For all the hatred, I really do love Ed Wood. For those of you don’t know, Ed Wood was a film director in the mid-20th century who made god awful science fiction films with unreasonably big names such as Bela Lugosi (Dracula himself). A number of films, such as Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space are typically referred to as the worst movies ever made, and while such a claim is debatable, it doesn’t change how thoroughly-awful his films really are.
But like a car accident you can’t peel your eyes from or a fat kid falling from a jungle gym, there’s a beauty and entertainment to be found in his horrible, yet oh so lovable movies. The fact that they even got made is a winder in and of itself. But more than anything, watching an Ed Wood film makes you like movies, not because of the films themselves, but because everything else seems so much better when you’ve seen the worst.
They say that you learn more from failure than success and there’s a large amount of truth in that, and when you watch an Ed Wood film, you discover so much about the art of film itself. Continuity, transitions, cinematography, all of these things are done so poorly in his films, that you truly understand how they work from their failures. In this way, bad videogames, though much harder to stomach than the relative ease of a 90 minute film, can teach us just as much about videogames as Bride of the Monster can teach us about film.
I bring all of this up because I am currently playing through AMY, a game which I was assigned to review with no prior knowledge of its quality. Sure, I wrote news stories on it and I knew the gist, but I never read or watched any reviews. So when I came to find out that AMY is an utter abortion of a game, I felt it was my duty to finish it and hate it as much as possible. I thought that when I finished it and reviewed it, I’d be saving people from an utterly awful experience.
However, taking into account the previous, somewhat overstated analogy, I feel as it’s my duty to tell you that AMY has taught me things about videogames, illuminating things that I’ve taken for granted.
For one, the game runs, plays, and looks awful. Everything about its presentation is utterly horrible. The character design is lifeless, the voice-acting is Resident Evil levels of bad, and the graphics themselves are poor, even with the excuse of it being a downloadable title. Still, with the poor textures and low fidelity in mind, the game runs like it’s constantly straining itself to actually keep functioning, as if the shitty graphics are really laying into it. It stutters, it’s glitchy, there’s endless screen-tearing, and twice in the 4 hour play through of the game the sound cut out completely.
This game’s awful presentation really illuminates the importance of many things. For one, art direction is a must and the problem with AMY is that there doesn’t seem to actually be any. You spend the whole damn game in a train station (an ugly one at that, and not in a good way), the futuristic setting is dull and laughably generic, and the characters themselves do very little in the way of popping out. Lana looks like a 30-something woman and that’s about it.
Then there’s the performance issues. Even buggy games like Fallout 3 or Skyrim have a certain charm, but the lack of any redeeming qualities make AMY almost unplayable at times. The game is poorly-optimized, and it shows in the cracks in the graphical presentation. The lesson here is fairly simple: make sure you can actually play the damn game before you release it. At least test it enough to make sure it doesn’t feel like a bicycle that’s falling apart beneath you.
However, the real problems with the game lie in the gameplay, which is boring, tedious, and a bunch of other mean words. To give you an idea of how bad it is, the first task in the game is to search out blood stains in a big, boring room with a radar that barely functions, which as it so happens, points us to problem number one: the game doesn’t work. Things just seem to happen at random, not just with the radar being no help at all, but the combat as well; sometimes you hit them, sometimes you don’t, sometimes they hit, sometimes you can dodge, sometimes you can’t, etc.
To be in a fight in AMY is truly horrifying, not because the game is scary (it’s not, also a problem for a “horror” game), but because if you die in combat, which happens a lot since combat sucks ass through a straw, you go back to the last checkpoint. By last checkpoint, I mean the beginning of the chapter (usually). Hands down, the biggest problem with AMY, and believe me, that’s a feat, is the checkpoint system. Why? It prevents you from finishing the game faster, which is almost a crime with a game this dull and awful.
Actually, let me rephrase that, because it isn’t a checkpoint system; that implies that there actually are checkpoints. If you’re lucky, there’s one for every hour of gameplay, and with a game this slow-paced and tedious, that is an enormous problem. The countless problems of the gameplay (shitty combat, brainless enemies, and the slowest ladder-climbing I’ve ever seen in a game) are made worse by the fact that you have to repeat most of it thanks to a cheap difficulty and the lack of sufficient checkpoints.
I’ve talked about death in videogames before, and I mentioned that no punishment at all would hurt a game, and while this is true, AMY takes this too far. The idea is that the tension is higher when you know death means you’ll lose your progress, but it’s a cheap, manipulative feeling to die and have to repeat the segment. It’s not suspenseful, it’s just frustrating. The game, though a horror game, gets most of its scares from having to actually endure more of it.
Although, overall, I’d have to say AMY was a positive experience. It’s probably the worst game I’ve ever actually beaten, and it’s good to know what the bottom feels like. But going back to the entire point, AMY’s flaws have taught me quite a bit. Everything in the game is problematic. So when they are done so wrong, it only shows you how simple it is to do them right.