Emily Is Away is the newest interactive story video game everybody is talking about. It was made by Kyle Seeley and released on Steam on November the 20th.
The game, if I can even call it that, plays like and old instant message program. You know, like Yahoo Chat or MSN Messenger. Things from when I was young and used that to talk to my friends despite being very well aware of the dangers of such things. Anyone could add you and more often than not the people who add you were creeps that were looking to see underage boobs.
However, this game isn’t about that, this game is about LDRs and growing up.
During the game you “talk” to a girl named Emily who is “one of your best friends” from high school. After choosing a nickname and name and an avatar you talk to Emily about a current issue of her until the next chapter.
The game is very small, amazingly so, but it’s free on Steam, so we can’t complain much, right? Well, wrong.
In a couple of hours you can finish the game a few times and be utterly unsatisfied by the ending and Emily herself.
Emily Is Away always follows the same routine. Emily is going to a party and while she waits for her friend she asks you a few questions that the game tells you she’ll remember, TellTale Games style.
There are a lot of choices in this game. Like going to the party or telling her that you like, don’t know or think Coldplay are shit, but only some of this choices affect the plot at all. If you choose to go Travis’ party, Emily will, later, ask you why you didn’t kiss her at the party.
But no matter what you do, the game always ends with you and Emily parting ways and never speaking to each other and that is the true downfall of the game for me.
No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try to change things, you’ll fall under the routine of small talk in which the game started and your only choice will be to say goodbye to Emily.
Many of you know that I’m a fan of not being able to do things to make you guilty about something you did in game, that’s why I’m such a big fan of Taro Yoko’s games, but this one doesn’t really does that. Instead, the ending feels like a coward’s away out and that whatever I did to make Emily feel better about her break up with her boyfriend and come to see me and how happy I (supposedly) made her don’t matter. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I, as a person, would do, only what the game wants me to do.
I know most games have me to what they want to do, but here there is choice and that choice is negated by the end. I had no power nor influence in the game aside for a few minor things like the name of Emily’s boyfriend or whatever I went or not to a party or the major I went to. Things that, overall, don’t affect the story. The conversations are still the same, the issues are still the same, nothing really changes.
Let’s compare this to two games with choice, The Wolf Among Us and Tales of Xillia 2. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain myself better.
In The Wolf Among Us, you control Bigby Wolf who together with Snow White investigate a series of murders through their home of Fabletown.
During the various dialogues of the game you’re given 4 choices of what Bigby should say to other characters that affects how the react and see Bigby. What you say, though it might not change the course of the story, brings you more or less information and makes others more or less sympathetic towards Bigby.
Sounding like an ass will make the characters act more aggressively towards you and some characters will bring up your aggressive behaviour and use it against you. It doesn’t go very in deep, I know, but choosing a different order of visiting places might even get you the change of seeing a character alive and the lack of violence makes Snow kinder to Bigby.
How is this different from Emily Is Away?
Well, Emily only remembers something you did or said and nothing really changes in her dialogue. Sure, she can ask why you didn’t go the party or why you didn’t kiss her, but in the end the point is the same, you learn nothing new and get no new reactions.
For example, in the last episode of The Wolf Among Us, what Merissa (pictured above) says in the trial changes according to your actions towards her boss.
No matter how many times you play Emily Is Away nothing will change.
In Tales of Xillia 2, you play as Ludger, an almost silent protagonist who says very little, however the player can choose some of this actions and what he says.
In key parts of the game you’re going to have to choose between two things to say that affect how characters react to you and boost your relationship with your party. They also let you see some different dialogue and sometimes they allow Ludger to do different things and unlock extra scenes with certain characters of your party.
I know, the story doesn’t change, just like in Emily Is Away, but there is a sense that you choose something and what you choose was worth or not. You have the sensation that you did something and build a relationship with your party by the end of the game.
Some of the choices actually do change Ludger’s personality, making him seem kinder, flirty, sarcastic or rude.
What does Emily Is Away offers?
If you haven’t guess it by now, I didn’t enjoy this game. I didn’t enjoy having my choices reduced to nothing because Emily decided to go back to her ex-boyfriend and things are strange now I have no idea why.
I know the pains and the confusion of being in a LDR (long distance relationship), whatever it is friendship or not and this game isn’t a very good representation of what you should do in any relationship.
The best way to work your way through problems with someone else is by talking about them, not running away from them like a scarred little dog.
It feeds on your nostalgia for Windows XP and the 2000s and reminded me of that time I was rejected by a guy I really admired because he couldn’t deal with the fact that someone was in love with him.
I admit that most of my distaste for this game is personal. I’m completely unable to identify or care about characters I don’t know. I don’t know Emily, or Mike, or Brad, or Emma or Mike. Who are these people? Why are they important to me? Am I supposed to project my teenage years on this game?
The game tells nothing and keeping showing familiar images trying very hard to have me have pity for Emily and understand her selfishness and her situation, but I don’t. I don’t know her. Why should I pity someone I don’t know?
If you want a game that feed on narrative go look somewhere else. This isn’t worth your time. Still here’s the Steam page.