fact that levels lack any sort of intuitive design to give players a clue as to what the hell they’re supposed to be doing at any given time. Quite simply, the level designs are poor.
But let me provide some examples of strange other design decisions: at one point I was on a train-platform where a puddle of electrified water blocked my progress. My answer to this was simple: climb down onto the train-tracks, walk around the puddle and clamber back up. As it turns out, the train-tracks were electrified and I had to restart the bloody level. Couldn’t you have just not let me climb down? At another point I was killed by touching a puddle of red good which earlier in the game would slowly damage my health and give me a chance to escape. Restart level. But that’s nothing compared to the final chapter of the game which easily takes the away for the most frustrating level of a game that I’ve had to play in a very long time. Things get off to a bad start when I discover that being spotted by a zombie results in a game over screen and a level restart. Why is this a problem? because the game never told me that being spotted would force me restart, nor had it ever used this concept before that point. And then came another infuriating idea: if you become infected enough and move slowly the zombies assume you’re one of them. In concept this sounds pretty damn cool, but in practice there’s absolutely zero way of telling how infected Lana actually is which resulted in me getting killed several times because I wasn’t infected enough and the zombies wouldn’t buy the disguise, or because I was too infected to actually make it far enough to move a few items around so that I can get Amy round the zombies without being spotted! And then after that came a tedious trial and error section involving getting infected again, car alarms and watching Amy running down the street pursued by zombies, equalling yet another failure.
But let’s get off of that and try talking about the combat. Because Lana isn’t some trained cyborg from the future capable of dispatching foes by simply glaring at them her fighting style is a simple: hit the f*cker with a stick! So to match Lana’s simple approach to combat, a simple combat system has been crafted that involves just two buttons: attack and dodge. Simples! Now, we all know from past experience that simple combat systems can sometimes be just as fun and effective as complex ones, but in Amy’s case that’s just not true thanks to some utterly terrible hit detection. Take a swing at an enemy and a coin toss seemingly decides whether you actually hit or not. Likewise dodging is an entirely untrustworthy concept, sometimes working and at other times not. The resulting blow often spins you around, so while you wrestle with that damned camera the zombie gets a free hit in. Lovely. In all fairness I see what the developers were trying to do here, but there’s just no rhythm, grace or even common sense to the combat system – it is, quite honestly, terrible.
Next up is the stealth mechanics, which are quite important as stealth is generally the better option due to the large amounts of zombies and that annoying combat, and at other times it’s just plain required because you occasionally encounter gun-wielding soldiers who simply can’t be fought. Hell, at one point you even encounter some strange creature that’s wearing a metal harness and has a bar wedged in its mouth. Exactly what this creature is or why it even exists is up for debate because it looks completely out-of-place and only appears once in the game and only for a very small amount of time, but the point is stealth is the key to progressing past it. As I mentioned when talking about the game audio, sound is very important in Amy and that helps add a nice element to sneaking around as you don’t just have to watch the enemy, but where you’re putting your feet as well. It adds a little bit of tension to proceedings, because just stepping on some glass or onto some rubble will bring the zombies down on you faster than a curry goes through a nun. Yet you do have one advantage: the zombies eyesight really sucks. There are times when you can be crouched, along with Amy, next to a barrier and can clearly see that the zombies line-of-sight includes you, but they won’t react to it. There is one really annoying problem with the stealth, though, and that’s the pesky camera: not only will you be constantly fighting it, but if you happen to look sideways at an enemy while your sneaking, so that you can keep an eye on them, Lana’s pace will slow to a dying crawl, which of course then means you don’t make it to cover in time and get spotted. But despite these problems the stealth aspects are probably the most well done part of the game. They’re still not very good, but they’re passable.
