I get it now. I am part of some Mystery Science Theater 3000-style experiment. But instead of bad movies, or even bad videogames, I have been forced, without my consent, to sweat out what might very well be the worst videogame I have ever played - and I owned a Sega Saturn, so I know all about pain and desperation and the dark side of all things. It all makes sense; the nosebleeds, headaches, and night sweats are all side effects of Amy instead of cancer, as I feared initially. Although, perhaps Amy is so bad it gave me cancer. Alas, while I’m sure it’s likely that Amy causes cancer, I have no proof so lets just call that a “joke” before the lawyers start billing us.
Every second I spent with Amy brought me that much closer to understanding a vampire’s longing for the True Death. The game is excruciating to play. The simplest act of gameplay handles like a mostly-paralyzed cave bear with narcolepsy and a chronic case of Spear Through the Eye, and occurs at speeds normally associated with bodily functions after a three-week-long grilled cheese bender.
“Ah,” you say, “but what about the graphics? We all know that even the biggest gameplay shortcoming can be overlooked if the graphics are good enough.”
“Shut up, hypothetical graphics boob,” I respond. “No one says that, and Amy’s graphics look like what you’d expect to see after a prison van transporting a gang of Goth clowns collides with a tanker full of run-off from the local pig offal processing center. Now go find someone else to harangue with your nonsense.”
So yeah, don’t expect to be buoyed by some sort of redeeming feature. Every square inch of Amy is the kind of stuff that will make archeologists 1000 years in the future understand why we poured garbage into the oceans, turned dog farts into snacks for our children, and watched reality TV, before finally disappearing in a puff of acrid smoke generated by the machines that changed our diapers. In fact, they will probably conclude that Amy is responsible for the disappearance of everything from the lost colony of Roanoke, to hookers that won’t cut you with a razor blade dipped in bird-flu until after you‘ve paid them. That’s right, Amy is an extinction-level event and exactly what the Mayans were trying to warn us about when they made their calendar.
Look, I’m sure the people over at VectorCell are super-duper nice and never set out to make a game that will cause your videogame console to immediately petition the UN for political asylum, but I can’t help but wonder why, in the totally futuristic-sounding year of 2012, a game was released with controls as awkward as Amy’s. It’s one thing to make a game where the player-controlled character has a turning radius rather than the ability to just turn 180 degrees and walk back the way they came; it’s something else entirely to combine that with movements that are far too slow, animations that drag on far too long, and a camera that swings around wildly like it’s being manned by your drunk Aunt Linda. Every little thing Amy (a little girl/robot/flesh puppet with special powers) or Lana (Amy’s kidnapper/protector/flesh puppeteer) do takes an unnecessarily long time. I’m only talking an extra beat or two versus a game that gets that stuff right, but after 20 minutes, that stuff starts to add up and becomes completely exhausting.
Imagine going through an hour where your arms and legs responded .01 seconds later than usual. It would be completely upsetting, wouldn’t it? Humans expect things to happen at a certain speed and Amy violates those expectations in ways you’d normally have to give a credit card number to see. And it’s not helped by Amy’s nightmarish checkpoint and save system. The game only saves at the start of chapters. I cannot reiterate that enough. AMY ONLY AUTOSAVES AT THE START OF EACH CHAPTER. Don’t expect manual hard saves, either. Turn your game off, and you’ll be kicked all the way back to the start of the chapter and there’s nothing you can do about it. It is inexcusable that in 2012, a game exists that has the same attitude toward game-saves as games did twenty years ago.
On top of that, are the checkpoints that are way too far apart for a modern game to get away with and when you die, everything resets, from things you collected, and now have to recollect, to things you collected a chapter ago that are now gone forever, along with any trap, obstacle, or barrier puzzle that needs to be solved (more on that later). I don’t even know how to criticize that effectively. I could call it a stupid idea, but that’d be like giving the class gerbil an F in applied calculus because it died before the school year started - the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Now I’m sure some will make the case that the save system, wide-spaced checkpoints and slow animations are there to make it “hardcore” like old-school survival horror games; well I say that those games were fun and Amy isn’t, so obviously something else is going on other than copying older games to make it more “hardcore.” In other words, Amy doesn’t suck because it’s hard; it’s hard because it sucks.
