Emily Is Away (Game Review)

Being a teenager in the noughties was kind of a weird time now that I look back on it in retrospect. Sure, there were many great things happening at that time such as experiencing my first true passions for musical acts that weren't just the artists shoved into my ears by the radio (late 90s to early noughties pop music was absolutely dreadful - sorry) and I loved skateboarding. But there were also the negative bits like high school and basically just being a little bit over-sensitive about everything (because hormones). Oh, and there's the fact that no matter how old I get, the older version of myself never fails to make the latest version of me cringe. But what I seem to remember the most about being a teenager was socialising with new people all the time and forming new relationships left, right and centre, while constantly trying so hard to win over the affection of whatever girl I had a crush on that month. And at the pillar of all these relationships I was forming was instant messaging. Most notably MSN - although I know many (I think mainly Americans) used AIM, or maybe Yahoo Messenger. Well guess what? A fellow called Kyle Seeley has made a game that's gameplay and story focuses around the use of a fictional old school-style instant messenger on Windows XP in the early 2000s!

The best part about it - and the first thing I'll mention - is that you can play it for absolutely free. It's on Steam, and is available for Windows, Mac and Linux, so even if you have a questionable taste in computers like me, you can still play this wonderful interactive adventure for absolutely no cost at all.
Booting the game up, you are greeted with a familiar Windows XP style interface complete with nostalgic sound effects, before being shown an instant messenger sign in screen where you are asked to enter a screen name and then your real name. Everyone had a goofy screen name or email address back in the day that their instant messaging account was attached to. Back in the day, mine was Kickflip Lewis. Great right? The game will even randomise one for you - see what cringeworthy (yet sadly accurate to the kind of names we used to pick) screen names it will come up with.
Next you are asked to chose an Avatar. The first option that caught my eye was the Take Off Your Pants and Jacket era blink-182 logo. Now that's just plain awesome. Other options include Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Eminem and Harry Potter - to name a few.
Once you've done that you are shown your buddy list and you have the opportunity to look at all your contacts. You only talk to one person throughout the entirety of the game - the titular Emily - but it is interesting to learn a little about these different contacts (some of which are spoken about by you and Emily during the story), and appreciate the attention to detail that the creator has put into this game. Most contacts have a song lyric in their personal information to reflect their current mood or show others their favourite band at the time - not dissimilar to how it used to be for me and my friends - or simply something that reflects their personality. I always found it funny that the character Travis (or as his screen name puts him: 'TravisDaMan') never really changes his personal information until the last year (chapter) of the game - to reflect the fact that he can't really seem to let go of the times he spent at the height of his life, as the Steve Stifler King of High School type despite everyone else moving on with their lives and going to college. Also worth noting is that some characters that aren't discussed within the conversations you and Emily have but happen to be on your buddy list have their screen names replaced with the names of your friends on Steam! Now that's pretty cool.

The gameplay is very simple. It goes like this: Emily sends you messages through a chat window, just like any instant messenger. When she asks you a question, you get the option of three responses. Each response can take the conversation in a different direction, and in some cases even change the events of the game. Do you like Coldplay? Do you want to go to Travis' party or just stay home? It's all your decision. Just don't treat Emily like a jerk. You don't actually type anything to Emily but the game insists that you tap keys randomly on your real life keyboard to simulate the action of typing what is appearing on screen. It is a little bit immersion-breaking at first, but after a while you get used to it.
Speaking of immersion, there isn't any music that plays during gameplay, all you you hear is the whirring and clicking of an old CRT monitor as you type. When playing the game with headphones on, getting lost in the conversations you are having with Emily, you really find yourself drifting from 2016 straight back to 2002. All that's needed in the background is some Bowling For Soup or Puddle Of Mudd or something, just kidding, although that's how I used to instant message when it was all the rage - with rock music blasting.

The story is branching... well, somewhat. No matter what choices you make, the game reaches a similar ending, with Emily distancing herself from you, no matter what you chose, and this unfortunately is something that lets the game down. It isn't that the ending bothered me or left me sore as much as it is just the fact that although the game pushes the illusion that you have a choice on how the events change, they do not differ drastically enough in different directions to truly be branching. I understand the message about how some people change and drift apart overtime, but the player shouldn't be drawn into the false pretence that they have some form of control over events within the game when ultimately they are just going to be let down and faced with this somewhat depressing life message.
This also means that the game has little to no replay value. Sure, you can have a try at seeing how pissed Emily can get at you, or change the events of the game slightly, or even mess around with the many easter egg screen names you can type in to make some funny conversations occur between you and Emily (my favourite being when you type in 'Pokeball' as your screen name), but ultimately there aren't really any other reasons to play the game again. 
Despite this, I found this game an incredibly original idea and incredibly nostalgic at the same time. There has been debate about whether or not the developer is going to add various extra endings to the game, and he might do, he might not, but as of now I think this game is definitely worth checking out as, despite its flaws, I still really had a great time with Emily Is Away. To finish off, I'll leave you with an old school flash parody of the aforementioned band Puddle Of Mudd called 'she blocked me', which basically relates to this game:

Happy new year everybody! Apologies for the delay in getting a new article up! Anyway, have you played Emily Is Away? What did you think? How did you feel about the ending? Sound off in the comment section below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

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