Right, so I’ve covered a fair bit here, but I’ve been saving the worst for last: the checkpoint and save system. About half-way through the first chapter I had to stop and go do a few things around the house, and so, as you do, I just turned off the game assuming that at most I might have to replay ten-minutes of the game. And so, to my horror, when I turned the game back on I discovered that no, it does not save your progress during a chapter, so I had to replay the entire first chapter. There’s no manual save system either, so any time you want to play Amy you better make sure you’ve got a spare hour or so to complete the entire chapter, otherwise you’re going to have to slog through the entire thing again. This lack of mid-level save is, quite honestly, baffling and utterly stupid on every conceivable level. And if that wasn’t bad enough the game will sometimes go a full thirty-minutes or more without giving you a checkpoint, so if happen to die due to one of the games many daft moments you might just find yourself playing through a considerable chunk of the chapter yet again, just so you can get back to where you were. In the developers defense it’s clear that this style of checkpoint system as intended to complement the survival-horror nature of the game by making it tougher on the player, which would have been great, except that the checkpoint doesn’t make the game tougher, it just makes it more bloody infuriating when you’ve got to replay an entire section because your lead pipe passed through a zombie, or because of some other daft thing. Deaths in Amy don’t come because the game is hard, which would have at least made the checkpoint restarts feel fair, but because the game is just poorly designed. Perhaps even more confusing is that every time you start a new chapter or get sent back to a checkpoint the contents of your inventory vanish for no reason! Do I get mugged every time I go through the reincarnation centre or something?
In the end, though, the most disappointing thing about this game is that it’s simply not scary, at all. In any way. Ever. The few times when the developers try to scare you is when they use pipes that suddenly emit a loud hiss when you’re inches away, attempting to illicit the fake scare known as human reaction, and even that fails because their placement is incredibly predictable, as are the zombies hiding around corners.
So here we are at the end of this review, but before I finish I want to share something with you first: as I began to write the final lines to this review and generally just ensure that I was happy that it was a fair review of the game, Amy’s developers posted on the games official Facebook page non-hardcore players to switch the game to Easy mode to make the experience more enjoyable for themselves because, in their words, Amy is a hard game. But here’s the deal from my own perspective: Amy isn’t a hard game in the true sense of the word, unlike games like Dark Souls – It’s hard because bad game design makes it hard. I get what the developers were going for, it just hasn’t worked.
You might recall at the beginning of this review I wrote about how I hate to bash games because time and effort went into their creation, and I stand by that statement, which is why I’ve tried to give Amy the most fair review I possibly could. But at the end of the day, as I think back on my six-hour time with the game, I can’t recall a single point when I was actually enjoying myself, instead I was either frustrated, bored, or daydreaming of playing something else. And that’s a strange experience for me because I can usually find enjoyment in almost any game. And so now I’ve got to try to score this game. You might have read other reviews out there that have completely ripped up this game and then spat it out with a sign saying 1/10. Well, I’m not going to give it a score like that, because quite frankly that’s some seriously piss-poor journalism at work. In my eyes a score of 1/10 means the game literally did not work or possibly blew up your console within the first five minutes. Amy is not like that: it is playable and there are a few, and I do stress a few, decent things in there, but ultimately it’s just a bad game, and so I feel that the final score is both fair and justified. But as always, go download the trial for the game and make up your own mind.
+ Some decent use of audio.
+ Semi-interesting plot.
+ Lana is a refreshingly normal person.
– Why doesn’t it save!? WHY!? WHHHHHHYYYYYYY!?
– Pretty much everything.
Everything is bland and generic to look at, but there are some decent models and bits of texture work.
The voice-acting is terrible and the music is purely generic, but some of the sound effects are quite well used.
Initially intriguing, but then disappears until the end of the game and leaves too much unanswered while setting up for a sequel. At least answer something, dammit!
Sneaking around is easily the most well executed part of the whole thing, but that’s not really saying much because everything else is a lesson in poor design and sheer frustration. There’s just no fun to be had here.
It took me around six hours to complete on the normal difficulty setting, but it felt like twenty. There’s zero reason to go back and play it again.
The Verdict: 4
Amy is playable from start to finish, and it’s possible that one or two people out there might actually enjoy it, but I’m not one of them. This is a mess of a game filled with terribly level designs and even worse gameplay. It’s just not fun in any sense of the word.