Also using Amy’s twisted concept of what constitutes “hardcore” is the combat, which uses everyone’s favorite feature: degrading weapons that eventually break - after about six solid hits. I’ve picked up 2x4s and had them break during the very next fight. Man, that’s so hardcore I think I just spontaneously evolved the ability to breathe Mountain Dew. Combat boils down to mashing two buttons, one to attack and one to dodge. Now, given the quality of the rest of the game, the combat is refreshingly not accursed. Fights are quick and brutal with Lana and the zombies, that generally can take more damage than she can, trading attacks and dodges in rapid succession until one of them is dead. Unfortunately, if you do die, you can expect to have to replay more of the mission than you’d probably like and do so without all the health syringes you’ve been hoarding. You can recollect the ones you found since the last checkpoint, but do that four or five times in a row and you’ll start to wish that time would stop and all matter would simultaneously explode at the speed of light. In addition, between the dearth of zombies to battle, the one-hit-kill enemies that you can only hide from, and the stealth system that requires you to simply crouch while their backs are turned to avoid combat altogether, there’s just not enough of Amy’s one halfway competent feature to liven up the overall experience.
Besides the combat, the other feature that might pique a prospective buyer’s interest is the co-operative (and no, I don’t mean co-operative as in multiplayer co-op) puzzles that require Lana to hold Amy’s hand before giving her a task - because Amy is a robot or a flesh puppet, or a robot flesh puppet. These instances are completely lacking in any impact or logical coherence, however, because there’s no reason for them to exist, other than that the devs needed something to justify Amy’s existence as a character and a gameplay mechanic.
She can also cast spells by copying glyphs that appear on walls hidden around each level, but the spells are only useful during certain circumstance that are so obviously contrived as to render them pointless - another solution to a problem that only exists to justify the continued existence of the solution. They also have a certain number of uses before she needs to copy the same glyph again (and again and again and again), but don’t expect the game to tell you that, or much of anything else for that matter, anywhere. Occasionally, you’ll come across a button in another room that needs to be pushed so Amy and Lana can advance. You can tell when you come to one of those rooms because, despite all the windows, there are no doors. Instead, there is a human-sized cat door that, despite clearly being large enough for Lana to crawl through, only Amy can enter. After she has pressed the button, she won’t leave until you stand by the cat door and once again press A to activate the “exiting the cat door” animation. Oh, and did I mention that every second she’s not standing right next to you brings you closer to death? Yeah, that happens, and most of the time to solve whatever problem is at hand requires Lana to get pretty far from Amy. Given the already super slow way Lana moves and every animation plays out, these sections are often edge-of-your-seat nail-biter moments when they don’t have to be. Other times, you’ll come across a panel for Amy to hack. This takes about 20 seconds (an eternity in Videogame Time), and you’ll have to do it every time you try to pass through such a door, even if it’s a door you’ve already hacked. Why she knows how to hack these panels is not readily explained. It has something to do with her previous treatment at a special hospital for robotic flesh puppets, but that’s all we know.
The most troubling aspect of the varied puzzle-solving methods is the stupidly limited set of actions Amy can take. She can crawl inside the cat door, push buttons, pick up items, ride cargo elevators up, down (but never both on the same elevator), and that’s it. She can’t use ladders, or shimmy along ledges that wouldn’t trouble a blind infant. And if you do need her to travel up and down the same elevator, then be prepared for one of those actions to require a different set of commands that takes far longer to perform than the other one. These arbitrary limitations do nothing other than make the puzzles more difficult than they need to be. If you think it’s stupid that FPS characters can’t mantle over chest high walls, just wait until you die from being too long apart from Amy because you can’t figure out the esoteric solution to a puzzle that could have been solved in two seconds if only Amy had the same move set as a real little girl.
I could go on and on. I could go into detail about how the story is just reheated zombie pot pie seasoned with a creepy little girl, a pinch of religious whackadoodlery and evil science, or I could tell you that the game isn’t scary, the voice acting is bad (Marcello sounds like an alien that learned English from intercepted transmissions of Jersey Shore), the dialogue, when it’s not technobabble, is downright insipid (you might love it when Lana talks to Amy as if she’s the kind of dog owner who dresses her “children” in sailor outfits and Amy is the dog, but I didn’t), the environmental noises create zero atmosphere, the frame rate is jittery even during the motion comic cut-scenes, and the game is headache-inducingly dark. I could also spend pages telling you about script errors and post-death level resets that can block any further progress and force you to start from the beginning of the chapter, but I won’t. I’d just be running up the score. There is simply nothing positive to say about Amy and nothing negative still worth talking about. I won’t go so far as to assume it’s one of the worst games of the year or the generation, but it’s certainly the worst game I’ve played in a long long time.