I was terrifyingly invested at the end of the original Emily is Away. I’d gone back to the start of the short game several times, continuously trying different routes in what was essentially a lengthy dialogue tree. However, it always led to the same result: Emily would leave me. It seemed like such a bizarre game, not just because of its odd interface, taking the form of an old-school instant messenger service, but because there didn’t seem to be any way to get the girl. Most gaming romances are simple. In The Witcher 3, to end up with either Triss or Yen, all you had to do was make the obvious choice. There was never a fear of rejection. There was a clear way to win. Emily is Away was invigorating. It kept my attention because it didn’t matter how hard I tried. Emily is Away Too carries similar traits but is markedly different.
Just like in the original, you log into an instant messaging service entrenched in a specific time, this one in 2006. Each chapter begins with picking an icon, then choosing movies, bands, and inspirational quotes to make up your angsty teenage profile. I picked Talladega Nights for my first movie. ‘I wake up in the morning and piss excellence’ was the exquisite quote they took from the classic. Emily is back in this game, with the same username, but different from how she was. She has a bit more personality, more interests, but I still snorted when I saw her name; and it comes with that hint of resentment when dealing with an ex. With a choice of three different responses, Emily is Away Too is similar to the first title, but there are two dialogue trees in this story, both of which intertwine.
You don’t just speak to Emily; you jump between conversations with another girl, Evelyn, aka punk4eva. It’s obvious that this is meant as a choice between the two, and this blatant decision seems artificial, flat, and a bit like the Yen/Triss situation. However, unlike The Witcher, here you’re interacting with the two simultaneously, hitting tab to switch between chat windows. The interface and controls are efficient and fluid. This is especially important because a timer can pop up, forcing you to jump between chats, presenting a sense of urgency. You tap random keys to write the chosen response, and sometimes it can be deleted all on its own. You’re controlling a character, and sometimes they feel nervous about the response you choose.
One of the main differences between Evelyn and Emily would be their interests: Evelyn loves punk rock music and horror movies; Emily loves video games and alternative music. They’ll comment on your profile, bond with you if it’s the same as theirs, and give an ‘oh, that’s what you like’ comment if otherwise. The interests are important because they show off the way Emily is Away Too integrates with your computer, as they allow your artificial love interests to share links and files. It’s a fun idea, as clicking on a link opens up a page in your internet browser, constructed just for the game. Some connect to ‘YooTube’, where music videos play. Songs by bands such as Snow Patrol and Against Me, act as a sort of backdrop and soundtrack to conversations. It all adds to the experience, sinking you into the feeling that these are real conversations being had.
Unfortunately, the strings behind the conversations are clearly visible. Most choices involve saying that you like or want to do something specific, like listening to punk music, allowing for bonding with one character, but meaning you can’t bond with the other. It’s unfortunate that none of the decisions seem to lead to a major incident. In the predecessor, inviting Emily to visit was a crucial moment, where the consequences felt real and unpredictable. Emily is Away Too seems far too straightforward. In my second playthrough, I was cautious and picked the interests that matched Evelyn’s, making sure not to lie about anything, and so I ended up with her. It was a touching ending, but was almost overwhelmingly positive, and lacked the poignancy of the original’s finale.
In my first playthrough, after building up a relationship with Evelyn, I saw it fall apart as a lie I told came to the surface. I tried my best to fix the issue, apologising, convincing her to stay with me, and at one point I thought I’d succeeded. However, when reminiscing over the relationship, she realised all the memories were tainted. Sitting at my desk, with a cup of coffee, it was about one at night when I got to this moment. I needed to be up at six the next morning for work. It was as though I was in a real relationship, losing sleep because I didn’t want to lose someone, as though I really was apologising for something horrible I had done. I’d invested time and effort with Evelyn, lost my friendship with Emily for her, and all of this made her even more important. Though, in the end, it was clear that I was trying to force something. I had to let her go.
A pretty decent relationship
Emily is Away Too has innovative features, captures a nostalgia for the noughties, and has touching moments. But its story can feel transparent.