Gamersyde has been keeping a close eye an VectorCell's AMY for a while now. It really started when we got to meet Paul Cuisset in Paris, but it was soon followed by another presentation of the game in Cologne during GC 2011. A few weeks ago, we were finally sent the preview build which permitted us to get a pretty good idea of what to expect in the final game. Now is the time to reveal our verdict just one day before the title's release on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. Join me inside for our first review of 2012 and a batch of videos made in Gamersyde. Update: Launch trailer added.
Since we've already had the opportunity to tell you about the main plot on several occasions, it seems rather unnecessary to go through it again. When we talked to Paul Cuisset about AMY, he immediately told us he had a lot of material for the story, and that it could not all be used in just one game. Then, AMY should be taken as the first chapter in a bigger picture and you must accept that some questions will remain unanswered at the end of the sixth chapter concluding the game. Before we let you know what we thought of the game, here are the first 10 minutes of the adventure so you can discover its particular atmosphere.
If there is one thing that AMY won't do, it is to take you gently by the hand to guide you until the next level. No, AMY has nothing to do with today's games in which looking for the right path (or finding the best way to get to your next objective) is not considered as something potentially fun. As opposed to most titles these days, you won't find any GPS system showing you the exact way or any classy HUD to point you toward your main objective. Sure, you still get a few tutorial messages every now and then, but that's about all the support you will ever get from AMY. Even though the different chapters are not that long once you know what to do and where to go, rest assured that you will need to spend a good amount of time experiencing and exploring the environment.
All this makes the game quite challenging, but the fact that checkpoints are rather scarce adds up to the overall difficulty. Why such a decision? Well, to put the player in a permanent state of stress, whether or not you are accompanied by the young girl. Of course, every time you find yourself on your own, it becomes about 10 times more nerve-racking as the virus Lana is infected with will leave you no time to catch your breath. Depending on the kind of player you are, you will either find such choices fantastic or terribly frustrating (especially during your first playthrough in chapters 4 and 5). Indeed, as you progress into the story, things get more and more difficult, forcing you to die and retry on multiple occasions, until you finally figure out what you have to do to make it work. Add to that the fact that checkpoints are only temporary (which basically means that every time you leave the game you must start from the beginning of the chapter you are in) and you will quickly understand why AMY is about surviving. Old school to say the least!
Yet, although frustrating at times, it is very hard to just give up and not want to give it another try. Whether you are fighting deadly creatures (the combat system has been improved over the preview code but it is still awkward) or staying under the radar like Sam Fisher, AMY manages to engulf you in its world and it never lets you go. The relationship which connects you to the little girl then becomes stronger, making every second you spend away from her even harder. True, it also comes from the fact that when she is not close, Lana's mutation begins, which, because you never exactly know how much time you have left, makes it even more stressful. Thus, a relationship based on mutual dependence starts to grow along with the agonizing fear to see Lana die, which is the perfect echo to the feeling of loss and anxiety Amy must go through when she is on her own.
Technically speaking, even though some things have been improved a notch, the weaknesses we mentioned before are still there. Tearing effects and framerate issues will keep you company but it should be said that they are thankfully never detrimental to gameplay. It may not always look as good as we'd like it to, but it is more of a cosmetic issue than anything else. As a result, you won't lose a fight because of unexpected slowdowns, which is great as the game is challenging enough.
That being said, the game's graphics are pretty good overall. You will go through a derelict train station, a spooky subway station, the inhospitable streets of Silver City, all that before you can finally reach the local hospital. The guys at VectorCell have not been shy when it comes to special effects with mirror reflections, fire and water effects, smoke, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary when you are used to big blockbusters, but it is a bit more praiseworthy considering the small team (and budget) behind the project.
The first Silent Hill game proved that, more than state of the art graphics, you need perfect sound design to make a good survival horror game. It goes without saying that it was difficult to best or even compete with Akira Yamaoka's work but AMY's soundtrack does the job well enough to make you feel uneasy or even to make you jump sometimes. Even the aleatory events we criticized in our preview can be a lot more effective than what we thought. Juts put the volume up and you will see that when you are fully immersed, a simple smoke leak can cause a heart attack.
AMY may not manage to be as successful as the games it takes its inspiration from, but it is nonetheless a rather good title, provided you accept to play by its old school rules. Not everything is perfect though, far from it, as we could have done without the few technical issues or we could have used more memorable sequences or a stronger character cast like in the Silent Hill series. So yes, the game has some flaws, flaws you must accept before deciding to jump in, but these flaws will clearly not prevent you from enjoying it in the end. AMY is still young, which certainly explains why there is room for improvement, but we do hope we will get a sequel in the near future. A sequel we also hope will put even more emphasis on story as we are dying to know what is going on in Silver City. At the end of the day, for such a cheap price (800 points /10€/$9.99), AMY is definitely worth a try. Just make sure you are ready to be a bit ill-treated by it.