Emily is Away is a difficult game to detail, in that it doesn’t feel quite so much like a game, but rather an extreme-nostalgia-generating-pick-your-own-adventure box. The premise of Emily is Away, and its sequel Emily is Away Too, is built around replicating the early days near the turn of the millennium in which instant messengers like AOL, QQ and GTalk were all the rage and the conversations that came up on these platforms.
What makes Emily is Away stand out is how close to the original source the game treads. The interface will be instantly recognisable to anyone who made use of these services. The messenger used in-game has all the hallmarks of AOL built into it, the ability to choose your messenger avatar and cringey alternative band lyric laden info card are both there. In the sequel, the game even suggests an era appropriate desktop background which it then provides for you as a file on your desktop to use to change your desktop for added immersion.
Then there are the users in your friends list. Chock full of terrible usernames and more than a few of your Steam friends everything just feels exactly how it used to. Both games are set across a number of chapters that cover different stages of young adulthood as you communicate with the titular Emily (while similar in many ways the Emily from both games are not the same person) and discover more about your character, her, and your relationship with each other.
In the beginning not very much is known about Emily or your other friends that show up on your friendslist beyond what you can garnish from their own terribly lyric laden profiles and messenger avatars. But you quickly start to learn the dynamics of everyone involved and there are quite a few hidden storylines going on in the background if you’re willing to pay attention to changes in various people’s statuses and profiles.
In the sequel this is taken a step further when your friends start having links in their profiles or begin sending you links to their Facebook profiles as they “just started setting their profile up”. Clicking on the link opens a page that looks very much like Facebook or Youtube but with the details stylised to look gamey and looking like they did in 2006. And there are tonnes of little details in these pages, from what videos are trending at the moment to those silly notes we all got pressured into writing when we first joined up on Facebook.
With a soundtrack provided by these links sent to you the nostalgia comes flooding in as you talk to these very convincing replicas of teenage angst and emotions. The plots of both games follow similar paths with you dealing with the turmoil that comes from the dating scene of that age, the aftermath drunken escapades and the fallout of bad breakups.
For your part you will be presented with three options as replies to messages sent to you. Nothing as tame as paragon, neutral or renegade options are to be found here though. Rather much more difficult decisions ranging from how to say hello to a girl you may have a crush on all the way to helping a friend when dealing with someone threatening suicide.
Once your selection is made you have to “type” the response in, the game taking any key press as input to fill the sentence out that you selected. But in this comes another bit of bottled nostalgia, as when you select a forward option that your more confident adult self thinks is correct your teenage avatar will backspace sometimes with nerves, writing something else out or rewriting the message a few times to find the right emoji. And you’ll see this on the other end as the characters you chat with do the same, messages being deleted and rewritten before they reply.
A time based mechanic is introduced in the sequell where your responses are only given a certain amount of time to be selected and typed out. This starts off quite innocently at first but becomes a turning point in later chapters when having to reply to multiple characters within a time limit.
Overall Emily is Away, and the sequel Emily is Away Too, manage to succeed in capturing the experience that they set out to detail. All the little touches come together to provide a sometimes rose tinted, but always authentic experience that as someone who was a teenager using these platforms when the game is set, I can completely appreciate.
For anyone looking to be reminded of their younger days or in the inner workings of the millennial teenage boy, Emily is Away is available for free on Steam. The sequel, Emily is Away Too, which manages an even better job of capturing all that angst and turmoil through the medium of instant messenger apps was released last week on Steam and is going for an all too reasonable price.
Features include: Knowledge of all things geeky. “Over 9000!” achievement points in World of Warcraft. Groantastic Puns. Marking out for canadian heels.
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26 May 2017
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