Emily is Away is a free-to-play Choose Your Own Adventure game that takes a unique approach to the genre by telling its story entirely though a conversation between two people over five years through AIM. Each chapter of the game is a year apart (Starting in your senior years of High School and ending with your senior year of College) and focuses on your relationship with a friend you had in high school: Emily. The two of you keep in touch over the years and visit or talk about issues with boyfriends/girlfriends and you may even take a pass at her (wink wink).
The game is pretty simple. You simply choose your response to her messages from a list, and then slap random letters on your keyboard as your character types out the response. You even have your character making typos and going back to fix them, which is a neat touch and adds some immersion. However, the effect of typing your responses quickly grows old and I wish that there had been an option for the answers to just auto-complete.
The story is clearly where the game is supposed to shine, but it really doesn’t. It’s a very, very basic “will they or won’t they” story with a very lousy payoff. I won’t spoil anything, but the main issue I take with it is that the game makes itself out so that your choices make a difference (Frequently the game will say “Emily will remember that” or “You chose to _______”) but they really don’t. Emily might say a different thing once in a while depending on what you put earlier, but it rarely if ever makes any kind of real impact on the story. There’s only one real “major” decision that can majorly change the game, and I hesitate to even call it major. I guess it would be fine for it to only have one ending if two things were true: The game didn’t tease you with alternate endings, or if the story we were given was any good. Unfortunately, frequently interesting options appeared that I wanted to choose, but halfway through typing them my character would back off and change his response to one of the others. That’s not how you do choose your own adventure games! If your character is disobeying the players directions, then you’re not even playing as them. Also, as I pointed out the story is nothing special. Like I said I won’t spoil it but there’s no real twist, nothing of a real climax, and the character just muddle around for five chapters.
On top of all that, the game is just really short. In less than an hour and a half I ran through the game three times (Trying to figure out if there was a different ending I could get. There wasn’t.) and then screwed around with a bunch of easter eggs in the first chapter. After the story is done, those easter eggs are all you really have to extend the life of the game, and that’ll only do so for another twenty minutes at best.
I suppose I should give this game a little credit. It’s clearly just an indie game that someone made in their free time and probably one of their first attempts. However, it teases me with a false branching structure, has a story that’s mediocre at best, and what is initially an immersive control scheme that eventually just makes your fingers sore. It is free, so there’s no real harm in trying it, but I would recommend that you set your status to away for Emily is Away.
I give Emily is Away a 2 out of 5.