By the time I got a shot at AMY, it was pretty much already too late. People make fun of games critics for sticking pretty solidly to six through ten on a ten-point scale. If there was a game on XBLA where you paid 800 points for a burly man to physically come to your house and kick you in your organs of generation, I am reasonably certain it would get at least a four. AMY gets ones and twos.
For the first little while, I figured it was a case of the game being a safe target. You see that from time to time, where a game that's certainly flawed, but not necessarily the worst thing to ever happen to thumbs, receives a critical reception that can only be described as joyfully vengeful. It's not that the game's really that bad; it's that the publisher and/or developer do not have enough clout to destroy people who say bad things about them in public. AMY is a download-only survival horror game by a new French developer and has received no marketing to speak of, so you can say pretty much whatever you want and nothing will come of it.
I have a pretty strong bias towards horror games, so I tried to keep an open mind going in. Horror in general, whatever medium it's in, tends to require its own critical scale; as they say in Fangoria magazine, it's either in you or it isn't. Unfortunately, after a few hours with AMY, I can see why it's getting hit this hard.
The game begins on Christmas Eve in 2021, as Lena and her ward Amy ride a train into an unnamed city, presumably somewhere in North America. Lena has apparently kidnapped Amy from some medical facility somewhere, and has brought her to another hospital for treatment. Right before their train pulls into the station, however, a mysterious explosion goes off somewhere inside the city. Lena's subsequently knocked out by an undead monster that used to be the train conductor, and when she wakes up, Amy's gone.
This is the first warning sign. AMY is VectorCell's first published game, and they decided to go with the one-two punch of flawed game design: a game-long escort mission combined with a character who can't fight her way out of a wet paper bag. Lena's wearing heels, so she can't run very fast, and her only method of attack is a slow swing with whatever club-shaped chunk of debris she manages to get her hands on. Amy is an autistic little girl with no ability to defend herself. If there are enemies around, wackiness tends to ensue.
Another complication is that Amy, as you abruptly find out in the game's second chapter, has a variety of powers. For one thing, the entire subway station is seething with radiation, and if Lena stands around in one of the hot zones for too long, she drops dead. Standing near Amy heals Lena's injuries and detoxifies her, which means you'll spend every moment you can holding Amy's hand, and thus unable to move faster than a walk. Picking her up or carrying her on her back never seems to occur to Lena, even when you're supposedly outrunning a mob of zombies.
The game also has remarkably half-assed stealth elements, complete with enemies who are invulnerable and will one-shot Lena if they get the chance to attack, in areas where the checkpoints are few and far between. On top of that, several crucial parts of the UI either do not consistently work, such as using health injections or Amy's powers, or are unnecessarily complicated, such as hiding.
AMY has a reasonably decent premise and a really creepy opening sequence, but this just isn't a finished game. It's the kind of game that makes me wonder if the people who designed it were actually gamers themselves, and if so, if they don't enjoy fun for some reason. I really want to say nicer things about AMY than this, because survival horror badly needs a good shot in the arm from some upstart independent developer, but this is one of the worst games in the genre.
This review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of AMY provided by Lexis Numérique.