February 2, 2008Glenn Turner

Most games have horrid introductions. Many become too bogged down with exposition, or bore by detailing the control scheme, or worse – forcing the player through a tutorial. They just can't win. Unless, that is, they're Emily Enough: Imprisoned.

Emily Enough's introductory sequence lasts no longer than 60 seconds but, in that short period of time, it managed to sign me up for at least an hour of my time, plus a timeshare condo. It's just that good. From the formal composition to the illustriously foreboding soundtrack, it's a captivating intro which sets up everything we need to know about the character and, consequently, the game. (If you'd like to experience the intro without my commentary, I suggest that you download Emily Enough right now. It's free, and won't take long.)

The low point of the intro sequence. Yes, it establishes time and place, but it's nothing you couldn't gather from the subsequent shots. Nonetheless, it's a minor quibble and gently eases in the soundtrack.

Emily's cared for by a very upper-class, well-to-do family (formally-dressed parents with a maid and butler, books consume the background), distanced, yet constantly yearning for her approval (since their backs are to us and we can't see their faces, but they're squarely focused on Emily).

Emily is intelligent, but spoiled.

Emily is ungrateful.

Emily is a touch disturbed.

Emily is murderously crazy.

The credit and title card chillingly allow the soundtrack to resonate and fill in Emily's ugly off-screen actions, and left me rather exhilarated (and slightly aghast) at what had taken place. While the intro is not interactive, it is short and smart enough to establish conflict and set up a world of interactive wonder that makes up the rest of the game. Is it brilliant? No, but it is nicely constructed. It dispenses with the tired twist of expecting a kindly, benign daughter and instead immediately immerses you into the world of a cold-blooded, self-aware killer. It's succinct and nicely woven and, no matter the gaming genre, such attributes are worth admiring.

Another noteworthy scene rears its head midway through the short adventure game (warning, slight spoilers follow). Emily (and the player) realize that, in order to progress, she will have to unjustly, and savagely, kill another innocent. One facet of many adventure games is that, typically, the player is able to use the primary character to comment on their surroundings. This can be achieved directly via the 'look' command, or indirectly when the character is instructed to perform an action. The main character usually comments in their own voice, not only giving the player vital information, but also (normally) enriching the character and the world around them.

In Emily Enough, thanks to this running monologue, by the time she's called to murder again I found I had become accustomed to her voice. Her callous disposition and dark, violent threats come off as cute nuances and, as I got to know her better, I found I had more compassion for her plight. Yes, she may have brutally killed her parents. Yes, she may have expressed profound respect for another serial killer. Yes, I may have laughed when I select a particularly vivid depiction of vivisection from a dialogue tree, but she's also witty, insightful and amusing. Her journey feels like a lark.

And then it was murder time. I found myself rather routinely selecting the weapon from my inventory and quickly clicking the victim, no differently than I would if I were opening a door or picking up a cup. Emily takes her stance and the screen fades to black. When the image returns, she's standing afar in a pool of blood. She pauses and then, directly addressing the player, bluntly states: "What? Don't look at me like that. I'm a killer. I was born this way. What's your excuse?"

It's a great, extremely disarming moment. It's not so much that it breaks the fourth wall (Emily does that with abandon throughout the game), but that it does so with purpose and meaning. This is not a cheap gag, although some may get a chuckle from it. Emily's written to be self-aware enough to see her actions for what they are: innately programmed into her, be it as part of her biological makeup, or instituted by a game developer. She can't help but kill when she's brandishing a weapon and someone is in her way. However, you're the one who put the weapon in her hand, and you're the one piloting her around the asylum, guiding her into these circumstances and laughing all the way. "What's your excuse?" indeed.

The murder, coupled with her brief exchange, greatly colored the rest of the game for me, and I never looked at Emily quite the same way. After witnessing her take a life at my request, I no longer found her as sparklingly witty. Every bit of dialogue tasted a bit acrid and her every action rang a little hollow. It wasn't because the game went sour, but because I was distancing myself, protecting myself from being lulled into yet another false sense of security. I wasn't going to mistake this character for something she wasn't, at least not a second time. But I still wanted to keep an eye on her – I was going to see this game through to the end.

The power of Emily Enough isn't in its interface or puzzles (both of which are frustratingly clunky), but in its command over its primary character and how our perception of her changes over the course of the game. The character doesn't transform as they progress through the game – it's the player that changes. That's a mighty ability to have as an author, even if it lends itself towards souring our perception towards 'the hero' in the end, and something I wish I saw in more games.

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