Expanded Content #3: AMY A Start-To-Finish Nearly Broken Mess [Review]

  • Platform: Xbox 360 ,PS3 (reviewed), PC
  • Published by: Lexis Numérique/Namco Bandai Partners
  • Developed by: VectorCell Studios
  • Genre: Survival Horror
  • ESRB Rating: M For Mature
  • Number of Players: 1
  • Release Date: January 11, 2012, PSN (North America): January 17, 2012

Ask not “What went wrong with AMY?” Instead, ask “How did something this unplayable slip past quality-assurance and into stores?”

Life is all about asking the right questions.

This wasn’t really a bad survival-horror concept, either. It was simple and not necessarily original, but not really bad. You play as Lana, a mother who’s just helped her young, mute, autistic, apparently mutant-powered daughter Amy escape via train from a facility where she was being subjected to much ethically questionable research. En route to safety, something goes awry, zombies and monsters revolt, the train crashes and Lana emerges from being separated from her senses to search for her bug-eyed, frog-faced crumb snatcher in a decimated train station.

From the very get-go, it’s pretty apparent somebody let their kitten chase a cat-nip mouse across a mixing board, because there are moments when either sound or dialogue becomes either disproportionately loud or randomly muted. It works to the grim, nerve-jangling survival-horror motif’s credit when something barrels into a locked metal door just as Lana happens to be passing but it just comes across as a sloppy finished product when the sound effect volume randomly drops off sharp during a combat or death sequence. In a genre that’s all about orchestrating an atmosphere that immerses the player and suspends all other reality but the game’s, a little thing like that can just rattle someone loose – and not in the intended way of being frightened loose from the edge of one’s seat, either.

There are other moments when dialogue actually starts overlapping during gameplay – particular during the first chapter, as Lana and Amy are shepherded about the train station by dimwitted cabbie Marchello, who just never shuts up. He’s a walking, talking, grating exposition dump. That’s fine. God knows, I’ve played Final Fantasy games before. This thing even works in action titles like Uncharted, but that’s because Sully and Drake are two of the finest written characters ever to grace a game.

Marchello? He’s not entertaining, and for all his useful things to know and tell, it gets old fast that he prattles on unceasingly and just goes after all that could-have-been-wonderful silent tension with a sledgehammer. Eventually, it’s like being led around by Ralph Wiggum – especially when he just keeps talking during Lana’s instructions cued by quick-time commands.

Bright side: he does get gunned down early. So take comfort knowing something eventually shuts him up.

To AMY‘s credit, there’s a more traditional emphasis on flight over fight that’s a welcome break from the ground onto which survival-horror has strayed. Some latter day Silent Hill installments and definitely the last two numbered Resident Evil titles could be found guilty of embracing characters that seek peace through superior firepower. The ammo and weapons have sometimes grown so plentiful, a play-through stressing good maneuvering and stealth over head-on battling seems sometimes but a quaint, sporting notion. Lana and Amy can fight their way through many a confrontation, but it isn’t the only way, isn’t even always the recommended course, and sometimes isn’t an option at all. Many times when over-matched, Lana and Amy have no choice but to either flee or seek shelter.

When they do duke it out – whether by necessity or by choice – it’s with found and improvised weapons or the psionic powers Amy learns by sketching glowing hieroglyphs she finds scattered about the trashed town’s walls. Either one takes out most enemies with but a hit or two.

That’s the good news.

The bad news, is that hit-detection is one of the most broken aspects of the game. There are moments when the only thing taking a beating at an enemy’s hand is that poor, poor air. Nevertheless, there are Lana and Amy, out of range and taking damage. It’s not like the control of Amy’s powers when selected is exactly great, either. It’s badly explained, but once she casts a projectile with a flick of the right analog stick, its path must then be controlled with the left one. Otherwise, God only knows where it’s going to fly, but it probably won’t be to what you think you’ve targeted with the reticule.

The game does employ one interesting concept that’s compelling in theory, but plays out badly in practice: the infection factor. Early in the game, Lana equips herself with a shoulder-harness detector that clicks like a Giger-counter when Lana enters an infected area. Previously uninfected areas can also become infected with the zombie virus during random events, such as one early one when some poor schlub is attacked off-screen and his newly infected blood seeps beneath a door, allowing the pathogen to become airborne. When in an infected area, the screen gradually grows more red as Lana’s infection grows worse.

There’s a point at which, if played carefully, it can assist the stealth mechanic. As Lana turns, she can no longer run but can shamble past zombies undetected. Of course, this also works against the player in any area in which some exploration is necessary to devise the next move, leading to Lana’s untimely death and frustrating start-die-repeat gameplay until trial-and-error more than actual deduction or problem-solving reveals a solution.

Saddest part? Trial-and-error isn’t a deviation, but the norm throughout the game. That clearly isn’t by design, either. Most games are programmed to essentially be an interlocking Rube Goldberg device of if-then equations. If you do this, you get this result. Unfortunately, the A.I. comes across so damn buggy, that whereas one fittingly always expects that 1+1=2, it’s often like punching that equation into a calculator and being told the answer is in fact “banana.”

The penultimate fifth chapter – yes, if there’s any consolation to be found at all, it’s that at least it’s a mercifully short six chapters of broken, unplayable game – is becoming infamous. A section in which Lana and Amy must lure multiple zombies this way and that has been deemed “unbeatable” by more than a few players because even when played the same way several times consecutively, the zombies don’t always react the same way. It takes patience, but it’s beatable. Still, why tax the player’s patience that way in the first place? If that’s a bug, then a patch is in order and a team of testers should be in the bread line.

If that’s intentional unpredictability, then that’s not even gamesmanship. That’s an irritating parody of the old tech joke, “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”

But that brings everything back full-circle to one question: who on Earth is to blame? It’s a relatively simple story and a design that borrows perfectly functional, effective elements from Resident Evil and Silent Hill . . . but executed horrendously. One would seemingly almost have to put effort toward making a game that functions this poorly. That’s actually the comforting theory. The others? One, this game went through the testing process and nobody raised a concern about these glaring issues hindering the gameplay. If that’s the case, then please, somebody confirm that the testers are neither visually nor hearing impaired, because that’s the only way these things could be missed.

The other – and I really, really hope this isn’t the case – is that the concerns came up and someone with the clout to either give the release “yay” or “nay” to hit the Xbox Live Arcade, Windows and PlayStation Network just didn’t care.


*A complimentary copy of AMY was provided to GamerXChange by Lexis Numérique for review.


2 Responses to “Expanded Content #3: AMY A Start-To-Finish Nearly Broken Mess [Review]”

  1. Sounds like the best game ever, herp derp. The game sounds like it might have been one of those instant classics…and then they just forgot to test what they wrote and went for tea. Hopefully some patches come out for this that turn the game around and push it back into the good game zone.

    • Sorry, Darth. I’m hearing that not only is there no intention of issuing patches, but that the devs/publishers are legitimately baffled at the horrid reviews. Oh, I did forget one thing: the ending seems like it’s setting up a sequel. Good money, just go on and follow the bad. You are right about one thing, though: while it might not have been the next Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Eternal Darkness, it could’ve been at least a fun middle-of-the-road title. 

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