Now, this one is a crying shame. I wanted to love Amy. I really did. With most of its contemporaries in the horror genre moving away from fear towards simply throwing a hundred guys wielding sharp objects at you, the concept of a game where you have to sneak around and hide from monsters to survive seemed like a welcome change of pace. You play as a woman, named Lana, who is trying to lead an Autistic girl (Amy) through a wasteland full of infected monstrosities that want to kill you both. As someone who also deals with the disorder, the fact that it centres on protecting a young Autistic person struck a unique chord with me. Unfortunately, the scariest parts of this game are not the zombie-like creatures constantly stalking you, but the myriad bugs and terrible design decisions.
First off, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that, as a rare, editor-approved exception to gamrReview policy, I did not complete Amy before writing this review. That is because, try as I might, I keep getting killed near the end of one of the chapters. It is not due to my lack of skill (I consider myself an ‘average’ gamer). Rather, there is an infuriating puzzle involving getting to a phone inside a security station guarded by the enemy. Skip the next three paragraphs if you want to avoid spoilers about the game’s design woes.
My character, Lana, wakes up after being knocked unconscious, in a dark hallway surrounded by dead bodies. Amy has gone missing, so it’s time to look around. After fumbling around for a while, and several annoying deaths due to how Lana slowly gets zombified when around traces of the infection, I find Amy hiding in a closet. I then press the nearby flashing button (as gamers are wont to do) which opens a gate in front of me. A few steps later, and a giant rampaging hulk monster comes barrelling through a nearby door, and thanks to the now-opened gate, he instantly kills me. The game designers knew I’d push the button, and purposely killed me for doing so with no warning. I am sent back to the beginning of the scenario, and have to find Amy all over again. This time, I do not open the gate, and I hide in the closet as soon as the monster surfaces. He gives up looking for us eventually, standing idly with his back to us in a far corner of the hallway. Unfortunately, I see that the key I need is in a room behind a glass wall, which will attract it if broken. Luckily, there’s a rune on the wall that teaches Amy a magic Silence spell if she draws it, so I use it on the glass, then shatter the glass. There is a zombie inside, which I attempt to kill, but my attacks keep going right through him thanks to horrible hit detection. He kills me quickly. So I redo the entire section for a third time, and manage to finally kill the zombie and get the key. The key opens a door leading to an unkillable zombie that I must find a way to sneak past. Eventually I’m successful (he can’t see me even though he’s looking right at the box I’m standing behind, even though my body is halfway out).
I enter the hallway that leads to the security room I need to get to, but I see the guard through the window. He has a gun and body armor, while I have a flimsy stick to fight with, so I obviously need to find a way to lure him outside. After a little searching, I find a switch that triggers an alarm, causing him to come running. Thinking I’ve figured it out, I hide myself and Amy in a cupboard a little ways further up the hall. Through a small crack between the doors, I see the guard take a right and continue down the long path in front of us. I move cautiously for a moment, inching my way forward until he is out of sight, and then walk softly but briskly back to the security room and open the door. Guess who’s already there somehow? Despite the fact that he was much farther from the room than I, and he was walking very slowly, he gets back there before me. One shot, and I’m dead. Luckily, the game did give me one of its rare checkpoints at the beginning of this section, so I am able to try a few other tactics. I try bashing him from behind, but that just causes a slight flinch, and any further attacks just faze right through him, earning me a quick bullet to the head. Walking into the room past the cupboard gets me electrocuted, so I try following him down the path on the right. He quickly starts turning around, so I duck back behind a corner. Amy, however, just walks around in circles until he sees her, despite my holding down the ‘call Amy’ button for about fifteen seconds. Having had quite enough for one night, I shut the game down in frustration.
The next day, I come back to the game with a clear mind, ready to attempt the puzzle again. Only, where am I when I load it up? Waking up at the start, of course. See, the game does not save your progress when you reach a checkpoint. It does so only at the completion of each chapter, which, as you can see, can take a very long time. So, just because I had the audacity to turn the game off after such an annoying section, the next time I played I had to go through the process of retrieving Amy from the closet, hiding from the monster, getting the Silence spell, using it on the glass, breaking the glass, fighting the zombie, taking the blue key, and surviving the stealth sequence against the super-zombie all over again, just to earn the right to try not to get shot in the face again.
To sum up, in that single part of one chapter, not only was I killed by a) sloppy hit detection (several times), b) opening a freakin’ gate, and c) ridiculous partner AI (‘Autistic’ does not equal ‘idiotic’, people), but each time I died or turned off the system, I had to repeat the entire damned thing again. That’s not even the extent of the problems. Sometimes when you’re wandering around without Amy, you’ll come across rooms that can only be entered via holes that Amy can crawl through. For some reason, Lana can’t get through them despite them being waist-high. It would have taken no effort to have this make more sense — just make the holes smaller. If you want to pick up an item in this game, you’ll have to be standing on the exact, precise pixel the developer intended before you get the prompt. That’s a big problem when you’re being chased by an enemy, you’re almost dead, and you really need to pick up that healing syringe as you’re running. In general, the game is just absolutely full of both bad design decisions and shoddy programming.
That is really too bad, as there are some solid concepts at work here. The idea is that Lana and Amy need one another. Lana’s infections instantly heal when standing near Amy, and Amy needs Lana to lead her through (or take care of) the monsters. When you are holding this little girl’s hand and leading her through these dangerous places, with Lana constantly reassuring her that things will be all right, you feel that connection. You want to survive not just so you can beat the game, but so you can get that child out of that scary situation.
And it is a scary situation. If there is one thing that the game succeeds at quite well, it is making you feel like death lurks around every corner. Running around the first chapter’s abandoned, powerless train station, looking for Amy, I felt very tense indeed. When the first enemy jumped me from around a corner, I literally jumped in my seat. This oppressive atmosphere, combined with your connection to Amy, makes it feel like a very serious decision when deciding whether to bring her with you or hide her in one of the myriad hiding places.
The presentation in Amy is fairly respectable for a download-only title. Lana animates fluidly, enemies look disgusting, and despite her being mute, an expression of sheer terror constantly telegraphs what is going through Amy’s mind. What is not acceptable, however, is the jumpy framerate. The opening cutscene, which features three people and a small room, somehow made my PS3 slow to what had to be under ten frames per second. Most of the time, the framerate is at a stable, usable level, but at seemingly random times it slows so much that it feels as if you’re playing an interactive slideshow. The voice acting also sometimes sounds like a cheesy B-movie, but that’s par for the course for the horror genre.
Amy has the ingredients for a very unique and entertaining horror game. It centres on protecting someone other than yourself, it has great atmosphere, and trying to face most enemies head-on will quickly lead to disaster. With Resident Evil turning into more of an action-horror game, and with little classic survival-horror in today’s gaming landscape, Amy could have been a welcome breath of fresh air. As it is, with all of the bugs and repugnant game design, I can’t recommend it to even the most die-hard fan of the genre, and the game is destined for nothing greater than to rot in the digital void from whence it came.
This review is based on a PSN digital copy of Amy, provided by the publisher.