The infected are as ever, a popular foundation for gaming developers to flaunt their craft. This time it’s Paul Cuisset’s VectorCell serving up the zombie-fest. With his background, which includes Future Wars and the influential Flashback, surely we could only be expecting great things from this survival horror title? Read on to find out.
Publisher: Lexis Numerique
Price: 800 Microsoft Points/£7.99/$9.99
(Also available on the PlayStation Network)
AMY takes you into the disaster stricken, disease filled year of 2038, where global warming has had its dastardly way with the world. You initially find yourself on a train in the inconveniently high heeled shoes of Lana , a determined women escorting a young mute girl named Amy away from a laboratory in which she was presumably being tested on. Before long a comet crashes to earth, leaving most people in the vicinity of the blast infected by a contagion that you’ll spend a majority of the game trying to avoid.
This is where things start getting a bit hazy regarding AMY’s absent plot foundations. For instance, when Amy begins drawing premonitions and performing masterful psychic abilities, you’re not invited into the loop of why or how she came about them in the first place. Several chapters into the game you’ll still be guessing as to what is driving the protagonists forward, no more so than in the cut-scenes that feel terribly rushed, and are host to some of the worst, robotic dialogue you’ll witness in a game from this generation. Even with explosions, deadly zombies and super natural abilities on show, the characters seem completely apathetic to their situation, leaving you not caring about them at all.
As expected from a survival horror title, you’re greeted with mainly dark, damp and dreary corridors you’ll typically find in games from the genre. The graphics, although below average would have probably been acceptable had there not been serious problems with tearing and stuttering frame rates, which do well to remove you from the experience altogether. The camera doesn’t do the visuals any favours either, it constantly gets caught on objects and bobbles around randomly, which means you’ll spend a good portion of your time struggling to get it at a playable angle. To make matters worse, animations and visuals lack polish to the point where you’ll repeatedly lose any semblance of immersion the game somehow manages to build up.
AMY is also a perfect example of how creating the ‘less is more’ ethic in a sound-scape isn’t as simple as just doing less. The way the sound effects and score have been implemented seem to negate any built up tension. Electricity will spark and doors will bang in a vain attempt to create the illusion of atmosphere, but you’ll be so uninvested that they’ll merely feel like staggered, desperate attempts to put you on edge. The problem is the character voice acting is so poor and whimsical, it makes the whole sound design feel completely underwhelming.
At the core of AMY is some awkward third-person stealth adventuring with frustrating puzzle elements thrown in. Asides from the more standard activities, such as object moving, hacking and collecting coloured key cards, you’ll mainly be trying to keep Amy alive. The titular character is not only immune to the contamination, but she can heal Lana if she’s nearby or holding her hand, as well as assist in other negligible tasks like crawling through gaps and collecting out of reach objects.
Unfortunately, the game design itself is flawed in almost every aspect, from the surroundings and puzzle layout, to the way you interact with Amy and other objects. Despite Amy’s psychic powers and ability to hack terminals on your behalf, she’s apparently incapable of climbing a short ladder, so you’ll end up spending a lot of time guiding her up and down lifts that seem to have no practical purpose being where they are in the first place. To add insult to injury, operating the lift is often a case of traversing through several rooms and levels to reach a button on the corresponding floor, even though there’s the lower lift button within arms reach that’s only being blocked by a projected hologram. AMY constantly removes all sense and realism to justify a half-baked and unoriginal puzzle, then proceeds to rinse and repeat it in a new area.
Although running away to hide is sometimes the better tactic, AMY does include some combat and is simple enough, despite the odd unintuitive moment. All you need is one of the blunt degradable objects you’ll find lying around and two controller buttons, one to swing and the other to dodge. Timing is key to whether you’ll defeat the enemy or not, but the true battle comes with trying to control the camera. It’s already sub-par throughout the majority of the game, but seems to have a mind of its own during fights, as it pans to odd angles every time you perform one of the two actions.
The enemies themselves only serve to raise more questions about the game’s overall design. The infected are brain dead enough to want to feed on human flesh, yet retentive enough to follow patrol patterns and aware enough to avoid your incoming attacks, which opens up a whole world of contradiction that never really gets fully explained. Then there’s the gun wielding masked soldiers who are often found conveniently looking the opposite direction from a door you need to go through, which is handy seeing as they’ll kill you on the spot and you’ll be back fetching a key card from your last checkpoint.
The game’s saving grace could have been the ICO inspired interaction between Lana and Amy, as you drag her around by the hand. They share an almost symbiotic relationship, with Amy needing Lana to get her to safety, but without Amy, Lana is susceptible to infection and certain death. Saying that though, certain death is infinitely better than playing through the repetitive puzzles and dealing with the horrific checkpoint system that often sees you having to repeat up to 20 minutes of mind numbing gameplay.
To make matters worse, AMY seems to have unintentionally adopted a trial and error game mechanic akin to games like Dark Souls, but instead of feeling rewarding and challenging, it leaves you feeling cheated and frustrated. Turning your console off at any point for a break will also result in all checkpoints being removed from memory, meaning you’ll have no choice but to restart an entire chapter from scratch. Don’t worry though, you most likely won’t want to boot the game up again anyway.
Despite showing some promise, AMY doesn’t particularly do anything well at all. Everything the survival horror genre is dependant on to make it engaging and exciting is either absent or implemented poorly. The game design itself feels neglected and lacks attention, whilst the atmosphere fails on pretty much every single level. It’s a shame that immersion and realism has been disgustingly traded off against clichéd gaming mechanics just for the sake of their inclusion. Even with the format and price in mind, AMY will only serve to frustrate and disappoint all but the most patient and forgiving patrons of the genre.