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FTG Review: Amy (XBLA)

Amy, vectorcell, lexis numerique, xbla, xbox liveThriller and horror games have been a favored genre for many, and with games like Silent Hill and Fatal Frame at the high end of the scale. Amy, from French game studio Lexis Numérique,  hopes to follow in their footsteps. Unfortunately, this Xbox Live Arcade title seems to fall short in almost every aspect you can think of. The story puts you in the role of Lana, the guardian of the mentally challenged child Amy, on the way to a city.  The train they are riding on derails due to an unknown explosion. After getting knocked unconscious, you wake up to find Amy gone. Your goal: find Amy and get to safety as quickly as possible. Not a bad premise…until you start playing.

With so many plot holes and unanswered questions, following the story can seem arduous at times. Why is Amy incapable of speech, but able to hack a computer console faster than a nerd on ten Red Bulls? Where did Amy come from? Why is Lana inept at anything that isn’t running or swinging a blunt object? At some point caring about the story line at all seemed to grow stale due to having to constantly repeat the same scenes twenty times in a trial and error process to survive one enemy.

As much as I hate making small autistic girls cry, you kind of brought it on yourself with this one, Amy.

Character design and graphics are probably one of the few high points in this game. With decent character models and an eerie landscape you find yourself expecting something to ambush you around most corners, or something to pop out and give you a fright. Unfortunately, the same tired scare tactics of random pipes bursting or electrical sparks are used, that after the first few times, they end up scaring your character (that you can’t control while she flails about out of fear) more than you. Enemy designs are extremely unoriginal or bland, making combat very unengaging.

Controls for Amy is where this game really hits rock bottom, whether it’s the clunky, stale two button combat with one dodge and one attack that may or may not work properly, or Lana’s inability to perform even the most simple movements. Interacting with items and different objects in the world can be frustrating. Having to stand on the exact pixel required for the action button to appear has you turning in circles around what you want to use for a good minute some times.  During combat, character animations are so sluggish you have have to mash the buttons in hope your attack animation goes off before an infected flails in the general direction of your face. Most of the time, you end up wanting to avoid the combat as a whole, due to not wanting to become frustrated enough to flip a nearby table.

If I just keep swinging eventually something has to connect.

Game interface is severely lacking. Using all of your menus through just the D-Pad limits pretty much any hope of having proper control of it. For a game that relies heavily on the health status of so many things, like your character or the weapon you’re using, there’s very few methods to keep track of those numbers. At times you find yourself “guesstimating” how much longer you have to live based on how putrid Lana looks, or how many times you’ve actually decided to work up the patience to smash something’s skull in. Just be careful, because if you die, you’re restarting at what this game dares to call a “checkpoint”, another major problem with the game.

So, “checkpoints”.  The game is set up in six deceptively short chapters. While the actual length of the chapters are short, you’ll be kicked back to the beginning of the level upon death and retrying the level so many times it will end up taking a good hour or two to get through a chapter. Throughout chapters, you come across checkpoints, though usually in one chapter there’s only one  or maybe two. That means when you die for the 14th time, you’re shot possibly all the way back to the beginning of the chapter. And naturally if you get frustrated at any point mid way through a chapter and decide to quit you’ll also be kicked back to the beginning of the chapter…because they figured it wasn’t fun enough the last twenty deaths.

Oh, you mean this is the first enemy in the chapter? Seems reasonable.

The survival horror genre has had some real gems in its time: from the original Resident Evils to Silent Hill, the game play may not have been the most solid, but their intuitive stories, thrilling twists and characters have left gamers sitting at the edge of their seats. Unfortunately for VectorCell, they seem to have missed their mark. While survival horror games can be clunky, basic game mechanics and degree of difficulty should be manageable, and that’s where this game truly falls short. Aggravation and a story with more holes than swiss cheese is all Amy manages to bring to the table…but at least the concept was decent and the game was aesthetically pleasing enough… right?