Many studios have tried and failed over the last few years to become the next Overcooked; a wonderful, cartoonish local party game that encourages players to turn on each other even more than it encourages cooperation. The newest Early Access outing from Muse Games, Embr, isn't quite that; it throws out its own twists and unique mechanics to differentiate itself while building on the backs of its inspiration.
Embr could be advertised as a game about firefighting, but that would be doing it a disservice. It's really about a for-profit firefighting corporation that could only exist in the post-post-capitalist world Embr creates. Is your building on fire? Well just pop open the handy Embr app on your smart device, order a firefighting squad of highly-trained professionals to your home, and watch them work their magic, saving almost everyone almost every time. Embr appreciates all user reviews so they can improve their service going forward and payment is of course accepted within the app.
The Comedy Hits it Home
The world of Embr exists in a hyper-capitalistic society strangely akin to that of The Outer Worlds, where all services are privatized and all goods are premium. The cute, cartoonish avatars you control are employees of Embr, a company that is finally bringing firefighting to the modern age. As such, each mission you undertake will yield a reward, anywhere from $200 if you flub it real bad to over $1000 if you knock it out the park.
There is an inherent silliness to taking capitalism to its extreme end, even if it's a defense mechanism to keep ourselves going in a world where a private firefighting force is starting to sound like a real thing. The advertisements both in the game and on the loading screens are comedic and tout the commercialization of other socialized services such as law enforcement and libraries, all helping contribute to the game's absurdist nature. The "bad guys" are a Canadian competitor to Embr called "Hosr", and upon meeting their overly polite thick-accented leader I snorted Coke Zero right out of my nose.
A Bit Hard to Get Started
The publisher provided me with two keys so a friend could join in to test the multiplayer, where the real meat of the game is. My partner is not an experienced gamer but enjoys games casually, which is why I asked her to join me. Other casual party games like Mario Party and Jackbox Party Pack pride themselves on being accessible to anyone, but Embr had a few aspects that were hard to navigate. Players must complete the ~15 minute tutorial before getting started, but the game doesn't do a great job of communicating what playing an actual level will feel like. There's also no mention of the loadout and shopping mechanics that are very important in the actual game. Picking up and placing the ladders is a strangely janky and difficult task as well. It took us much longer to get through the tutorial than I'd have liked.
Joining up for multiplayer was difficult as well - we were connecting online but kept getting server errors. This could be due to the fact that servers weren't fully active before early access launch, but after about 10 attempts we were able to join up. Once you join a group of either friends or a public lobby, you'll customize your loadout by buying upgrades and gear from the shop. This is where the big diversion from the Overcooked formula takes place - players can utilize upgrades to their hose/axe/other equipment while also getting customizable gear like hats, shirts, pants and shoes. My partner focused on buying utility items and upgrading her hose while I focused on dressing up like a cowboy. Gear also comes with RPG-like stat boosts such as "12% Fire Damage Reduction."
Is Embr Chaotic Fun for Everyone?
Once you open up the in-game Embr app, you choose a certain site that's currently on fire and head over to see what you can do about it. Upon arrival, players are given a minimum number of people to save to pass the level. Saving everyone in the building is necessary for a 5-Star rating, providing a lot of replayability. There is a "Rescue Zone" outside the house, and it's there that you'll need to deposit each of the braindead imbeciles in the house that are playing mobile games while burning alive. There are also stacks of money that you can "liberate" from the home and sneak into the back of the Embr truck so you can finally buy your precious Cowboy Hat.
What follows upon your team actually entering the building is absolute pandemonium. Everyone and everything is on fire. You'll spray the fire with your limited amount of water to dampen it, but cleared areas will catch back on fire in a minute or so. Your object isn't to save the building, but to save the people inside before the timer in the top left corner runs out. You'll need to utilize trampolines, ladders, sprinklers and more to rescue your clients. If a player is consumed by the fire they'll drop, but they can be quickly resuscitated by a nearby teammate. Watching these cartoon firefighters run around a burning home and chasing down flaming idiots didn't become any less charming over two hours.
Embr is a fun little game that absolutely scratches the same itch as Overcooked, throwing friends into general mayhem and just waiting for them to turn on each other. I did try out the game singleplayer and have to say it just isn't very fun; I would not recommend Embr for those without a co-op partner. I was surprised to find that there is no split-screen co-op option in this game, which is a necessity for party games. This is an early access title, so this feature could be incoming, but it's not currently outlined in any of the publisher's announcements. Embr's lack of a local co-op mode is a huge misstep and makes it hard to recommend to everyone.
Embr is a great party game for online co-op play that's cute, funny, and just plain entertaining. Those golden moments with your friends shouting at the person who dropped a client and killed them while you die choking on poison gas and your other friend watches silently from the corner - those are the moments Embr will bring. If you have a co-op partner online, it's imperative that you pick this game up. Those who don't want to buy two copies to play on two different machines with friends are better off looking for a different game.
TechRaptor previewed Embr on PC via Steam Early Access with a code provided by the publisher. It's also available on Google Stadia and will come to PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch later this year.