Lexis Numérique is known for their imported PC adventure games, several of which we have reviewed here at Game Chronicles back when The Adventure Company was still offering life support to the floundering adventure genre. I have to admit I was intrigued when I heard they were not only doing a survival horror action-adventure but also releasing on consoles via the various digital stores. If you’ve been following this game or any of the trailers then you may have been just as excited as I was when AMY finally released this week, and perhaps just as disappointed if you rushed out to play it before reading my review.
AMY takes place in December 2034 allowing for some unique technical gadgets like DNA scanners, razor thin cellphones, cool transparent drawing tablets, and pictogram key-locks, while keeping the environments rooted in conventional architecture. The game supposedly takes place in Silver City, somewhere in the U.S. Midwest, despite much of the art design having a very French aesthetic about it. You’ll spend the first half of the game just trying to escape a massively complex train station equipped with airlock doors and security systems you might find at the Atlanta CDC headquarters. Where you go from there...I’ll never know because sadly, this is one survival horror game that I did not survive.
The game begins with the main character, Lana riding in a train car with a little girl named Amy. After listening in on a conversation with Lana and the creepy train conductor as well as eavesdropping on an urgent phone call with a friend we learn a few things about Amy and the current "abduction" situation, but just then a meteor streaks across the sky and there is an explosion on the horizon as Silver City erupts in a mushroom cloud. Moments later the conductor-now-turned-zombie shambles down the train car aisle just before the train smashes into the station at full speed and Lana blacks out.
While no time is given for how long Lana is out (although later in the game we do find a newspaper describing the meteor and mushroom cloud, so apparently she was unconscious long enough to print and distribute a newspaper) when she awakens Amy is gone. Now that you are in control of Lana you can come to grips with the tank-like controls for moving around the environments and the awkward camera angles that are often way too tight to be functional. Imagine Resident Evil only worse.
Exploring the train you find a few necessary objects; a crowbar, pipe, or piece of rebar. I was never quite sure but you beat things on the head with it and they die. That’s all you need to know. Well that, and your metal rod will take damage the more you use it, making it good for killing 2-3 of the “infected” you are soon to meet. You’ll also find an injection unit, great for a quick healing boost or to reverse any contagion – more on that in a minute.
Once you get off the train you get to bludgeon your first zombie. Enjoy the fact that you only have to hit him once. Upcoming creatures will require more damage. You can leisurely explore the train station that lies in ruins and look for any glowing items that signal a pick-up. These are mostly more injectors and the occasional piece of pipe to replace your damaged one. It is during this exploration that you’ll realize how clunky the controls are, and the twitching camera and screen tearing don’t help matters.
During this time you’ll also encounter 2-3 zombies that you'll need to beat down with your pipe. Combat is an awkward phase where you hold down the LT then use the X button to swing and the B button to dodge. You can usually get two hits in before you are forced to dodge then resume swinging until dead. Lana can get hit five times before she dies. Each hit puts a blood splotch in a corner of the screen. When all four corners have blood the next hit kills you, and dying is simply something that you don’t want to do in AMY.
You see, this game has one of the worst save and checkpoint systems in the history of video games. Checkpoints are very few and far between, so when you die you get to repeat massive sections of gameplay including resolving puzzles, re-fighting monsters, and recovering all your inventory items that have been stripped away. And when you want to quit…well, you can’t…at least not until you complete the entire chapter because all your checkpoints are soft-checkpoints and don’t save when you exit. And with some chapters taking 30-60 minutes of painstaking gameplay and frequent restarts from poorly placed checkpoints, you really have to set aside a large block of time to play AMY; that or just plan to leave your 360 turned on.
But back to the game…
Eventually you’ll meet up with Cello, a creepy dude with a creepy voice, creepy oversized hands, and a clubfoot he drags behind him making it sound like you are being stalked by Igor. He informs you that you need to power down the electric fence to proceed so you head back to the office where you encounter your first DNA lock. Cello gives you a tool that scans the lock then puts up 3-4 waypoints of possible DNA samples that you must analyze. Once you find and collect the matching DNA you can open the lock, go inside and solve your first pictogram puzzle. I normally detest these types of puzzles, but this wasn’t too bad. You get five attempts to solve and it never took me more than three, so either I am really good or these puzzles are really easy.
It’s worth noting that the aforementioned DNA lock is also your first checkpoint, so anything you did leading up to that point would have been lost if you died, and you would restart the game waking up back on the train. I died 2-3 times before getting my checkpoint. Once you checkpoint at the DNA lock there are still plenty of ways to die after that, and when you start over at the door all of your items will have been removed from your inventory and returned to their original locations. AMY seems to revel in the fact that you are going to be replaying large parts of it over and over again. The game randomizes monster placement and even these special "scary moments" like a picture falling off a wall or a computer monitor popping loudly.
