Horrifying, but for all the wrong reasons...
Written by Super User
Published Monday, 06 February 2012 19:00
These days, encountering a game that can best be described as “difficult” is nothing new. Games such as Dark Souls and Super Meat Boy offer players an unrelenting and brutally difficult challenge that, once completed, leaves them filled with a true sense of accomplishment. More often than not, however, developers of games that are simply ill conceived, poorly designed and sloppily executed try to shield their creations behind the seemingly impenetrable label of “difficult”. Unfortunately, this is precisely what VectorCell has given us in Amy.
While Amy purports to be a survival horror game, the reality is much more grim. The developer boasts that the gameplay is a unique combination of horror, adventure, action and stealth. In reality, Amy has very little in common with true horror games like Dead Space. Players spend far less time fighting grotesqueries than they spend hiding from them in order to observe their behavioral patterns and, ultimately, avoid conflict. Combat is typically a last resort option here. This is emphasized by the fact that the only weapons readily available are a type of crudely defined stick which players use to bludgeon enemies until they evaporate. When players encounter larger, hulking infected variants, or paramilitary-dressed humans, the only option is to hide and secretively observe their scripted routines to determine ways to get past them without alerting them to your presence. Once a high level enemy spots you, there is no way to keep from being killed. While some of the enemies presented are horrific in appearance, they rarely spring upon you unexpectedly. Enemies are typically easily seen from a distance and tend to let the player come to them rather than rushing to attack.
"Tying the two main characters together in a symbiotic relationship where neither one can survive alone is a novel approach to the horror genre but it does little to instill a sense of dread into the game."
Besides the use of basic stealth to avoid conflict, gameplay largely entails escorting your charge to locations and using her diminutive size to gain access spaces beyond locked doors. Since the game gives you few to no indications on where to go in order to proceed further in the story, players are left to decipher puzzles while playing a game of cat and mouse with high level enemies. The puzzle solving aspect of the game is made more difficult by the facts that the player needs to remain in physical contact with Amy in order to heal from damage inflicted by enemies or from exposure to the contagion in the air. The difficulty is further increased since Amy cannot be away form you for long before she begins to panic. When she panics, she typically runs into open view, thereby alerting enemies and ending the game. Both Amy’s life giving ability and her penchant for panic attacks add a sense of urgency to the gameplay that looms as a silent clock, ticking towards your demise. This sense of impending doom whenever you are separated is by far the most frightening aspect of the game. Tying the two main characters together in a symbiotic relationship where neither one can survive alone is a novel approach to the horror genre but it does little to instill a sense of dread into the game. All that it really does is turn it into an awkward and poorly executed puzzle game with a rudimentary survival horror skin draped loosely over the surface.
Besides the questionable design decisions noted above, VectorCell also chose to omit any type of player controlled saving option. Instead, the game relies on an outdated autosave system. Unfortunately, the save points only occur at the end of each chapter. Players can be lulled into a false sense of security, however, by reaching a mid-level checkpoint. These points only serve as temporary saves in case players die and only apply to the current game session. If players do not complete a chapter before ending their game session, they have to restart the entire chapter when they return to their game. Also, weapons and health syringes are in limited supply throughout the game. This scarcity is made even worse by the fact that the game strips players of their accumulated weapons and supplies when they complete a chapter. Not only this, but players also lose their stockpile of health syringes when simply reaching a checkpoint. While this definitely make the game more difficult, it is simply a poor design choice.
Far too often the game controls are imprecise and fail to respond to simple “press x to activate” commands. While many games utilize rigidly defined command prompt trigger points, few require the level of pinpoint accuracy required here. Players are rarely able to quickly trigger prompts on the fly. Instead they typically have to slowly creep up on them until they find the perfect spot, even when attempting a mundane task like opening a door. Accurate spacial detection is occasionally hampered further by the developers use of the “24 effect”. In much the same way that the TV show 24 displayed multiple images of concurrent activities as the show went into commercial breaks, Amy occasionally splits the screen into multiple views when certain actions are triggered. Not only can this split-screen view be distracting, but it typically causes any on-screen action prompts to disappear. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to perform even a simple act such as opening a door to hide from an approaching soldier when the door activation prompt does not appear.
Both visually and acoustically, Amy is dark, dull and lifeless. If players want to see any environmental details at all, they have to turn the brightness slider to near maximum. Even once details can be made out, the environments lack any true character and instead rely on overused cliches and low resolution textures that are repeated ad nauseum. Although the developer clearly wanted to create a realistic world with lifelike inhabitants, everything, including the character models, is too crudely drawn to feel real. In fact, some of the more fanciful enemy mutations are drawn in such a cartoon-like style that they feel totally out of place in this less than realistic world. To make this visual assault even worse, the frame rate often drops to a stuttering pace when doing nothing more than walking through these low res environments. Similarly, both the sound effects and voice acting are sub-standard. In particular, the dialog is often laughable or, in the case of one character, perversely creepy and uncomfortable. After the second or third time repeating the same section of the game and hearing the same stale dialog, players are left with little option except for dialing down the volume to escape this offense.
Amy is a game that somehow managed to take all of its bright potential and turn it into a dark shadow of all that it could have been. No matter where you look, all you see are bad design decisions, poor execution and broken mechanics. While Amy was never intended to be a AAA blockbuster, the levels of incompetence are inexcusable, even in a budget priced, downloadable title. There is truly no reason why anyone should waste their hard earned money on this game.
Release date : 2012-01-06
Publisher : Lexis Numerique
Developer : Lexis Numerique
Gameplay : Survival Horror
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