9th Jan 2012 | 12:59
Remember that amazing bit in Shaun of the Dead where the team zombie-up and shuffle past the undead? Hilarious, tense, brilliant. Amy is nothing like that.
Instead, this slowly decaying escort-'em-takes the chaotic horror of the zompocalypse and neuters it with completely unimaginative puzzles.
Amy gave us every reason to enthusiastically load our shotguns with hope shells, the biggest of which were a crisply designed, capable female lead and an imaginative, symbiotic game mechanic where protagonist, Lana, will degenerate into a monster if she spends too much time away from Amy's healing powers. It looked like a proper survival horror, just like uncle Mikami used to make: limited resources, vulnerable heroes, and long-fingered scientists ruining life for everyone.
Instead, the final result resembles the worst B-movie horrors: too po-faced to be a mindless romp and lacking the basic ingredients to be enjoyed sincerely.
The first thing that's wrong is the complete absence of tension. There's the odd jump - mainly 'Lewton Bus' scares from steamy pipes - but the frustration always outweighs the peril. Don't expect the nerve-bludgeoning tension of the Siren games; you'll have to cower under the occasional table or two, but it's a minor diversion from the time spent wading through the laborious brainteasers.
Survival horror and puzzles go together like red and green herbs. Unfortunately, it's this sense of necessity that characterises every obstacle in Amy. Rarely do the puzzles feel like part of the environment, instead they feel contrived, there to extend the lifespan of the compact levels. There's precisely no invention in any of the problems - they're all variations of the same theme, stretched beyond breaking point. Put Amy on the lift, make the lift go up, make Amy press a button. Repeat until your thumbs weep.
Perhaps they'd be tolerable if the mechanism for directing Amy around the world wasn't so turgid: she can be pointed towards an objective, but the commands are context sensitive. One moment she'll happily hop onto a lift for you, the next you'll have to drag her there by the hand and tell her to wait, like a willful, supernatural puppy. The game constantly breaks the rules it makes for itself, making it feel almost unfinished.
Getting around in Amy is the real enemy and also its greatest challenge, solving conundrums, fighting the infected and avoiding soldiers are all lesser problems compared to it. We've progressed since the tank-controls of Resident Evil, but traversing Amy's environment is genuinely wearisome. Simple movements take so long to perform that you have to stop and remind yourself that this exists in the same universe as Arkham City and Uncharted - games which delight in letting you glide around the world effortlessly.
Every wall you climb, box you move and gap you shuffle triggers a mossy, drab animation that can't be skipped or accelerated. Every single one. One particular ladder had five (five!) camera angle changes. The relentless elongation of each level means that you'll get to see this piece of cinematic structure-scaling at least three times. Trial, error and discovery quickly become so grueling that the prospect of exploring a tramp's bellybutton seems more appealing.
The technical nadir comes later in the game when you have to slowly cross an open area bustling with your infected enemies. Moving too quickly alerts them to your presence, instantly ending your game, to combat this you have to increase your level of infection by leaving Amy behind and creeping past the monsters, as Lana gradually rots away. It's tedious in the extreme and a crushing example of self-contradictory game design. It's completely to the detriment of the player: move too fast, you die, move too slowly, you die, explore the world for an alternative solution, you die.
What could have been the game's most intriguing mechanic actually cripples the game - the balance is foul, and the wobbling trial and error of it all is infuriating. At the most base level, the risk-reward foundation necessary for the enjoyment of any game is utterly absent.
The biggest disappointment of all is that Amy was glowing with genetically-modified promise. Supervisor Paul Cuisset was involved in the development of games that, without exaggeration, defined gaming in the late 80s and early 90s.
Some remnants of that promise remain: the sound design is hugely effective, with creepy, whispering prompts that accentuate Lana's decline as the infection takes hold. The character models are impressive, with some realer-than-real HD textures and a heroine that's refreshingly realistic: Lana is brave but shaken, capable but still (mostly) human.
Sadly, this make the eventual realization that this is not the game we hoped for even more upsetting. We're not angry with you, Amy; we're just disappointed.