At the very highest level, the decisions that shape and define Amy, a horror game from Paul Cuisset, creator of Flashback, are sound. It borrows that most tender of mechanics, the handholding of Ico, and beds it into a survival horror by asking you to lead a young, selectively mute girl out of a research facility overrun by zombies.
It’s a marriage of interaction and setting that establishes a framework about custody and caring for someone weaker than yourself at the expense of the speed of your progress. Contemporary survival horror games struggle to find fresh ways to make the player feel weak and disempowered. Asking that we lead a tiny child through the danger should be an elegant solution.
But at every level below the narrative and mechanical premise Amy falters and flops. In contrast to Ico, the young girl is not completely helpless, and can be directed to press switches and unlock doors that are out of reach for the player character, guardian Lana. This decision turns the girl into a tool as much as a vulnerable burden, and sets up an endless stream of lock-and-key puzzles.
One problem is the contrivance of these barriers to progress. For example, access to a locked room may only be gained by sending Amy, not through an air vent or broken section of wall, but through an oddly child-shaped opening at floor level. Similarly, elevators that only Amy can ride lead to wall-mounted buttons to open doors on the floor level. These pieces of world design make no sense save for producing a dull-headed puzzle to overcome.
Moreover, Amy gains psychic powers through coping glyphs scrawled onto the walls into her iPad-esque tablet. But as her practical importance to progress increases the sense of protectiveness you feel for her as a defenceless child lessens, and she becomes just another tool in the box. Combine this with the fact that monsters overlook Amy, essentially making her invincible, and the whole premise disintegrates.
Combat involves weightless swings of wooden planks interspersed with stuttering dodges from overly telegraphed enemy swipes. Occasionally, you must evade larger monsters by ducking under tables or into lockers, but the spattering of stealth that seasons your advance through the game is inelegant and lacks consistent logic.
The AI is routinely terrible – at one point during our playthrough, an NPC screamed at us to flee a scene. We ran, hard and fast, only to realise Amy was back at the start of the level, banging her head against a frozen zombie, their path-finding routines frazzled in the exchange.
So too is the voice acting, dialogue, and level design, which have you wandering aimlessly down corridors that lead to dead-ends. Unceremonious death lurks around every corner and with sparse checkpoints, you’ll be forced to play large chunks of the game’s five chapters over and over. Turn the console off and mid-level checkpoints are wiped, an anachronistic decision that's entirely devoid of reason or worth.
Worst of all for a game hoping to sell itself on scares, Amy is never frightening. Instead, its horrors are derived from the game’s shoddy execution, weak puzzles and frustrating play rhythms, a nest of poor game design decisions through which disappointment, not fear, are hatched.