Friday, September 30, 2016

Emily Wants to Play Review (XONE)

Picture Five Nights At Freddie’s crossed with a walking simulator and that is pretty much what new Xbox One horror game Emily Wants to Play is like.  You walk around a tiny house full of creepy dolls and an even creepier little girl and get the crap scared out of you every 5-minutes or so.  It sounds simple and kind of dull, but it is one of the most effective and genuinely scary horror games I’ve played in a long time.  If you’re looking for a new horror game to play on your Xbox One, Emily Wants to Play is worth checking out.  See our full review for details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: SKH Apps
  • Developer: Shawn Hitchcock
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: Horror
  • Pros: Really, really scary
  • Cons: Pretty short and repetitive; no explanation on what to do; long load times
  • MSRP: $5

You play as a pizza delivery man just doing your job when a delivery goes crazy and you’re locked in a house full of horrors.  A creepy little girl named Emily – who it is implied murdered her parents a couple of weeks earlier – just wants someone to play with her and her collection of creepy dolls.  If you can survive her twisted game of hide and seek until dawn you can escape.  Survival is harder than you’d expect against a tiny girl and a bunch of puppets, though.

Emily Wants to Play is a first-person perspective game where you walk around a house trying to avoid being attacked by Emily or her puppets.  During each hour of the night a different puppet will be out to get you.  Each puppet has a different means of  “defeating” it.  For one of them you have to stare at it until it disappears.  Another one requires you to stay perfectly still.  And for the third one you have to escape the room ASAP when it appears.  All the dolls have distinct sound cues that tell you which one is around.  Emily herself enters the fray at 4 A.M. and all you have to do with her is just find her hiding around the house.  At 5 A.M. Emily and all of the dolls appear at the same time so the game becomes very challenging.  And at 6 A.M., if you survived that long, the front door opens and you can leave.

The game doesn’t tell any of this to you other than vague hints written on a whiteboard in the kitchen, though, so you have to use a lot of trial and error to figure it all out which can be frustrating.  Even more frustrating are the surprisingly long load times when you die, which makes the pattern of trial and error even more annoying.  The house is tiny and the graphics aren’t particularly good, so what the heck is taking so long to load?

I suppose the game needs to be vague and kill you off repeatedly because there isn’t actually a whole lot to it.  The house is surprisingly realistically small and made up of just a handful of rooms, so there isn’t a ton of ground to cover.  Each hour of the night only takes 6 minutes so the full game can be completed in less than an hour.  You won’t be able to beat it on your first time, or second time, or tenth time, though, so it actually offers quite a bit of game time.  There is a good chance you’ll get bored of it sooner rather than later, though, perhaps even before you manage to actually beat it, but at the $5 asking price you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

I have to admit that I’m not really much of a horror game fan anymore.  Or, to be more specific, survival horror.  They’re too stressful and wear me out to the point that they’re just no fun to play.  I have been enjoying walking simulator-style horror games like Layers of Fear or The Park lately, though, because there aren’t really any stakes.  You just walk around and see scary stuff, but your survival isn’t in question so the games aren’t nearly as stressful. 

Emily Wants to Play is a sort of hybrid of the two styles of horror games.  It is a walking sim in that you can’t really do anything besides just walk around, but you can definitely die (early and often).  What makes it work for me is how fast paced it is.  It doesn’t build up the stress for long periods of time that wears me out in other games.  It opts for scares that are genuinely sudden and unexpected, especially when you first start playing and learning the game, so the stress and unease doesn’t really have time to build up.  Instead you get the sudden jump scare and a rush of endorphins that make you want to immediately jump back in without all of the stress.  It is really effective and fun in that way.

I also want to say that the game is honestly really truly scary.  Yes, it is all jump scares, but they come so suddenly and unpredictably that it always keeps you on your toes.  It also does a good job of being very creepy with the use of light and shadows and sound.  Like I said, though, it doesn’t string you along for long periods before scaring you.  It creeps you out and then almost immediately pays off by scaring the crap out of you.  I like that.

All in all, Emily Wants to Play is a fantastically effective horror game because it chose to be small and hyper focused rather than sprawling and stretched out.  It doesn’t wear you out by going on for too long – it punches you in the gut with scares right away – which makes it a great game to jump in for short bursts.  Because it is so small and short that also means once you learn the trick to beating it you probably won’t be compelled to come back, but at the $5 price point it doesn’t matter if you only spend a couple of hours with it.  It is perfectly priced and perfectly sized for the type of experience it is, and the publisher and developer deserve praise for recognizing that (something that most other indie games seem to fail at).  The end result is Emily Wants to Play is a surprisingly good horror game at a great price that is absolutely worth a look.