System: PC, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, OSX | Publisher: SKH Apps
Developer: Shawn Hitchcock | Reviewed On: iOS, PS4
The art of the jump scare has often garnered a bad reputation over the years, often seen as a cheap way to inflict fear on an audience. While this is apparent in TV & movies, it appears to be less scrutinised in video games. There’s something about stepping into a character’s shoes, coupled with its interactive nature of a game that feels more appealing than just being a witness.
In the past decade, two games have stood out to me in the horror genre; Outlast & Five Nights at Freddy’s. Although the two use distinctively different forms of gameplay, their most noticeable factors are that they both are crafted without the use of combat & their inclusion of jump scares. This combination comes together in a way that makes the player fearful of getting caught & makes for a tense experience.
The thought of a hybrid version of these two games has the potential to be one of the most frightening experiences in gaming & today, I’ve found an indie title that stepped up to this challenge. Today, we will be taking a fearful visit into the world of Emily Wants to Play. Just remember to keep telling yourself that it‘s just a game.
Emily Wants to Play is a survival horror experience with a simple premise. You play the role of a pizza deliveryman, who arrives at a house to drop off an order he’s received. When he’s requested to enter the house, the front door shuts & locks behind him. We find out that this has been orchestrated by a young girl named Emily, who simply wants him to play with her & her three dolls. With no parents to be found at the house & multiple moving boxes scattered around the house, the stage is set for our courier of Italian cuisine to embark on a night he hopes to live through.
The game is played in the first person, as you physically move around the house in an explorative manner. Your goal is simply to survive until the morning whilst playing games set by Emily and each of her “friends”, which include a porcelain doll named Kiki, a ventriloquist puppet named Chester & a clown doll named Mr. Tatters. Each of the characters will want to play a different kind of game with you each time they appear, but you must learn what that game is & how to adhere to their rule, in order to survive. I felt an evil Toy Story vibe to it & this gave me goosebumps even before I booted the game.
There are 6 “hours” of the game to get through; each lasting a few minutes & will intensify as time goes on. To help aid in your survival, there are clues dotted around the house that will provide you with information on how to play their games & provide insight into Emily’s backstory, which is quite disturbing. To spice things up, characters may turn off lights in order to hinder your ability to see them & make you vulnerable. Finding a flashlight may be a saving grace, but this won’t grant you immunity.
In the game’s later stages, I found that sometimes it depended on pure chance to get me through; being in the right place at the right time & depending on when the characters spawn. You could be playing more than one character’s game at the same time and if one spawns nearby, where you know you’ll fail any second, expect a nice surprise to happen moments later.
Speaking of surprises, when you fail a character’s game, they will appear immediately in a close-up, loud and frightening manner. These scares never get old & are guaranteed to strike fear into your heart (unless you can handle them, of course). I’ll personally admit there were a few times I had to quit the game because these moments became a bit overwhelming. After the first scare, this mindset of fear will only make things worse for you, now you know the price of failure.
The presentation of the game is simple-yet-effective. For a 21st century house with a ground floor and basement, featuring your typical room types, it adds a sense of realism with all the little modern-day items & appliances thrown in. It’s a playground of terror that you will need to become familiar with, as time goes on. Visually, it looks good but nothing is distinct. Its aura of normality continyes with most rooms being plainly decorated and its use of lighting works well to set the mood. Character models are also well designed & work well to be innocent enough to be seen as a doll, but frightening enough you will want to avoid them at all costs.
With almost no music in the game, this only heightens the tension whilst making you feel alone & isolated within these four walls. Luckily, the game does feature audible cues to let you know when a character appears & disappears. You may think turning down the volume may help avoid being frightened by its sudden scare, but an ample level is needed in order to hear these; forcing you into having the audio at a level where you can hear the cues in order to be useful, but will still frighten you if you fail.
Apart from this, there is not much else the game offers. This is the game’s sole mode & whilst this can be completed in under an hour, it will naturally take you longer given your requirement to work out its details. I personally would’ve loved an endless mode, just to see how long I could survive & especially when the game is at its most hectic. PC gamers will be happy to hear that it does have VR Support for HTC Vive & Oculus Rift headsets, although I’m not sure if if this is a good thing or bad idea. The distance between my sofa and the TV is enough for me personally... *nervous laughter*
Due to game’s difficulty, it does add replay value & creates a fun experience for you to encourage your friends to play, just to see how they will react. Failing this, there are also numerous reaction videos on video-streaming sites but if you are interested, you owe it to yourself to at least try it yourself; before or after viewing them.
Emily Wants to Play is simple in design & effective in execution; in more ways than one. It may rely heavily on jump scares, but it cleverly uses this as a psychological barrier which you will need you to overcome, in order to make it until morning. On reflection, its encouragement of exploration made me appreciate this a little more than Five Nights at Freddy’s. This is quite a claim, but I feel it forces you to seek out the answers you need, in order to survive & its dangers can blindside you in any part of the house at any given moment, as opposed to being confined to a single area & waiting for the danger to arrive at your door. Whilst a little challenging at times & sometimes relying on chance to reach the next stage, it will create some tense moments & entertaining surprises that you won’t easily forget.
If you want a title to play this Halloween that will maintain a high level of tension & will likely scare you out of your skin numerous times over, look no further than Emily Wants To Play.