There have been a wealth of original and compact horror experiences that have gone on to become successful breakout hits from the indie scene, particularly on PC, in the last decade or so. From Mark Hadley’s disturbing and minimalist first-person survival horror Slender: The Eight Pages to Scott Cawthorn’s point-and-click jump scare-fest Five Nights at Freddy’s, the horror genre has had a much needed boot up the proverbial from astute individuals with fresh, bold ideas who have spent their time thinking outside the box. Shawn Hitchcock’s Emily Wants To Play (which also originated on PC reviewed here) has now been given the console release treatment, but is it worthy to go toe-to-toe with its genre forebears or is it just a tedious snooze-fest?
Emily Wants To Play is a first-person exploratory horror game where you are placed into the shoes of a pizza delivery man on a routine trip to a hungry customer. A note on the delivery order states that the door will be open, and that you will have to come in to deliver the order, however, as you enter the creepy house, the door closes behind you (cue: ominous and creepy music). It doesn’t take long to realise that you are trapped inside the house with a strange maniacal little girl who wants to play some games with you. Thus, it is up to you to play her games and escape with your life.
When exploring the house, players will come across various clues, notes and pictures that help to flesh out the game’s rather minimalist back-story that involves the titular Emily, her family and her new-found friends, who you get to meet in person — lucky you. These new friends are eerie dolls, which form the basis of much of the title’s gameplay friction and challenge.
The setup is quite simple; players must survive from midnight until 6am with each in-game hour taking around 5 minutes of real-time to complete. Every hour the game will save, and drip-feed a different doll into the mix, which ultimately culminates with you facing off against multiple dolls. Each horrible-looking puppet has a distinct mechanic, which is essentially a twist on childhood games you may remember, such as peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek. These distinct mechanics mean that you must deal with each of the creepy puppets in their own specific way. Thankfully, the appearance of each doll is signposted effectively by their own unique audio cue, which really helps to avoid frustration setting in. If you fail a puppet’s game then it’s lights out for you. Essentially, each puppet acts as a sort of Rubik’s cube, and it is by learning the puppet’s different puzzle-like mechanics that players will be be able to prevail and survive the night.
My first impressions of Emily Wants To Play were incredibly positive. It’s a really rather atmospheric game and a pretty decent looking one too, with a simple premise that did hook me in straight off the bat. The appearance of the first puppet really got under my skin — particularly, the way she moves towards the player. However, after subsequent playthroughs it does become quite clear that much of the gameplay is very luck-based. You see, some of the doll’s gameplay solutions counter-act some of the other doll’s gameplay solutions, which makes the game really unfair. For example, there is one particular doll that tasks you with freezing on the spot and not moving at all, while another tasks you with running away quickly; if they both spawn together at the same time, you’re pretty much screwed and it’s game over for you. This only happened a couple of times in my playthrough, but I can imagine it being super frustrating for the select few who are unlucky enough to experience this issue with regularity.
Like I mentioned earlier, the game’s graphical presentation is pretty decent — personally, I don’t believe good horror needs to have cutting edge graphics, though, Emily Wants To Play’s environments do look adequately authentic and suitably lived-in. Performance-wise the game runs smoothly, which is also always welcome. The designs of the dolls are very well done and from a distance look terrifying, however, on closer inspection — especially when they grab you and get all up in your grill — they look a little fuzzy and blocky, which takes some of the edge off of the jump-scares. Audio design is fairly minimal, but overall it works well within the context of the game; sometimes less is more when it comes to punchy compact horror experiences such as these.
There’s not really much to Emily Wants To Play, though, what is there makes for a satisfyingly tense and effective compact horror experience, particularly on its first couple of playthroughs. It may not hit the heights of the excellent Slender: The Eight Pages, but it is good enough to give Five Nights At Freddy’s a run for its money — it sure is scarier, by a pretty wide margin. For a very reasonable asking price, you get a very potent horror game that, ultimately, leans a little too heavily on its jump-scares to carve out a unique personality of its own.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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