Chapter five of the new downloadable game Amy will forever be discussed in muttered oaths and expletives. That’s when the otherwise-benign survival-horror throwback takes a jarring left turn in difficulty. Up to the 11th hour, Amy plays like a mild-mannered blend of Silent Hill and Ico. As the protagonist, Lana, players escort the titular child through the wreckage of a near-future city while fending off zombies and mutants. There is much collecting of keys, hiding from monsters, and shuffling through darkened corridors. Amy, unlike her horribly written and voice-acted friends, is blessedly mute. The little girl is otherwise gifted in hacking and healing. If Lana sticks with Amy, her wounds are healed, but if she strays too far, Lana succumbs to the zombie plague and eventually dies.
Sadly, Amy never truly explores these mechanics until they’re a matter of life and death. Suddenly, you must ride the zombie infection until you turn, use your new status as a walking corpse to shuffle, unnoticed, past the undead, and finally, distract the watchful walkers to clear a path for Amy. All this must be accomplished before the zombie plague kills Lara dead.
The problem is a function of the game’s length—with only six chapters, there’s little time to show players the ropes. So when the game suddenly becomes demanding and zombies gain the power to trigger “game over” by merely looking at you, it’s hard to maintain patience for Amy’s trial-and-error stealth.
If a revered game-maker like Hideo Kojima were to pull a gag like this, some would surely call the move a stroke of genius. The difference is that the Metal Gear Solid games earn player trust through thoughtful, assured design. Wandering Amy’s glitchy halls is like exploring a shoddy, carnie-built funhouse. Its never clear whether the next scare, though carelessness or outright malice, will actually hurt you.
Souls masochistic enough to conquer Amy’s pain-in-the-ass stealth challenge are rewarded with a no-brainer boss battle—another seeming left turn, since until that point, combat is largely clumsy and last-ditch. Once the final baddie is dispatched, an anticlimactic resolution hints at further chapters in the Amy saga. Oddly, it is tempting to look forward to a second outing, however unlikely. Because videogame disasters this gruesome are fascinating. And, to be dangerously optimistic, Amy can’t get much worse.