Survival horror…a genre of gaming that is well loved but almost considered dirty words by major developers & publishers. You only have to look at how game series’ like Resident Evil & Dead Space went with later sequels to realise the genre was as good as dead in the mainstream.
Thankfully indie developers had taken note of the desire for survival horror, the desire to be scared. You only have to look at the huge success of Five Nights at Freddy’s to see just how simple yet satisfying a horror game could be.
Emily Wants to Play takes the simple formula of FNAF, ups the mystery & gives much more control to the player resulting in a game that is smart & scary.
Developed by Shawn Hitchcock, Emily Wants to Play puts you in the shoes of a pizza delivery man who arrives at an address, walks in & is promptly locked in. As you explore the small house you’ll notice a few odd dolls lying around as well as a number of cryptic notes that suggest some horrific things had occurred at this house.
Between 11am & 12am (about 6 minutes in real time) is your chance to get familiar with the house & read the notes. In the kitchen on a wipe-clean board are the words…let’s play at midnight.
That’s when the game really comes to life. Those dolls you saw earlier on? They want to play & it’s up to you to take part & follow the rules. Fail & you’ll get a nasty jump scare as one of the dolls in question (and later, Emily herself) attacks.
Initially it’s frustrating as it isn’t obvious just how you play along with the dolls. Messages scattered around offer hints but it’s mostly trial & error. Each hour brings a new threat that ramps up in difficulty until you finally face off against Emily herself. Survive that & you’re free to go.
It’s not an easy task with the final hour in particular being quite a challenge as you face off against all the dolls & Emily at the same time. This final hour highlights much of the games issues’ regarding spawns. The dolls will appear at random & it seems to be luck-based just how the next hour will pan out. I’ve had lengthy waits with no dolls spawning while on other attempts they appear every couple of seconds, sometimes at the same time making it near impossible to win.
In other circumstances Emily hasn’t appeared during the final game of hide & seek resulting in a loss because she can’t be found. These issues aren’t isolated cases & it’s disappointing that these hadn’t been ironed out for the console release. Thankfully should you fail you can just restart at the same hour you ended on.
Visually the game is very basic & down-right ugly at other times. Everything has a jagged edge look about it & even the character models are rough.
It’s not that big of a deal though as Emily Wants to Play is all about the scares. Once you’ve gotten used to how the dolls behave they lose much of their impact (well, expect for Kiki, she is just horrible) but when Emily enters the game the desperation felt as you race around the house playing her version of hide & seek while trying to deal with the dolls is exhilarating.
The story is basic & if you didn’t pick up any of the letters or visit the basement (use the secret passage in the master bedroom by activating the large lamp, do not drop into the hole at the back of the house) you really won’t have a clue what’s going on.
There is a story here, one that is merely hinted at rather than explained & more than likely will be explored in later games. As a starting blueprint Emily Wants to Play can be called a success.
It’s creepy vibe & fun jump scares make for a tense play, it just needs some tweaking.
Emily Wants to Play
The Final Score - 6/10
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