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Amy Review

What's in a name?

Just like hurricanes, horror games seem to go well with girl's names. First Catherine, and now Amy. Just names, nothing else, but simply by knowing there's a sinister context, these otherwise ordinary words take on a malevolent air. Yet it only works with girls names. Could you imagine getting chills down your spine from a horror game called Mike or Roger?

Sadly, that's about it as far as interesting things to say about Amy goes, as this shambolic collection of outmoded ideas and clumsy execution would have been sub-par if released in 1998. Put it up alongside even the shaggiest second-stringer in 2012 and it's hard to find anything positive at all.

The plot gets things off to a bad start, compiled as it is from a jumble of survival horror clichés. We open with Lana, our heroine, as she escorts the Amy of the title on a train. Through leaden exposition we learn that Amy is both traumatised and mute, and she's been sprung from a dubious research facility. It's not hard to see where this one's going.

Not helping is the fact that the quality of the cutscenes is dire. Stiff puppet-like movements, rigid figures and inane dialogue delivered in halting, flat speech all conspire to make the game more laughable than enthralling before you've even taken control. Already the on-screen captions are veering away from the spoken dialogue, a problem that only gets worse as the game goes on. It gets so bad that characters are referred to by completely different names in the subtitles than they are in the game.

Amy can copy glyphs from walls, which then give Lana magic powers for some reason.

But back to business. There's an explosion in the distance, just as Amy draws a picture of flames and people being eaten by monsters, and everything goes black. Lana wakes up on the wrecked train with no Amy in sight, and you're first order of business is finding her, as together Lana can keep Amy from panicking and Amy's magical psychic powers prevent Lana from becoming infected by whatever contagion is making everyone go all gloopy.

It's a tutorial quest that should cement our emotional investment in the characters - something essential to successful horror - but we've been given no reason to care. The relationship between Lana and Amy has been left vague and the acting is so bad that Lana simply doesn't seem that bothered.

You have more pressing concerns than narrative engagement, however. Simply moving around is a problem, thanks to a twitchy lurching camera that constantly threatens the player with seasickness, and a sticky frame rate that means simply walking in a straight line is a procession of judders and snags. Your view of the action is rarely satisfactory, and Lana becomes jammed on scenery items just out of view all the time.

Naturally, this handicaps the combat too. It's a horror game so of course people turn into shambling zombie things, and you're able to take weightless swings at them. You have two melee combat options - lunge forward to attack, or feint backwards to dodge - but even this limited repertoire is undercut by the game's woozy camera. Take a hit and Lana spins around, and the camera follows. While you're reorienting yourself, you'll take another hit. Since Lana can only take three or four hits, it means the survival in this survival horror is often out of your hands.

Death also introduces perhaps the game's most baffling and irritating design choices. First off, every time you die your inventory is wiped. Health syringes, vital for patching Lana up and fighting the infection, are taken away, leaving you even more vulnerable. In a better game, this could be a great - if brutal - way of increasing the tension. Here, where failure rarely feels like your own fault, it simply infuriates.

Making matters worse, checkpoints are sparse, so each demise can mean replaying up to an hour of gameplay as you go through the same puzzles, battles and dreary exploration just to get back to where you were. If that's not enough, the checkpoints are only active while playing and the game only saves your progress at the end of each chapter - and there's no manual save. Switch the game off mid-level, assuming that a checkpoint means your progress is safe, and you'll be forced to restart from the beginning of the last chapter when you return.

It's indicative of a game full of ideas and mechanisms that rarely work as planned. For example once reunited with Amy you can lead her around by the hand, Ico-style, and send her through small gaps into locked rooms to push buttons or retrieve objects. The gaps are clearly large enough for Lana to crawl through as well, but that's typical of design that throws immersion out of the window at every turn.

Too many puzzles are predicated on separating Lana and Amy using ridiculous contrivances, such as Amy being unable to climb ladders, or elevators that can only be activated by buttons on the other side of the room. If not that, then you'll be sighing in dismay at how many locked doors will only open after you've retrieved - wait for it - colour coded key cards. There's simply no sense that this is a logical story, set in a real place and populated by actual characters. If common sense must be thrown out of the window to cram another obvious video game obstacle in your path, then so be it.

Amy is all the more disappointing, given that it comes from Paul Cuisset, designer of the classic Flashback.

The problems quickly pile up, from minor irritations such as the way Amy lets go of Lana's hand at the slightest brush with scenery, to major inconveniences, such as the arrival of military goons who kill you on sight. Coupled with the idiotic checkpoint system and the game's half-baked idea of stealth, they make progress a hit or miss affair.

Crucially, the game simply isn't scary. Huge portions of gameplay are spent blundering around empty corridors, fighting the swaying camera and looking for the way ahead. The monsters are drab and obvious, while encounters are rare to begin with. Whatever thin atmosphere the game tries to muster by making gas pipes hiss and electricity spark as you walk past dissipates long before anything resembling pace or excitement can rear its head.

Games can survive bad dialogue and wonky mechanisms provided the experience has charm and originality. Deadly Premonition, the obvious example, suffers from many of the same technical issues as Amy, but is far and away a more entertaining ride thanks to its unique oddball style. Equally, plenty of games can be perfectly entertaining despite a lack of originality, provided they're served up with polish, pace and style.

Amy fails on all counts. It's plagued by jerky movement, poor scripting, weak puzzles and shoddy checkpointing, but it's also a characterless mess of themes and ideas swiped from a dozen better horror titles. Neither quirky enough to be forgiven its unfinished feel nor polished enough to satisfy the base gaming itch, Amy is a crushing disappointment with little to recommend it. With classic titles from both the Silent Hill and Resident Evil series getting HD re-releases there's absolutely no reason to suffer this shambolic imitation in search of your survival horror fix.

2 / 10

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