It won’t be long after you get through the electric fence that you are reunited with Amy, and now the game turns into this co-op puzzle adventure, not entirely unlike Ico, for those who played that classic PlayStation title; either the original or the new HD remake. You can summon Amy by tapping RB or hold her hand and drag her around by holding RB or even command her to stay with RB+B or tell her to hide in a closet or under a desk. Verbal and visual indicators are glitchy at best. Sometimes Lana will wave her hand to summon Amy, and sometimes Amy will nod her head when told to stay put. Often you don't know if Amy heard you until she suddenly appears at her side. Leave her alone for too long and she will abandon her hiding spot and often end up dead.
Using this primitive command interface you can shove Amy into air vents (that have all had their grilles conveniently removed) then order her to push buttons or fetch you items. Later on you can use her to hack door locks, activate lifts, and much later on even start to exploit her psionic powers. Amy gets special powers by finding these glowing red symbols and drawing them on her tablet. You then use the RT and right stick to select and aim your power. The only two I got to play with were a sphere of silence (great for breaking a window without alerting nearby monsters) and a psionic blast that you can use to repel monsters or smash through wooden barriers. Each power has a certain number of uses before you must find and redraw the symbol again.
Amy also has a flashlight that can be toggled to illuminate the surrounding area, but her most important contribution is her passive ability to ward off the viral infection. As long as you stay within 8-10 feet of Amy Lana is immune. Stray too far for too long and your viral indicator will go from yellow to red, the screen gets hazy, the Geiger counter ticking goes crazy, and Lana gets all ugly-zombified, and then it’s game over. But these negative effects are easily reversed just by getting back in close proximity with Amy. Of course the designers have created plenty of puzzles and situations that will force you to split up, thus creating an embedded timer of sorts. Thankfully, you can extend your separation time with healing injections for some of the trickier puzzles.
Chapter two introduces Special Forces soldiers who you will need to avoid, creating some truly suspenseful sneaking and hiding moments that will have you peeking out through a crack in a closet door or tiptoeing past a guard when his back is to you. This chapter also expands upon the co-op nature of the Amy-Lana puzzles and Amy’s passive healing abilities. There is another DNA lock and some colored keycards required to disable a communications scrambler and exit the level.
Chapter three is where the game became intolerable for me, and keep in mind I had already rage-quit the game three times before this, swearing never to return, only to find myself coming back for more punishment time and time again. After a grueling first section that had me sneaking through a motion-triggered minefield to grab a green keycard I finally made it to the first checkpoint. The next section had a troublesome elevator puzzle that took me about 30 minutes to figure out. By this time I had over an hour invested into the chapter. Just past the elevator puzzle I got ambushed by a zombie and my pipe broke on the second swing. Lana comments that she needs to find a new weapon, but with these super-fast zombies in hot pursuit you really can’t search for the orange gleam of fresh pipe and I ultimately died. Forced with the realization of having to redo that entire elevator puzzle (which would still take 15 minutes now that I knew exactly what to do) I decided to break for dinner (not knowing that the game wasn’t saving checkpoints). When I returned from dinner and realized I would be redoing the entire chapter from the start (easily 30-40 minutes of gameplay now knowing what to do) I pretty much popped a blood vessel, deleted the game, and started writing this review.
Technically speaking, AMY has some dark and gritty graphics, often too dark for their own good. If you don’t keep Amy near and her flashlight on you are going to miss a lot. The camera angles are often too tight and you keep fighting the virtual director for control. They do some cool cinematic camera work with perspective shots and split-screen views, but the game is far from next-gen, and looks more like a classic Xbox title.
Where AMY truly shines is in the audio department with some of the creepiest sound effects of any game I’ve played since F.E.A.R. 3; perhaps even scarier. The Dolby Digital mix immerses you in this haunting and desolate environment then they start putting all these seemingly random audio cues into individual speakers like an evil growl or a rolling glass bottle or tin can or the scurry of a rat. You never see a thing, but the sounds will always keep you on edge and looking over your shoulder, and just about the time you start to dismiss them as “just another effect” a real zombie will lurch out of the shadows.
AMY is six chapters long and your completion time will vary based on how often you die and how much you have to repeat. Even though it took me about two hours to get through the first chapter I’d guess it’s only 20-30 minutes long if you could do a straight pass without dying. Chapter 2 took about 90 minutes with 40 of them just trying to figure out how to get past the first big mutant monster and the first armed soldier. And as for Chapter 3, I spent about 90 minutes doing 40 minutes of actual gameplay. There are 12 Achievements, most of which you’ll earn if you somehow manage to complete the entire game on the hardest difficulty setting.
AMY is choked full of interesting concepts, clever puzzles, and a truly terrifying gameplay atmosphere, but whatever potential this game has to be great, or even good, is torpedoed by the unforgiving checkpoint and save system. Honestly, if they were to patch this game tomorrow to include 3-4 more checkpoints per level and allow me to save those checkpoints when I quit I would give this game a 7 or 8 without hesitation. As it stands, the best moment I had playing AMY was when I realized I had had enough, quit, and deleted this game from my 360 hard drive so I would never be tempted to torture myself again.