I had high hopes for AMY. A happenstance at E3 birthed expectations of a legitimate contender in the long dormant survival/horror genre. AMY's intrinsic hand holding mechanic screamed ICO and its unsettling, vague presentation called to mind a fondness for genre otherwise dead and buried. Further information was kept close to the vest, and served to only magnify my interest in VectorCell's elusive title. In fact, several weeks ago AMY joined the likes of Journey and BioShock Infinite in my Top 10 Most Anticipated Games for 2012 feature.
AMY, as it turns out, should not have been counted amongst such celebrated company.
AMY crashed right out of the gate. Literally crashed, as in my PlayStation 3 hard locked. A second attempt to start the game was met with odd confusion, as my controller seemed unresponsive and required jamming the X button down several times to select a new game while the "save" icon flashed in and out of view. From there I was greeted with a cut scene that, despite its modest technical prowess, seemed to be struggling to maintain a consistent frame rate. Couple that with character animation that stuttered and stumbled at every instance and screen tearing too omnipresent to ignore, and suddenly the first five minutes of AMY started to seem less like a series of unfortunate events and more like a strong warning that the road ahead would only be getting worse.
To its credit, AMY's fiction merits interest. As Lana, you're charged with keeping a little girl, Amy, alive as the two venture across a recently decimated and zombified urban apocalypse. There's something to be said for a game opting to give the player control over a character with not only a limited combat ability, but also the selfless mission of preserving the life of a weaker creature. Nobility is further achieved through keeping most of the narrative's circumstance vague at best and unsatisfying at worst. For all of its lack of detail, what AMY tries to do with its story is, at the very least, admirable. The problem is when the conceit of interactive entertainment, the nature of being a videogame, wrecks the experience. Through puzzles, combat, and exploration, AMY's only consistency is the severity of its mistakes.
AMY wounds the player's sensibilities in so many ways it’s difficult to figure where it begins to cut deep. Combat, for example, declares its simplicity by limiting Lana's move set with a strike, provided she can find a stick, and a dodge. At first this seems like an attempt to enforce Lana's vulnerability; not every protagonist has to be an aggressive badass. But then you discover that sticks break after a few hits, are in short supply, and, strangely, don't survive the transitions between death and checkpoint. Eventually I started to feel that, rather than make combat interesting or reflective of a player's skill, the development team took a shortcut by making weapons finite, and then left the player to deal with those meaningless consequences.
Lana's persistent infection is another good idea impaired by a lack of clear thought. Lana, as it happens, is among the infected, but her disease can be slowed through injections, which can be found here and there, or proximity to Amy. What’s interesting is that if Lana goes too far down the line she'll actually begin to transform and, consequently, go unnoticed by other roving zombies. AMY requires the player perform that action once, early in chapter 5, and spends the rest of its time using Lana and Amy's separation as an invisible timer rather than engage its foundation as an exciting asset. Instructing Amy to push buttons, ride elevators, and pickup key cards would have been fine for a sequence or two, but when task after task is rooted in these mundane activities, AMY's appeal drops like a rock.
AMY's mortal sin lies with its attempts to forge difficulty out of repetition. I like hard games and count Super Meat Boy and Mega Man 9 amongst my proudest conquests. The problem with AMY is that it can't play by its own rules. If you're going to stagger checkpoints few and far between, you need to make sure the systems in place can account for the wide range of activity. Bad cut scene triggers can place Lana in doomed positions, and a dodgy success ratio of engaging Amy's hand holding button ensures a dozen forehead slapping, screaming errors where Amy just seems to wander off into the heart of darkness (like a real little kid, I guess). The problem is that repeating failed tasks isn't only a matter of perfecting input and mastering the puzzles, it also carries the weight of circumventing any and all of AMY's glaring technical gaffs. By the time I was finished with AMY I had redone puzzles and repeated checkpoints so many times that not only could I dictate a FAQ on how to play AMY, I could also command a separate guide for what not to do if you'd like to escape its countless blunders. Difficulty forged through perfecting player skill is expected, even appreciated in certain instances, but trying to carve it out of route memorization is insulting and aggravating.
AMY's offensive interpretation of difficulty is further compounded through its atrocious save system. Checkpoints are few and far between, and each carries the burden of requiring the player to repeat increasingly mundane tasks. Worse, AMY only saves your progress and the beginning and end of each chapter. This was quite a surprise when I quit chapter 3 in frustration and woke up the next morning to discover I had to start all the way from the beginning of the chapter! I don't see what purpose that serves, other than a lack of respect for the player's time in favor of a commitment to an experience that's likely already been repeated several times over.
It doesn't help that AMY is also beset by a variety of game crashing bugs. In my time with the game I experienced an Amy that refused to stop drawing, a patrolling soldier stuck in an animation loop, a shimmying sequence where Lana became glued to the wrong surface and sucked into the wall (which I tweeted yesterday), and a crash after I beat chapter 4 where chapter 5 failed to load and I had to repeat the entirety of chapter 4. That last one was particularly infuriating, as one might imagine.
I really don't know what else to say. Control is unresponsive, either through the simple act of movement or fiddling through the menu for a syringe. Likewise, Amy's powers are a pain to manipulate. Puzzles, when you actually think about their contextual existence on planet earth, are insane. The visuals are modest at best and, save detailed labs in chapter 6, largely forgettable. In the interest of "if you can't say something nice" I'll concede that the music did its duty in presenting a trouble aura of tension and anxiety, so that's something.