With a concept that wouldn’t go amiss in a Black Mirrors episode, SIMULACRA is a game in which you must dig through a missing persons mobile phone in order to try and track her down and ‘hopefully’ find her before something bad happens. Combining simulation with FMV gameplay, and both horror and thriller tropes within the narrative and presentation, taking a sneaky look through someone else’s phone is rather exciting thanks to the attention to detail on display.
From developers Kaigan Games and published by FMV fanatics, Wales Interactive, SIMULACRA is a port of the 2017 PC game which has won numerous awards. There’s even been a follow-up game and there’s a direct sequel coming to PC and Mobile on December 12th 2019 – both of which I hope will also get exposed to gamers on all platforms. Not only this, they released a game with a very similar concept called Sara Is Missing over on Itch.io HERE, downloadable on PC, Mac and as an APK for Android devices with a ‘pay what you want’ purchase model.
If you do decide to download and play Sara Is Missing (which I advise, as I’ve just done so), upon finishing the game it takes you to a site the developers no longer own – DON’T click any links on that page, just close it. But, we’re here today to talk about SIMULACRA so let’s jump straight in…
What would you do if you opened your door and found a mobile phone lay on your doorstep? Would you take it straight to the police, try and gain access to it and look at all the juicy images, or would you wipe it clean and make it your own as you erase all evidence of it belonging to someone else? Our name and faceless protagonist decides to go for another option, gain access to the device in order to discover who the phone belongs to and return it to them – such a good samaritan. However, after gaining entry to the device and having a strange chat with the OS, you realise the owner isn’t just missing, she appears to be in danger.
Working together with the phone’s AI Operating System, her ex-boyfriend, someone she met on the Tinder-like app, Spark, and various contacts on her phone, you’re determined to help out Anna as much as you can – without ever leaving the comfort of your armchair in your house. Following clues you gain from rebuilding corrupted messages and fixing messed up photos, you’ll have to piece together the events which led up to her disappearance either whilst posing as Anna, the police, or yourself, all of which results in various outcomes and endings as the terrifying story continues.
Although not a very long title, roughly taking a few hours to play through the game from beginning to end in one sitting, multiple playthroughs are encouraged as various narrative changes and opportunities are enabled based upon how you have chosen to play the game and the choices you’ve made. I’ve completed the game eight times so far and I still have two trophies left to unlock, one is based on a choice and the other is a hidden pathway which I’m still trying to figure out how to enable.
SIMULACRA is like a Visual Novel game combined with a mobile phone simulation and the odd bit of FMV thrown in. You can freely browse the phone as you read text messages, look at photos, interact with people on Jabbr (I suspect it’s a parody of Twitter but Microsoft’s version is called Jabber, so it may be mocking that), and even chat to local horny people over on Spark (Tinder). However, not everything is unlocked from the start as a lot of the phone is corrupted, this means you’ll have to get the phone remotely restored as the story progresses, allowing you to see new messages and revealing more crucial information.
What really stood out was how much the game emulated real life. You can ‘like’ posts, reply to them with whatever you type in (including rude words), change your Spark profile, reply to messages with set dialogue, and even browse the web for phone numbers and personal information. The in-game phone operates as a real phone, only this one is messed up (in more ways than one), becoming much more glitchy and disturbing as the narrative unfolds and more data is restored.
The entirety of the game takes place in a blurred out room with the phone pushed right up against your face, sitting perfectly still and refusing to move or leave the house in search of the missing girl. I liked the fact that the game uses FMV for the videos (as expected) as well as having the phone ring a few times with calls from people which you never reply to – the people just talk and mainly question why you’re not replying to them – are we mute/dumb? But, I would have loved more FMV sequences, moving to various locations, more interaction, and more diversity – maybe in the sequel?
Aside from being a voyeur and looking through someone else’s phone – regardless of the reasons why – you’ll also have to solve a few puzzles in order to gain access to various messages and images. Sure, there are a few ‘password’ related puzzles, which require you to ask people on the phone for the answers or to look into various apps for a bunch of personal data we all forget is ‘out there’, but there are a few actual ‘puzzles’ as well.
