While nearly everyone else has been jetting through space, exploring exotic worlds and generally chilling out in No Man's Sky this week, I've been running around a haunted house getting scared to death by a bunch of murderous dolls. Yay.
Sounds like fun, huh? Well, no, but that's kind of the point of a survival horror game. It's not really supposed to be fun; it's supposed to be gruelling and scary - and Emily Wants To Play certainly succeeds in that mission objective. You play as a pizza delivery man who turns up at a seemingly empty house to deliver his order. You step inside to escape the rain, and the door locks behind you. Unfortunately, the house is far from uninhabited and for the rest of the night, you're hounded by Emily and her possessed collection of children's toys.
Emily Wants To Play employs a similar format to the Five Nights at Freddy's games but instead of days, you must stay alive throughout one night with levels being divided into hours on a clock. Mercifully, each stage only lasts for roughly six minutes of real-world gameplay, although they usually feel much longer. Survive them all and you get out. Die and you're sent back to the beginning of the hour. Each stage introduces a new challenge, usually in the form of a new doll, and each doll has a different set of rules you'll have to learn to avoid their attacks.
One of the things that makes Emily Wants To Play so scary is its lack of instruction regarding how to survive each doll. In fact, it even goes out of its way to troll you into doing the wrong thing. In the kitchen you'll find a whiteboard with a tip written on it that changes in each level, but it purposefully tells you the opposite of what to do. Once you've figured that out, you'll still have to learn the nuances of each enemy through trial and error in order to understand their exact rule set.
The first one you'll come up against is a ghostly figure in a black dress called Kiki. Every time you look away from her, she gets a little closer to you. If she gets too close, she pounces right up in your face, insta-killing you in the process. Each jump scare is complemented with an appropriately loud audio cue and a violent vibration of the DualShock 4, giving you an extra jolt every single time.
Things start to get difficult when multiple enemies are thrown into the mix as they all require different reactions from you, often at the same time. Even once you've learned their behaviour, there's still a lot of challenge. Some of the dolls will turn out the lights or close the doors. This can leave you scrambling in the dark to find a light switch while simultaneously trying to keep looking back at Kiki so she doesn't grab you while you do it. Each doll makes a telltale noise when they appear, and you'll have to listen carefully for each cue in order to survive. This means you're constantly on edge, waiting for the next sound. Combine that with the claustrophobic surroundings and the random spawning locations of the dolls, and you've got an effective recipe for a continual state of dread. In most other horror games, there are sections of downtime in which you can relax. Here, you have to be on alert the whole time or else... bam!
Of course, not every jump scare hits its mark as sometimes, they're just annoying. Occasionally, a doll will spawn very close to you thus making it nearly impossible to find out where they are before they almost instantly catch you. Other times, you're not sure which room they're in so you run into the wrong one to escape them and die. Worst of all, though, is when you're confronted with seemingly impossible scenarios, when certain combinations of enemies pop up. For example, one of the dolls will require you to run away, while the other will kill you if you even touch an analogue stick. So, good luck not dying there.
There are a couple of other minor problems, too. When you die, you have to wait through a fairly long loading screen then watch the clock chime again before you're allowed to give the level another try. When you consider that you're sent back to the beginning of the stage after one death (which sometimes isn't your fault), this can be quite irritating. Another pet peeve of mine is games (usually indies) that don't remember your invert axis choice. There seems to be quite a few of them on PS4 nowadays and Emily Wants To Play is another. Even more annoyingly, it keeps the Y axis box ticked when you load up the game, leading you to think it's still inverted when actually it isn't. Maybe Emily was playing games with me again, just in the menu screen this time.
Other than that, there isn't a lot to fault Emily Wants To Play for. True, it's short and there's not a great deal to the gameplay, but that's reflected in its low price tag. It achieves what it sets out to do: it puts you in a near-constant state of tension and frightens the hell out of you with a load of cheap jump scares. If that appeals to you for some reason, give it a go. Leave me out of it, though. I've played with Emily enough. I'm going home.
- + A constant sense of danger and lack of guidance make it incredibly tense
- + Very effective jump scares
- + Each level provides unique scenarios
- - Takes a long time for the level to start over when you die
- - Frustrating seemingly unavoidable deaths
- - Doesn't remember your settings