Paul Cuisset is a living legend, formerly of now-defunct French developer Delphine Software and creator of the landmark action-adventure game Flashback: The Quest for Identity and the Playstation era racer Moto Racer (he also had a hand in the dismal fighting game Shaq Fu, but we'll gloss over that for now). When it was announced that Cuisset's new studio, Vector Cell, was putting his touch on the survival horror genre with AMY, there was little doubt in my mind that this was going to be another fantastic feather for Cuisset's cap. The reality, however, is a very different story.
AMY is the story of a woman named Lana, who has liberated the eponymous Amy from a research center where she underwent horrific experiments to test her various psychic abilities. En route to Silver City, they see a strange flash in the sky and all hell breaks loose, crashing the train and setting in motion a full-scale plague of zombie-like creatures. Lana has to escape the madness, with her autistic charge in tow.
AMY's first impressions were not the best: the opening cinematic is painfully choppy and the voice acting was subpar at best. However, the game's striking near-future visuals (the game is set in the not far-off 2034) and palpable tension try their best, and mostly succeed, at overcoming these early shortcomings.
Once in the game proper, Cuisset's action-adventure pedigree comes through. The game's more cinematic style and simple puzzles are certainly reminiscent of Cuisset's earlier titles like Flashback, albeit set in a more modern third-person perspective where players guide Lana around the bleak environments of Silver City hunting for the lost Amy. The game world is almost incomprehensibly dark at times, tipping from "mood lighting" right into "what the hell is going on" on a pretty constant basis. This effect seemed lesser on the PS3, where the console's less saturated video made the game's deepest shadows a little less impenetrable. In this sea of inky shadows, Lana finally confronts her first of the game's enemies: the strange, infected pseudo-zombies that have emerged in the wake of the game's mysterious explosion.
Here, the next wave of issues rear their ugly head: the clunky combat. While I am aware that Lana is supposed to be a realistic, vulnerable heroine and that AMY is striving to be old school survival horror, trying to fend off attackers is an unwieldy, unsatisfying affair, to the point that the game would have likely been better had Vector Cell aimed for a Clock Tower or Amnesia style affair. If you're trying to make your heroine vulnerable, your best bet is to go for the whole hog and make her completely defenseless rather than saddling her with such an unsatisfying combat model, where your understanding of what damage your character is delivering and taking is shaky at best. Health is represented by a series of blood splatters scattered around the edge of the screen, but they're positioned in a peculiar way that makes this pseudo-HUD difficult to understand at a glance.
Finally, after bashing a few zombies with the clunky fighting mechanic and solving a few strangely abstract puzzles (hunting for corpses to scan to open a DNA-based lock…huh?) I found Amy hiding in a bathroom. Satisfied that the checkpoint had been saved, I exited the game to continue my playthrough the next morning.
There the biggest, most obscene issue of all reared its ugly head: the save system. While checkpoints present themselves at certain major junctions in each of the game's chapters, these checkpoints are inexcusably forgotten if you exit the game. The following day I was left looking at a screen that offered me no loading options because I hadn't completed the chapter. While some may argue that this is a design decision that falls in line with the game's old-school sensibilities, I call shenanigans. It's 2012, and both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 feature roomy hard drives that are more than capable of holding many, many saved games, as well as the game that players downloaded. To make players complete a chapter that lasts longer than an hour without the ability to save at any point to return later is sadistic and archaic.
It's such a terrible decision that it all but masks anything that AMY accomplishes as a game. There are some genuinely interesting moments to explore, like the interplay between the infected Lana and her autistic companion. Lana is infected with the same virus that all of the enemies are, but the presence of Amy somehow keeps it in check. This allows for some interesting puzzles where Lana can walk among the infected if she separates from Amy for a period of time. Even Amy herself has a few psychic tricks up her sleeve, adding a few extra wrinkles to the gameplay.
Unfortunately, the aspects of the game that are reminiscent of Cuisset's classic work—the puzzles, the unique protagonists, and the charming near-future aesthetic—are lost in a mire of pitch-dark lighting and inexcusably terrible design decisions. I wanted to love AMY, I really did, but there few positives are drowning in a sea of negatives.
AMY is now available on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 MSP and Playstation Network for $9.99.