Kids in psychological horror cinema, ladies and gentlemen. Bloody terrifying, aren't they? Not so much for who and what they are, as how they're treated. Films like The Orphanage and Signs bring all Hollywood's weirder predilections about childhood bubbling to the top - the delusion of innocence must be preserved at all costs, pandered to and caressed by actresses scarcely out of puberty themselves. Don't look at the intestines, children! Think of puppies and candyfloss instead! And as usual, where film goes, game developers follow.
Lexis Numerique's Amy has you shepherding one such freckled lambkin through a zombie-plagued city. Rent limbs, pools of gore and burning corpses are common sights, but lead character Lana does her damndest to dress it all up as a pleasing dream. "Let's play a game, Amy," she coos, not in precisely these words. "You stay here in this busted train carriage, and I'll work my way round and/or through fizzing electricity baths, creatures from hell, minefields, broken glass, flaming gulfs and toxic gas to open the doors on the other side. It'll be fun, Amy! Such fun. Mind the intestines, there's a dear."
After 10 tortuous hours with this feckless throwaway blonde and her eerie mute charge, I have but the one, all-consuming question: what of my innocence, Lexis Numerique? Where's my emotional shielding against the ravages of your abysmal, asinine, washed-out, castrated, vacuous, trudging, irredeemable airplane crash of a game? I used to love survival horror, naive fool that I am. By taking ideas from more successful specimens and abusing them in every way imaginable, you haven't simply wasted a day and a bit of my life - you've killed off my enthusiasm for an entire genre. So congratulations, Lexis Numerique. Should Konami ever manage to release a Silent Hill that stands comparison with Silent Hill 2, I'll look on unmoved, eyes flat and glassy as those of a voodoo doll.
Where to begin with Amy? Well, certainly not at the beginning, because if you do that you won't have a clue what's going on. Burying the backstory is, of course, a tried and true horror narrative technique, but this game digs so deep it loses all coherence. You're on a train with Amy, then a comet hits, then you black out, then there's a zombie - quick, beat it three times with a stick, oh and did you know this is the near-future? Because there are DNA-coded door locks. And Amy has Dragon Ball Z powers. And she can hack military-grade computers. And staying close to her keeps you from catching your death of zombie-itis. Wait, what?
How quickly you figure things out depends on your familiarity with survival horror, as Amy is firmly a pastiche, boasting all the flickering bulbs, soiled toilets and bloody handprints you could shake a facsimile at. It borrows all of its core mechanics from higher-fed peers, too - hide and seek from the Siren games, Resident Evil's lock and key progression, Silent Hill's ambient scares, Haunting Ground's AI partners - only to catastrophically misapply them.
The game's five chapters see you alternately escorting Amy and using her to solve puzzles a la ICO - hitting Y to fire her at interactive objects or waypoints, then clamping a bumper to reel her in. Amy can fit through gaps you can't, has abilities you don't - psychic powers that enable her to shatter objects from afar and cocoon areas in silence - and as noted, your health is tied to her presence. On paper, there are the makings of a solid puzzler. On paper.
Amy's most elementary failure is its signposting: the environments are miniscule with hindsight, but can drag on forever simply because you don't know where to go. Roll-over tips, environmental cues and even mission-critical objects are deployed with zero science, easily missed in the murk. I cleared the fourth level of enemies five times over, perishing of contaminants each time, before discovering the keycard I needed to progress. Collect-the-DNA puzzles involve the use of a small, smudgy radar that frequently has you stumbling through puddles of toxic gloop. It's woeful stuff.