Delivering pizza in the rain already sounds like an awful way to make a living, but it’s about to get much, much worse. As you pull up to the last stop of your shift, something doesn’t feel quite right. Taking a peek through the window, the house appears disheveled, with overturned furniture, broken glass, and personal belongings packed away in boxes.
With the rain beating down ferociously and thunder booming off in the distance, you go against your better judgment and step through the open doorway in search of shelter. After taking a quick look around, you announce to anyone within earshot that you’re just there to deliver a pizza.
That’s a shame, really, because the dolls that reside within don’t want pizza. They want a playmate.
Emily Wants to Play is a first-person survival horror game, similar to the insanely popular Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise. While the objective may be the same — survive hour to hour while eluding an ever-growing set of murderous (once) inanimate objects — Emily Wants to Play removes the tether completely, allowing the player to explore and seek shelter throughout the entire house, rather than defending yourself from inside a stationary work space.
While the first hour is used primarily to familiarize yourself with the layout of the house, each hour thereafter introduces a new doll to avoid in a very specific manor. The first doll, for instance, gives off a little giggle to alert you of her presence. You then have a very small amount of time to find her before she finds you.
It may sound easy in theory, but Emily Wants to Play is, in fact, quite challenging. What makes it so intense is that each doll needs to be dealt with in a certain manor (which I’ll avoid discussing in detail, since that’s the biggest spoiler of them all). Should you survive until the next hour, you’ll not only have to deal with a new friend, but defend against them all simultaneously.
By hour three I was already feeling overwhelmed, and I’ve yet to finish the game entirely.
This makes for an entertaining game to watch others fail at, as they attempt to discern which dolls to run away from, and which continue to maim them at the slightest hint of movement. With it being relatively short (and generously priced at $5.00), it’s also an ideal party game if you just want to pass the controller around and give everyone a shot at the action.
Visually, the game itself is unremarkable. The house is largely forgettable, the environments are dull, and the dolls themselves aren’t particularly creative, but I’d be lying if I said it was completely lacking in the atmosphere department. I did find it to be unbearably dark at times, and although there is a randomly placed flashlight to help out, the lack of an in-game brightness option is a huge bummer. Manually increasing the brightness on my TV did absolutely nothing, so I found myself restarting the game three or four times until I located a flashlight within the safety of the first hour.
Emily Wants to Play is also lacking a bit in its sound design. Each of the dolls announce their presence by giggling or through some other form of audio cue, but I found it difficult to discern their location if they happened to spawn in a different room. Instead of laughter or an angry battlecry, it was instead a muffled noise that could have came from any of the surrounding rooms.
This lead to a few deaths that felt cheap at times, but with in-game hours only lasting around six minutes, it was easy enough to jump right back in. There’s no option to tinker with the game’s audio output either, though many would argue a game like this is meant to be experienced with headphones on. While I agree, we don’t always have that luxury.
Emily Wants to Play is extremely generous with its checkpoint system at least, so starting back at the beginning of whatever hour I died on was a nice band-aid.
The game’s approach to controls are minimalist, with typical dual-analog movement and two different buttons assigned to interact with the environment. With so much of the controller left to play with, I’m not a fan of its decision to hold in the left analog stick in order to run. It would feel much more natural using a shoulder button, or having the stick toggle the run feature, but holding it pressed in feels awkward when I’m using the same stick to control basic movements.
Though it was mostly the giggling of the dolls and constant fear of being caught off guard with another jump scare, I was always on edge while playing. Emily Wants to Play is far from attractive and doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, but it’s undoubtedly an enjoyable-yet-frustrating jump scare game that’ll appeal to live streamers, let’s players, and those looking to pass the controller around the couch when Halloween rolls around next month.
*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.
Full disclosure: This review was done using a PlayStation 4 copy of Emily Wants to Play that was provided by the game’s developer, SKH Apps LLC. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.