Gamersyde Preview: AMY
First planned for a summer release, AMY finally decided to wait until this winter to show itself. A few weeks back, we hoped the game would not miss Christmas, unfortunately, it was delayed once again until January. Of course, when you are as privileged as we are, you get nice opportunities like playing the preview code on both 360 and PS3. To find out what we thought about the game, follow me inside.
Like we previously stated in our first look article a few months ago, AMY's atmosphere is rather dark, almost apocalyptical. The couple of hours we played did not allow us to make a lot of encounters but it does not mean the world Paul Cuisset imagined is safe or welcoming at all. Even the only survivor we met seemed a little strange, and though he was really helpful, we could not help but feel uncomfortable when hearing him call the little Amy when she was in hiding. I mean, we could understand why she would not show up, given how creepy he sounded. So now imagine how the bad guys sound like! Not all living creatures have become monstrous zombie-like predators, there are also some sort of soldiers who are after the young Amy. They should be avoided at all cost as they are heavily armed and they cannot be taken out.
The train station in which the first two chapters included in the preview code take place may not be as spooky as, say, a silent and foggy town, but it still conveys a good sense of threat and isolation. Poorly lit, populated by a dangerous crowd, it forces you to stay on your toes and remain cautious. Not that you should expect tons of enemies nor should you be prepared to die at each step you take. No, the sense of fear essentially comes from the virus flowing inside Lana's veins, a virus which overwhelms her every time she gets separated from Amy. A sword of Damocles hanging over Lana's head, every second away from Amy getting her closer to hell and death. The different sound effects and the 5.1 spatialization are very well rendered by the way, adding to the overall feeling of fear. This is especially true when Lana starts to "turn", as menacing whispers can be heard and sound is distorted.
Say you, s'AMY
The little girl who accompanies you is then as necessary to you as you are to her. Unable to utter a word, she will rely on you and will obey your orders to the letter. Say you need to activate an unreachable switch, just ask Amy to crawl into a ventilation shaft and to press it for you once inside the locked room. In other circumstances, you will need her to lower an elevator for you so you can get access to a precious key card. The young autistic child can also unlock electronic doors thanks to her hacking abilities or, if necessary, use one of her five powers to help Lana in her task. In the preview code, only one of them was available, making it possible for Amy to create a sphere within which all sounds are mute, preventing Lana from drawing attention when breaking a glass wall.
The strong relationship between the two main characters is at its best when they are holding hands, as Lana is guiding the defenseless child through the many corridors of the beginning of the adventure. Not only does Amy provide the young woman with light, but she also serves as a radar warning her of nearby potential threats. Indeed, her heart beat accelerates every time a monster lurks in the vicinity, which is pretty efficient to build up tension. However, at the same time, it also sabotages any attempt at surprising the player, like for example when a light bulb or a computer screen explode randomly as Lana approaches. I mean it's a good idea to make these events random, but what's the point in being caught off guard when you know there is no danger around? Surprise encounters are on the contrary quite effective, as you can never really be too confident, even when reloading a checkpoint. It does not happen much, but I can tell you that when it does, literally running into a zombie because you thought the area was clear will make you jump.
But holding Amy's hand is also very important for Lana as the child is the only antidote she has to keep her away from “zombie-zenship”. In less than 3 minutes, Lana will indeed turn into a monster herself, a short lapse of time which gets even shorter in hard mode (1 minute and 40 seconds exactly). If you stay away from Amy for too long, you get a punishing game over and have to reload the last checkpoint. Thankfully, some antiviral syringes can be found here and there to give you a bit more time when Amy has escaped, or when you ask her to hide somewhere until your return. Staying under the radar is then of paramount importance in the world Paul Cuisset imagined. Taking the stealth approach will allow you not to set off electric mines (thanks to the analog controls), to get spotted by a ferocious adversary, but also, to lose the guards or creatures that are after you.
Let me give you two specific examples: as shown in a previous video, Lana and Amy cross path with a monstrous version of a bodybuilder. As it is obviously useless to try to face him directly, the only option left is to hide into a closet until he leaves. A broken mirror on the wall in front of you lets you see where the creature is so you know when it is safe to get out of your hiding place. Should you decide to test your combat skills against him, you will see how fast Lana can turn into minced meat. In another sequence, you need to lure a soldier out of a room so you can have access to the DNA lock he is guarding. For that, you can simply use a nearby phone so it rings and draw the man out. The game makes a good use of split screen to let you know you don't have much time before he arrives, which adds to the overall feeling of urgency.
One last thing I must talk about is the combat system. To be honest, that's the area where, like in many games of the genre, AMY falls short, at least for now. Basically, it is all very simple, with the possibility to attack and dodge. The problem is that it's far from being easy to have a good appreciation of distances and be sure who is going to hit first. Add to that a bit of latency in the controls and some framerate issues (which we hope are only due to the preview code) and you will understand why combat can be frustrating. Also disappointing is the lack of feedback we get when hitting the enemies, or the fact that weapons can break and never last long enough. Even when switching to a new weapon on a regular basis, I found myself disarmed in the middle of a fight although I had never used it before. As a result, I ended up running away in search of a weapon, with a zombie on my back, a vain quest as I had already taken all the weapons available in the area. It may have been a bug, so let's hope this will be fixed in the final code.
First and foremost, it is worth reminding that AMY is a downloadable game which will be sold at $10, so it should be compared to other similar games when it comes to graphics. Keeping this in mind, it is hard not to praise Vector cell's work on their in house engine. Sure, not everything looks as great as in AAA titles, but it would be unfair not to notice the highly-polygoned character models, not to mention some nice effects not even some big budget games feature (just take a look at uncharted 3's poor mirror reflections in the opening sequence for example). Good news then, AMY's overall realization looks convincing enough to make the game immersive. True, some of the motion captured animations do not always look that good, like when Lana sprints or when she fights. Some will also probably be annoyed by the time it takes her to climb up or down a ladder, but then again, would you do any better with a short skirt and high heels?
The most annoying issue is without a doubt the sloppy framerate of the preview build. Not only is it a bit low but it also suffers from hiccups and slowdowns which sometimes affect gameplay. When Lana has to face an enemy, it can get a bit tricky to dodge when the game suddenly freezes, leaving you no chance to avoid taking damages. Even the sequences where Lana and Amy have to run away can become a bit troublesome, which is a shame. That being said, the game still remains playable even in its current state. Now we would obviously not mind if Vector Cell found a way to improve AMY's framerate before its release. Something else that would benefit from a bit more polish is Amy's tendency to let go of Lana's hand whenever she bumps into something. It makes sense in a certain way, but we wish it would be a bit less sensitive, as running away from monsters can get frustrating when you have to go back to get the little girl just because she stopped running. Paul Cuisset had mentioned to us the problems such physical interactions caused, and for now, all we can say is that ICO stays the main reference.
All in all, there is still room for improvement until the game's official release, but we still think AMY deserves your attention. First, because its gameplay mechanics are promising, provided they manage to propose a bit of variety in the course of the adventure. Secondly, because its well-rendered atmosphere and its intriguing storyline are pretty motivating. Finally, because for $10, here is a title which, if it manages to convince players, could lead the way to other ambitious projects of that type. So, maybe AMY won't be remembered for its huge originality, but if it can bring a bit of the emotion felt in games such as ICO and Silent Hill, then maybe, just maybe, we will be able to turn off the flashback machine which keeps reminding us games were so much better before.
About the game
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