Can you protect a little girl from zombies in AMY?

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by TRACY-MARK GORGAS / Special contributor to NWCN.com

NWCN.com

Posted on January 20, 2012 at 5:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 12 at 1:09 AM

A scared, but powerful autistic girl, a doctor and zombies, sound like fun? AMY takes those elements and combines them into a twisted story.  Grab a strong stick, we have zombies to brain.

Story

AMY starts out on a train sometime in the near future.  You are a doctor named Lana escorting Amy, an autistic little girl, to a hospital in Silver City.  Since Amy doesn't speak Lana gives her a high tech drawing pad to doodle on and communicate with.  A conductor comes in asking for tickets.  After a bit of small talk the conductor moves on and Lana looks down at the drawing Amy has made.  It depicts monsters and destruction.  Lana then receives a phone call from a woman at the hospital.  It's heavily hinted at that Lana has snuck or broken Amy out of a lab or hospital where she was being treated either poorly or experimented on. 

In the middle of the conversation there is a huge explosion in the distance.  The train starts tossing things around.  When Lana goes to find help, she finds the conductor, who is now glassy eyed with a strange mark on his forehead.  Then everything goes black.

Lana wakes on the wrecked train at the train station.  Amy is missing and there are strange noises coming from outside.

Controls and Gameplay

AMY is a survival horror game that the developers, Vector Cell, really wanted to emphasize the survival part.  The main character you play is a female doctor with no combat training what so ever, guiding a vulnerable little girl though a zombie apocalypse, sounds good on paper, not so good in execution.  The controls are a mess.  In moving Lana around the screen I was instantly reminded of a song my grandparents listened to; "Give Me 40 Acres (To Turn This Rig Around)."  It felt like I was driving a Mack truck.  Lana would not simply pivot, but turn in seemingly long curves. 

"OK so moving around is going to take a little getting used to," you say to yourself, but then other things creep in.  You will find that for a good chunk of the game you'll want to keep Amy nearby.  The best way is to hold her hand by pressing the right shoulder button.  I say, pressing the right shoulder button....Amy, I'm pressing the button.  There you go, now hold on tight.  Oops, we brushed up against something, need to re-press the button, and so it goes on, constantly pushing and holding that button, hoping Amy will hold on.

“OK so moving is difficult and sometimes the game doesn't quite recognize button presses.  Combat has to be good right?”  Well yes and no.  Yes because since your character isn't a over-muscled commando with black belts in a dozen forms of martial arts and an extensive knowledge of weaponry stretching from the crudest knife to the most tech laden laser it's down to two buttons; attack and dodge.  Oh but wait it gets even simpler.  If you don't have a stick or a crowbar you just have dodge.

You dodge a lot because you will find yourself weaponless more often than not.  Those sticks and crowbars?  They are only good few hits before they break and are gone.  Did I mention you can only carry one at a time?  Don't plan on stock piling them, you won't be able to.

There is more to the game than just combat, in fact at its core you are supposed to avoid combat.  So sneaking around, finding colored key cards or DNA from dead bodies to load into your DNA key to unlock doors is the alternative.  This brings in a puzzle solving element.  Have Amy stand on an elevator, you climb a ladder on the opposite side of the room, press button, elevator goes up, now tell Amy to press a button to open a door, now reverse everything so you and Amy can walk through the door.  Lots of puzzles like that.  They aren't particularly hard.  They are more boring and slow.

There are more problems, but I would be writing pages and pages, let's move on.

Graphics and Sound

Graphically AMY actually looks really good.  The realism of Amy and Lana are up there with some AAA titles out there.  The monsters look cool and scary, that is when the game wants to load them completely.  There is one part I got to know quite well where a large beast comes smashing through a door.  I know it well because I died a lot and had to watch the same scene over and over and over, but I noticed that sometimes the game would forget to load the beast's head.  It's kind of funny watching a beast bust through a door and let out a roar through what can be best described as a smudged bar.

The voice acting is variable.  The actress for Lana does a great job, but the soldiers sometimes could be as flat with their delivery as a pancake.  Sadly the frustrations I had with the game have left me with no real memory of the music.  Without starting the game up again I really couldn't tell you if the music was good or not.  Frankly that right there is a bit telling of how bad this game is.

Overall

AMY is a real test of patience.  After watching the developer diaries on the making of AMY and what they wanted players to feel and how they wanted to really wanted to make a true survival horror game, I had high hopes for it.  It looked like they could have had something really cool.  I liked the core concept of a powerless hero teamed with a special, but very frightened little girl.  Somewhere between the concept and the execution the wheels fell off.

A better saving checkpoint system would have helped.  Checkpoints were way to far apart and the checkpoints didn't save any progress, they just marked where you were in the game.  If you stockpiled health packs prior to a checkpoint and died after passing it, you would restart at the checkpoint with none.  Heaven forbid you want to stop for the night between checkpoints.  I spent one night trying to get through one chapter, roughly six hours of trial and error to get through it.  Finally out of sheer frustration I quit.  The next night I turn it on thinking to start where I left off, nope.  I started all the way back at the start of the chapter.

There are missed opportunities in the game too, like including little mini-games.  Early on in the game Lana has to hack a computer to shut down an electrified gate.  A very simple shape combination puzzle, a couple tries and I had it unlocked.  Fun and I looked forward to more.  Unfortunately no, all hacking is done with Amy. You hold Amy's hand, stand in front of the computer that needs to be hacked and press a button.  Amy then starts hacking and Lana moves back.  You then watch and wait for Amy to hack the computer and wait and wait and after a few very long seconds the computer is unlocked.  Wait, what?  Why am I not playing through some mini hacking puzzle during this time that is wasted?  The first time I did this I thought the game had glitched and not loaded the puzzle, but no, that's what happens every time Amy hacks a computer, you are a bystander.

Amy herself holds some big secrets too.  She gives off a healing aura that cures Lana of the infection that causes her turn into a zombie.  You find strange symbols that once Amy copies them onto her drawing pad, she gains great powers.  And while initially the power wheel that you use to cast them with it makes it seem like you will use many different ones, because of the save checkpoint system you will actually be only using one or two at the most.

AMY had big goals for a game, but the final product falls far short of any of them.  AMY is just a bad game.  I give AMY a 1 out of 5.

AMY is rated M for Mature for Use of Drugs, Blood, Intense Violence, and Language.  AMY is available now on the Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.  For more information see the official AMY web site.
 

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