The above is an image of one of the many corrupt messages. You have all the words, all it needs now is structure – you must put the sentence back together in a way that makes grammatical sense. I’m incredibly grateful that this isn’t a real thing as I would throw my phone against a wall if I had to reconstruct any of the 30+ word messages I receive from friends and family! Thankfully, everyone who talks to Anna seems to talk in sentences that are only a few words long, thus making the reconstruction side a little bit easier!
Similarly, certain images which conveniently hold clues as to answering certain questions have also become corrupt. These are fixed by piecing together various parts until all the corruption has been wiped and the full image is once again complete. Just to mirror what I said above – this is a fun and interesting mechanic which certainly breaks up the game so you’re not just playing with the phone, but if this ever becomes a real ‘thing’, I’m just going to let those images remain corrupted.
The main portion of the ‘gameplay’ revolves around you simply interacting with various people via messages, phone calls and Spark messages, either opting to be yourself, Anna or imitating the police in order to get the answers you require to move on with the story. Although this sounds like the game is full of branches and diverse outcomes, it sadly isn’t. Sure, there are lots of trophies to unlock based on what responses you give to the people you talk to – such as pretending to be a policeman, answering questions to get a job, or lying and getting someone arrested, but the branched off narrative is very short and meaningless most of the time.
What I mean is, say you’re having a chat with Greg, the ex-boyfriend, and he asks you a question. You have a few answers to give him, one of them will be a positive answer, one a negative, and one is there to just piss him off. All three of them will have some sort of initial response by Greg, depending on your choice, but after one or two lines, the narrative is back to being the same for all choices. This isn’t true in all cases, as depending on certain choices you make and relationships you create, the ending will change and certain events may or may not be possible in the back end of the story. But, a lot of the ‘dialogue’ isn’t meaningful or impactful to the story.
In terms of the ‘core’ narrative, the base story and the flow of events, I really enjoyed it. I’m not a fan of jump scares but the ones present within SIMULACRA are really well done and implemented perfectly. Even though I’ve completed the game multiple times, the same bloody jumps got me on each and every playthrough! I feel the story itself felt a bit scrambled, sometimes leaving me with more questions than answers due to the game wanting to only give you snippets at a time as you uncovered the events on your own. However, the vast majority of what happened is explained towards the end of the game, making the journey up to that point feeling a little redundant and pointless when you look back at it.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good game. However, if I’d only played the last 15-20 mins of it, I wouldn’t have felt I’d missed out on any key narrative plot points from the first 60-75 minutes.
I really liked the visual style of SIMULACRA, it’s clearly achieved its goal of simulating a mobile phone and the various applications which you can freely browse through and interact with. The FMV moments were fun – some were a little cheesy and may have benefitted from a few extra takes in order to provide a more intense final video, but overall it felt like I had my phone on the TV and I was interacting with it.
My only complaint with regards to the live-action segments is that I felt there wasn’t enough of them. I know the amount we got ended up fitting in with the narrative as they couldn’t just film for the sake of filming, but it would be nice if the sequel allows us to see more footage as well as have more impact on the direction the narrative goes in.
In regards to the audio, I hate the developers. They tell you, as the game begins, to put on headphones – so I played SIMULACRA with headphones, on my own, and at night… I’m not going to say why I hate the developers, as I feel it could be a bit of a spoiler, but I strongly advise you to play the game as I did for your first playthrough. All I’ll say is, the experience was greatly enhanced by wearing headphones in the dark.
If you’re looking for a unique take on the ‘found footage/phone’ horror genre, SIMULACRA is perfect for you. The puzzles you need to complete, in order to descramble and reveal messages and photos, are fun to solve and interesting to read/look at. Although I wish there were more FMV sequences and meaningful choices which changed the narrative more dramatically as the story progressed, the quality of the videos and writing were both top-shelf.
Packed with lots of things to read through and look at, as well as frequent jumps and WTF moments, SIMULACRA is one of the most unique games I’ve played this year.
- - Very creepy and leaves you feeling uneasy
- - Multiple endings depending on the choices and allies you make
- - An interesting and intriguing story which'll have you hooked
- - Very realistic
- - The atmosphere is made even more tense if you wear headphones
- - Although there are numerous choices and ways to complete certain segments, you can't deviate much from the main timeline of events
- - I wished there was more FMV as it seemed quite minimal for an FMV game
- - The bloody developers caught me with the same jump in each of my eight playthroughs!