AMY (PS3, 360, PC) (Reviewed on PS3)
Publisher: Lexis Numérique
Release date: January 17, 2012
Price: 800 Microsoft Points, $9.99
Silent Hill, the original Silent Hill for PlayStation, handled combat awkwardly. The sound design trumped Resident Evil’s (also the original). The camera direction astounded. The real-time 3D environments pushed grungy graphical limits. The combat, clumsy and apish, restrained Silent Hill from achieving the critical success of its sequel, Silent Hill 2. In summary, AMY sucks at everything.
The poor girl (that is, the game, and not the titular character) has the visual veneer and the spirited potential of a successful Silent Hill game. It was made two generations later and has none of the tact of its 32-bit counterpart but all of the narrative verve. AMY is not crippled by her downloadable limitations. Her blemishes are baked into the more than “outdated” design decisions; they are curiously inhibiting.
You play as Lana, a middle-aged, tech-savvy caretaker thirty years in the future, escorting a mute, psychically-enabled young girl named Amy through an infected town at the unsurprising site of a pre-play train crash. Mechanically, Lana is a slug - slow to react and imprecise. Upon finding Amy early in the first chapter, Lana becomes additionally burdened by the symbiotic oversight of the child.
However, this is a game about becoming and unbecoming a zombie. Most levels are foggy with the red haze of the zombie virus, which takes over Lana slowly if she isn’t healed by Amy’s saintly touch, vaccine needles, or gas masks. In her nebulous zombie state, Lana slowly drifts into nightmare lunacy and becomes undetectable to the likewise afflicted zombies. Salvation, we pray, is at hand!
Not so. While AMY deters combat scenarios with horrifying combat mechanics, breakable staves, and a strict “No Fisticuffs” policy, sneaking is almost as unwieldy. Amy can use her psychic powers to generate silence bubbles, but these are limited, and enemy AI finds a way to ignore them. Forget the bubbles; sneaking should still work. Half of the time, perhaps. The other half, Amy’s AI will cause her to stampede into a crowded zombie parade like the undead riot police, diverting all attention to the conspicuously well-dressed non-zombie (that’s you) lurching across the street. Or, again, the enemy AI will ignore whatever stealth machination and approach the unarmed victim (also you).
Amy can also use a long-range psycho-kinetic force push, but it too is underpowered, slow, and inefficient. The list goes on.
THE DIABOLICAL BOXES
AMY might have found refuge in its puzzle design, then, if it weren’t so uninspired. The potentially complex, love/need relationship between Lana and Amy could have produced some fascinating moments of tension, moral struggle, and questioned intention through the careful orchestration of AI cooperative challenges. Instead, AMY finds that “puzzle” is loosely interchangeable with “cumbersome task” and the game suffers.
“Oh, the lift controls for that gate are on a platform over there that’s activated by a level over here.” “Ah, I’ve got to clear the room before leading Amy through it, which I learn after being massacred by a surprise zombie-lord and restarting at the last infrequent checkpoint.” “Mmm, the fourth body was the one I should have scanned first, instead of the one on the opposite end of the courtyard.” And so on, like this.
The most enjoyable moments of the game are the symbol puzzles, essentially a digitized introduction to the board game “Mastermind” (four symbols, none repeat, order counts, process of elimination). Like the rest of the puzzles, there is no evolution to this minigame, so it begins as a pleasant distraction and morphs into an unwelcome beast. There appears to be a theme here…
Consider AMY’s potential, given its unique partnership, the bold refusal of a combat-centered zombie game, and that one big monster. What if Lana moved more quickly, if Amy’s abilities were more mysterious, if basic indicators weren’t frustratingly uncertain, if cart movement weren’t mono-directional, if the soldiers and The Center and the potential abuse plotlines received any kind of narrative payoff, if the game weren’t so poorly lit that the only way to scrape from one forsaken checkpoint to the next were to crank the gamma settings all the way up?
Someday, I’m confident that a game developer will properly manage the experiential madness of a zombie virus. AMY does not.