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AMY (XBLA) Review

AMY provides survival-horror fans with plenty of things to be scared of. Unfortunately, none of them are the result of the actual content in the game.

When VectorCell started to show off their downloadable survival-horror title AMY last year, it grabbed my attention. As a fan of the genre I was intrigued by some of the gameplay elements the developer was floating, so when a review code of AMY arrived at the Brutal Gamer offices I was quick to snatch it up. Sadly, the victory of being handed the review for AMY is my one and only positive experience with the game.

AMY takes place in the year 2034 in the town of Silver City, where an explosion has turned most of the people in the town into zombies. You play as a woman named Lana, who has just rescued (possibly stolen) a young autistic girl named Amy with strange powers  from a research facility. Lana and Amy are both on a train headed into Silver City when the explosion occurs, and soon find themselves in the middle of a town overrun with infected humans and military soldiers with orders to kill everyone in sight. It’s not the strongest plot in the world, but it does the basic job of setting the stage for a survival-horror outing; however, once that stage is set every other aspect of AMY burns the stage to the ground, stomps on the ashes, gives the ashes a second burning, followed by one last stomping for good measure.

The first problem with the game pops up about two seconds into the opening cut scene, when the framerate starts to noticeably stutter and skip. It’s astonishing that nobody bothered to at least smooth out the player’s first moments with AMY, but it’s also sadly consistent with what the rest of the game has to offer.

Players who can overlook AMY’s spotty framerate in the opening cut scene will come face to face with the game’s next failing, its characters. The actual character models look decent enough, but they fail to come to life though a combination of stiff animations, boring dialogue, and absolutely terrible voice acting. The player is clearly meant develop an emotional connection between Lana and Amy but the presentation of the characters is so poorly done that it’s impossible feel anything beyond indifference towards the pair and their journey.

Assuming you can stomach the opening cut scene, you then get to play the introductory first level and this is where everything completely falls apart. Within seconds of leaving the train you find out that every single aspect of AMY’s gameplay is either clunky or flat out broken.

The simple act of moving Lana through the environment is made difficult by unresponsive controls and a camera that you have to manually fight in order for it to give you a decent view of the action. Lana turns painfully slow, running is done by holding one button while at the same time awkwardly mashing another, and using items like a syringe to heal yourself requires pulling up a menu that may or may not work when you select the syringe icon.

The combat system is another point of contention. You are required to hold down one button to enter into (and remain) in combat mode and then have the choice to attack with one button or weakly dodge with another. Like everything else, combat animations are slow and stiff and more often than not attacks that look like they hit the enemy catch nothing but air.

Combat is so bad that you will want to use the game’s poor stealth system as much as possible to avoid it, but that still can’t get you past situations where the game forces combat upon you. For example, early on in the first level the game prompts you to sneak past an enemy in the train station, which is easy enough because there is plenty of room for you to keep your distance. Shortly after that you meet the first “friendly” NPC, who is about 100 times creepier than any of the zombies and gives off a strong child kidnapper vibe. That NPC tells you that you must go back the way you came to retrieve an item, which would not be a problem except that as you get back to where the zombie was that the game told you to sneak past this fool takes off running while talking to you. This of course attracts the attention of the zombie, who completely ignores him and attacks you.

The most interesting gameplay idea in AMY is that Lana is infected with the virus and can only live a short time on her own before turning into a zombie. Amy is not only unaffected by the virus but she can also keep Lana from turning as long as they hold hands. This gameplay mechanic is what initially attracted me to AMY, however like everything else in the game it doesn’t work out. The main problem here is that maintaining a hand hold with Amy requires you to hold down on a button, but even then that hand hold can and will be broken without warning. Sometimes the two will stop holding hands when Amy becomes stuck on a bit of environment, or when trying to have the pair walk around a corner. If you find yourself in a position where you have to run from a pack of enemies (and you will) you can pretty much count on the hand hold mechanic to break at the wrong moment. Considering that this is THE central gameplay mechanic in AMY it is inexcusable that it is completely broken.

Outside of all those elements are tons of other complaints that work together to make sure you don’t get any enjoyment from AMY; game objectives are unclear, puzzles are often simplistic and overused, the pair is repeatedly forced to split up by having Amy crawl through an opening that Lana could easily fit through,  even with the brightness turned up all the game is so dark that it hurts gameplay, and the list goes on and on.

The truth is that even with all of these complaints AMY would be a playable (still not enjoyable but at least playable) game if it were not for one design choice that works to compound all the faults listed above – the game’s unforgiving save system. Actually that’s an unfair description because the Brutal truth is that AMY doesn’t have a save system at all, in reality it’s a level unlock system that doesn’t save any data.

Here is how it works: AMY is separated into levels and those levels contain checkpoints that are few and far between. If you die after a checkpoint you can pick up playing at that spot, however the checkpoint doesn’t actually save any of your collected items. For example if you have gone out of your way to find and conserve health syringes, cross a checkpoint and then die in combat you will restart at the last checkpoint without a single one of your health syringes. Even worse is that the only way to “save” your progress in the game is to completely finish a chapter, checkpoints disappear when you exit the game leaving only the option to play again from the start of the last unlocked chapter. Chapters can be quite long and take up to an hour to complete when you add up all the time spent dying (and you will die) through trial and error, and then replaying the same ten minutes again and again.

The developers likely thought that having such an unforgiving save system would help to create tension, but in reality all it does is punish players by refusing to save their progression in any meaningful way and forces them to experience the same small section of terrible gameplay over and over.

Normally I like to finish (or at least almost finish) one playthough of a game before writing a review; however, in the case of AMY I threw my hands up in frustration towards (what I can only assume was) the end of the second chapter after dying several times. At that point, everything I had seen and played of the game made it very clear that the basic gameplay mechanics were broken, clunky and far from enjoyable. Even if the game managed to pull itself together past the half-way point I can’t envision a situation where anyone who bought the game would stick with it long enough to find out.

Final Thoughts

There is an interesting gameplay idea in AMY but it is buried under a lackluster story, poor voice acting, terrible presentation, clunky controls, broken gameplay elements, and the worst save system since NES-era video games required players to write down long confusing codes (is that a “0” or a “O”?) to save their progress.

As much as I hate to rip into a game that people spent years of their life making, the truth is that AMY literally has no redeeming qualities to make it worth a purchase regardless of price.

2 out of 10.

About Justin

A gamer since the Intellivision days in the early 80′s, who started writing about and covering the video game industry in 2008. In his spare time he is also a bit of a gun-nut and Star Wars nerd.

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