For a little while now, PSN and XBLA games have not ceased to amaze us. After releasing Red Johnson’s Chronicles, a very pleasant adventure game, the developers of Lexis Numérique invited us to discover their upcoming game, a survival horror entitled AMY. Persuaded as we were of the seriousness of the French studio, but also very excited at the prospect of seeing a game developed by Paul "Flashback" Cuisset, we faced the many dangers of the Parisian subway system to find out for ourselves what this ambitious title was all about. For our first impressions and an exclusive interview of Paul Cuisset, just come inside.
Small studio, big game?
Lexis Numérique is not your typical developer since they work completely on their own, without the help (and control) of a publisher. There are of course both advantages and disadvantages to work that way but at least it allowed Lexis Numérique to put all the money they had for AMY in the game itself, instead of the marketing campaign. Whether or not it was the right thing to do still remains to be seen but it partly explains why the game will be released on PSN in June (and on Xbox Live Arcade a bit later). As stated before, AMY is quite an ambitious title, as the small studio had to create their own graphics engine from scratch. With a team of 10 people, one can’t help but think of the way games used to be developed back when Flashback was released. Why make their own 3D engine instead of using UE3, for example? Two reasons for that: the first one is that UE3 was way too expensive for them to purchase; the second one is that it permitted them to know exactly what they could do with it, how far they could go to make the most of it.
And clearly, they seem to have done a pretty good job. Indeed, AMY looks really impressive for a downloadable game and it should prove to everyone that PSN/XBLA titles can be on par with high budget games. From what we could see, the environments seem really detailed, with great character models and nice special effects. They even went as far as to make specific shaders for the heroine’s pantyhose, not to mention the work they have achieved on the way light reflects on the characters’ hair and clothes. This gives the game a very realistic look, which goes hand in hand with the motion captured animations. In-game reflections in mirrors are also part of the package deal and can actually come in handy when hiding in a closet while keeping an eye on a lurking monster.
The sun’ll come tomorrow, or not
You play the role of Lana, a normal young woman who is about to face terrible events that will change the face of the earth forever. A main protagonist that is actually very close to those found in Lovecraft’s novels come to think of it. The game opens up in a train, as Lana is talking to a very nice ticket collector. Life seems peaceful, everyone is enjoying their trip but all of a sudden, a tragic accident happens. After staying unconscious for a while, Lana wakes up to find out that the ticket collector is not so nice anymore and that the other survivors seem to have become quite aggressive zombie-like creatures. What happened? Well, a virus happened, contaminating most of the population and turning them into dangerous monsters. Unfortunately, Lana is no exception, she now also carries the virus in her blood.
Now we did not get to see the introduction of the game ourselves, so what you’ve just read is simply what we were told to let us know about the main storyline before seeing the game in action. The demo we were shown actually took place a few hours after the accident, and more importantly some time after meeting Amy. Being infected with the virus, Lana is of no particular interest to the creatures she encounters, but she is no longer on her own so she will have to fight in order to protect Amy. The weapons she can use are basically ordinary objects that can break after some time. Accompanied by Amy, a little girl who seems to be a mute, Lana will become the child’s guardian angel while the girl will be the young woman’s salvation. Indeed, for some reason, Amy is gifted with powers that allow her to slow down the infection and even stop it from spreading as long as Lana holds her hand. More than ever, this is the story of a relationship between a child and a grown-up, but also between the player and the two girls.
When Silent Hill meets ICO
In a world that has become hostile and unpredictable, running away and keeping a low profile is usually the best option, which is why you will be able to ask Amy to hide when necessary. When the demo started, Lana was looking for the little girl who had run away because she had gotten scared. Quite a logical and realistic behavior given her age, and you can tell that the developers paid a lot of attention to her reactions in order to make her more human, thus more endearing. Because the game revolves around the relationship between Lana and Amy, it is essential the player does not feel he is accompanied by a mere bot. That’s why Amy is useful to Lana in more than just one way: she can crawl into tiny passageways, activate a switch for you or use her flashlight (or turn it off not to draw too much attention).
When Lana is on her own, the virus starts to take over little by little and to spread through her veins, transforming her physically in real time. Even ambient noises change as she undergoes her mutation, as a reminder of the inescapable fate that awaits her. What makes the game even more immersive in such circumstances is that there is no single HUD to indicate how much time you have left. Well, not exactly to be fair. Much like in Dead Space, your back will give you a hint as you carry around some kind of Geiger device that goes from green to red depending on Lana’s health. To slow the progression of the virus, she can also use med kits but they are pretty scarce so better kept for emergency situations.
Because the story itself demands that Lana can hold Amy’s hand to stay human, it is no surprise to see that the game uses a similar system to ICO’s. It means that, contrary to Fable 3, you need to maintain R1 to take the little girl’s hand which gave Lexis Numérique a lot of work. Indeed, making sure that there’d be no glitches or odd animations was a much more complicated task than they had ever thought. But in the end, they realized it was clearly worth it in order to make the best possible game. But holding Amy’s hand does not only keep the virus away, it also gives you feedback as you can feel and hear the child’s heartbeats. That way you can be informed of the presence of a nearby threat. It is hard not to think of Silent Hill’s radio, and it will hopefully be as effective as in Konami’s game.
With AMY, Lexis Numérique wants to prove that downloadable games have a lot to offer in terms of content, experience, tech and quality. At Gamersyde, we really want to believe in this ambitious project that could very well be the birth of a new series. The team put a lot of effort in delivering a cinematic experience, with dynamic camera angles and the use of split screen (when the player has missed something important). Moreover, we have been told that it will take between 5 and 6 hours to complete the 6 chapters of the game, 5 to 6 hours of stealth, hide and seek and combat. Of course, playing in the highest difficulty setting (in which Lana’s infection spreads faster and the young woman is weaker and has less stamina) might be a good way to make it last even longer. Planned on PSN (a 360 version should also follow shortly after) for a June release, it will cost you $9.99 to play the game. It seems like a very good deal and we sincerely hope we won’t be disappointed. We may have a good feeling about all this, but it still needs to be confirmed. We will find out soon enough, so stay tuned.