The world of indie horror is filled with many different kinds of experiences. Besides the huge success stories like Bendy and Five Nights at Freddy’s, there are also a lot of other unique titles out there. For instance, driving-focused horror games like Dead End Road, or Welcome to the Game where you scour the dark web for answers while avoiding attracting unwanted attention.
And then there’s Simulacra. Created by Kaigan Games OÜ as a spiritual successor to the hit mobile horror adventure game Sara is Missing (SIM), Simulcara is another found footage mobile horror game of a similar vein that explores the “voyeuristic pleasure” of digging through another person’s private information.
Simulacra is about you, the player, discovering a lost phone one day. Checking it out, there’s an odd video message from its previous owner, Anna. Something is very wrong and she seems to be in trouble. Despite pleading not to find her, you dive right in to find out what happened. With help from her friends via texts, it’s up to you to search through her message history, tweets and Tinder chats, e-mails, and more to find the truth. However, the truth may be more complicated than you could imagine.
Like any good mystery, the plot is simple, but not straightforward. It slowly unfolds as you sift through the messages and emails on Anna’s phone in various apps. However, the whole picture isn’t clear either with just that, since lots of the phone’s data is missing and backups need to be found to fill in the details. You also get to text with various people who are acquainted with Anna, like her boyfriend, best friends, co-workers, and others in order to get the truth. Some of them are more helpful than others while some require you to lie and pretend to be Anna in order to get the answers you need.
It all adds up to a rather engaging mystery as the player pieces together various clues and solves small puzzles. The game does tend to tug you around a few different directions, some feeling a little more aimless than others, but it works more often than not. This is a mystery after all, and investigating potential leads and suspects, even if it ends up being a sidetrack, still fits and feels good to do as the clues come together.
The only part of the narrative that feels weak is the ending. This is when the true reason for what is going on is revealed and we dive into the real horror. There were definitely creepy and unnerving moments, like with the odd messages, the wallpaper, and a few jump scares, but it ratchets it up at the end. The weakness, though, comes in when the game starts going on about online personas and online reality versus real reality. It’s not a bad idea or theme to explore, but it never feels properly dived into in the game itself until the end. Outside of one particular character, the concept of the online persona is left undercooked and is more out of nowhere than anything. Maybe if the game had a bit of a greater emphasis on it or mentioned more, these particular points would have been stronger.
The gameplay of Simulacra is basically like playing with a phone. There’s the phone’s interface on the screen and you click on apps, read messages, and answer people’s texts and calls as they come in. There are the occasional puzzles that come up that you have to solve that feel, for the most part, rather natural. For instance, you need to figure out the security questions for Anna’s Twitter account. Those can be found by looking through her photos, e-mails, and even chatting with her best friend while pretending to be Anna. They all feel really good to go and make you feel like a sleuth for figuring them out.
Then there are the unusual puzzles that pop up. The part of the phone is corrupted and there’s occasionally a need to decrypt texts and photos. It’s about finding the right overlay for the photos or unscrambling sentences by putting the words in the right order. This often leads to discovering new leads, clues, and more of the plot ultimately. It is the most game-like part of this video game, since everything else feels like playing with a phone. I played this on Steam, but I can only imagine how much more natural the game would feel on the phone.
The last thing about the gameplay is the choice system. The player does have to interact with different characters, but they cannot type in their own answers outside of a few exceptions. The game instead offers its own answers for one to pick. They may seem mundane, but there are puzzle aspects to it, like trying to keep up appearances or offer choices that affect your standing with people. This affects what kind of ending you get, whether it be bad, kind of bad, and okay. The only negative with the system is how obtuse it is to get the best ending given how backwards you may have to act, answer, and do.
The game’s presentation is very good. The layout has the phone screen directly in the center with some gray, outline of a darkened bedroom in the background, like you are just laying on your bed as you play. The apps themselves feel and look fairly close to the originals they are parodying, but just different enough so they aren’t either. There are a lot of small details in it as well that really add to accuracy, like how the pages within apps load in just like they do on a phone, even pictures occasionally taking a little more time to do so. The sound design is minimal, but creepy with the occasional ambiance noise or surreal music that plays during the more tense moments. The whole look of the game just feels perfect and the times the game does go a little more surreal, it feels genuinely creepy and unnerving.
The last thing to mention is the acting. There is a bit of voice acting through phone calls and audio messages, while we occasionally get videos that show the actors and actresses. This is where the game becomes rather hit or miss. Not everyone is good here, like the actor for Greg Summers. He feels stiff, words are slurred, and he isn’t all that convincing at times. Anna’s actress is good enough in vocal delivery and capturing panic, but her facial expressions don’t match the proper reaction at times. The only people who really nail it are Taylor’s actor and the individual introduced at the very end, who is played by someone else who wasn’t particularly great in another role. The acting doesn’t take too much away from the game, but it can hinder the mood and be distracting.
Is It Good?
Simulacra is unlike most games out there in its unique, creepy style and gameplay. Its story may be simple at first, but the mystery and tension keep you engaged until the very end. The whole game walks a tightrope with its strong atmosphere, closed circle world, and fun gameplay. The only things that truly hold it back from greatness are some concepts that are not fully realized and weak acting. This is a game definitely worth checking out, though to get the most out of it, perhaps buying it for your phone would be the way to go.