A preview of Lexis Numerique’s Amy

An in-depth look at the upcoming survival horror download.

The recent PSN outage may have caused a few problems for Lexis Numerique, but the studio is still moving forward with new downloadable titles, and their latest effort is Amy, a survival horror game set to debut on the PlayStation Store in the fall. I got a preview of the game while attending E3, and unlike Dead Space or Resident Evil, Amy isn’t particularly interested in jump scares. Lexis Numerique is instead trying to create an oppressive horror atmosphere, and based on my early impressions, they seem to have succeeded.

Despite the title, you play as Lana, an unfortunate young woman who wakes up to discover that a strange virus has descended on her quaint Midwestern town of Silver City and turned the entire populace into zombies. Lana herself has also been infected, so she has roughly six hours (the game is played in real time) to figure out just what the hell is going on.

In Silver City, the environment is just as menacing as the monsters. The virus is everywhere, so breathing the air is hazardous to your health and there are numerous hot spots that accelerate Lana’s condition. Our demo begins with an idle Lana standing alone in the middle of a crumbling hallway, and within seconds she starts turning into an extra from Shaun of the Dead with green skin, bulging veins, and discolored zombie eyes.

As you’d expect, joining the ranks of the undead the gameplay equivalent of being dead, and Lana’s transition from prom queen to zombie is as seamless as it is unnerving. It’s one of the many ways that Amy attempts to keep you immersed in the game world – there aren’t any loading screens or safe areas – and while the graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge, they look quite crisp for a downloadable title and the facial animations are fantastic.

Of course, Amy does provide a few ways to forestall decay, so the demo continues and Lana eventually locates the titular Amy, a young girl with mysterious powers that are somehow connected to the outbreak. She’s unaffected by the disease and she has the ability to heal those around her – Lana’s infection subsides whenever they hold hands – making Amy an indispensable partner as Lana attempts to uncover the truth.

So yes, Amy is essentially one long escort quest, although Lexis Numerique actually seems to have made that a point in the game’s favor. For one thing, this is survival horror, so pacing is far more important than reflex. You’re not going to have to shield Amy from showers of bullets or explosions and most monsters aren’t even looking to kill your ward. You’ll get a game over screen if Amy gets abducted, so you won’t have to worry about her too much as long as you know where she is.

Amy is also blissfully silent, and won’t speak, whine, or solicit during gameplay. She’s not quite mute – I asked, and was given a cryptic, non-committal answer that would seemingly hint at some kind of late-game revelation – but you can issue commands with one press of a button so you’re able to control both characters with relative ease. Besides, Lana needs Amy to stay alive while Amy is a vulnerable and terrified child, so there’s a genuinely reciprocal aspect to their relationship.

It’s also the foundation for some surprisingly innovative gameplay ideas. When you’re holding Amy’s hand, the controller pulses in time with her heartbeat as an early warning system inspired by the radio in the original Silent Hill. The controller’s pace accelerates whenever Amy is scared – usually when there are monsters around – and it’s my favorite moment in the otherwise hands-off demo.

Other attempts to engage the player are a bit subtler. At one point, the camera pans away for two seconds to highlight a pool of blood forming underneath a nearby door, and it’s one of the numerous brief asides designed to draw attention to specific aspects of the environment. Lexis Numerique has opted for these unobtrusive segments instead of more protracted cinematics, and it appears to be a fairly effective way to introduce minor scripted elements.

Here, the blood is a harbinger of a powerful monster that we can’t hope to fight off, so Amy and Lana hide in a cupboard and watch the creature’s distorted reflection as it shambles past a mirror. It’s apparently a gameplay exception – stealth and combat are supposed to be equally valid options – although I don’t get to see enough of the game to evaluate that promise. However, the obstacles I do see are a competent if conventional mix of survival horror puzzles and survival horror battles.

The demo concludes with a short combat sequence against a low-level zombie, and the system is again functional yet unremarkable. Like so many other horror games, Amy incorporates weapon degradation and attempts to reward more patient players. If you’re able to dodge and parry enemy attacks, zombies will eventually exhaust themselves and take more damage, so there’s a natural tension that arises when you’re forced to go toe-to-toe with the games various grotesqueries.

So while it’s virtually impossible to get a truly accurate sense of claustrophobic dread while sitting on the crowded show floor at E3, Amy is nonetheless punching well above its weight as a budget download and is worth keeping an eye on if you’re a fan of survival horror. The game supplements unique design elements with capable gameplay and an intriguing story, and it’s rare to see such a tactful blend of ambition and discretion.