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Game Review: Simulacra
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Simulacra

Simulacra
AVAILABLE ON: Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mobile
DEVELOPER: Kaigan Games
PUBLISHER: Wales Interactive
CONSOLE RELEASE DATE: December 3, 2019

Some of the more unique gaming experiences I’ve had over the years have come from publisher Wales Interactive. From live-action FMV games like The Bunker and Late Shift to the theatrical murder mystery Knee Deep, their library is a great place to look for short, unique experiences unlike what we’re used to seeing in gaming.

Now comes Simulacra, which was first released a couple of years ago but made its way to consoles this month. What makes this one different from most games is that there is no navigating a map, no inventory to manage, no upgrading skills, nothing like that. This game’s story plays out entirely on a smartphone screen.

Yes, you read that correctly. Simulacra takes place entirely on a smartphone. A character named Anna’s smartphone, to be more specific. It comes from developer Kaigan Games, known for the similar title Sara is Missing. In fact, this is a spiritual successor to that game.

Anyone who has spent some time on a smartphone—so, pretty much all of us—will have no trouble getting started. You simply begin on the phone’s lock screen, and go from there. But it quickly becomes clear that something’s not quite right with this particular phone.

Once you’re on the home screen, you can choose between messages, emails, and a few apps such as Jabbr (the game’s version of Twitter), Spark (Tinder), and more. As you make your way through the phone—reading emails and messages, looking at images, checking social media—you’ll form an idea of who Anna is and where she is in her life.

After that you can begin interacting with other characters, such as Anna’s boyfriend (or perhaps ex-boyfriend) and best friend, which will progress the story from there. You’ll also find yourself dealing with the occasional small puzzle, as certain messages and images in the phone are corrupted and require you to piece them back together.

And that’s about all I’m going to say. I went into the game knowing absolutely nothing about it, and I think that that’s probably the best way to play it. There will, however, be a trailer below for anyone who wants a better idea of what to expect.

It’s hard not to be intrigued by something like Simulacra. We all spend so much time on our phones and tablets doing some of the things you do in the game, you may have to remind yourself that you are in fact playing a game now and then.

My personal experience with the game certainly had its ups and downs. For example: the acting is decent for the most part, though there are times when it can be a bit cringey; the story itself was solid, but the overall writing—or at least the wording—was sometimes a little awkward for me while playing.

If you play on a console like I did, any time you need to actually write something out can be frustrating. The game was made for mobile devices, naturally, but on console you have to make your way to each and every letter, space, etc., instead of tapping away merrily on a touch screen. I’m so used to using my Xbox One controller a certain way when writing things, such as pushing the X button to delete. But when I did that in this game (and I did it quite a few times), it backed me out of what I was writing and I was forced to start all over.

This was especially maddening at one specific part of the game, which sees you dealing with a ticking time bomb type situation and attempting to write multiple words before a timer hits zero. It didn’t help that the character assisting you with this mini-crisis—who had been messaging you at lightning speed up to that point—suddenly decided to take their sweet time responding to you. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot that could have been done about it when porting a game like this, but it is something to keep in mind if you’re planning to play on a console.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of how the game ended. I won’t go into any details to avoid spoilers, but basically things went about as badly for me as they could have gone and it seemed to me that it was all for no real reason.

Again, I knew absolutely nothing going in. And so I played cautiously, trying to respond to things as I felt my character (who I assumed was just as unsure of what was going on as I was) might have responded, while still trying to find answers. But as the story was wrapping up and I was eagerly anticipating how things were going to play out, one of the characters shifted sharply from the laid back, playful personality they had been the whole time and randomly became angry and impossible to talk to. It all fell apart for me from there, and it felt like everything I had done was kind of pointless.

But thankfully my ending was just one of multiple ways the story can play out. So I’m definitely looking forward to diving back in now that I have more of a grasp on what’s going on, and seeing if I can reach a more satisfying conclusion. It’s not a very long game, so you’ll have no problem playing through a few times if you wish. Despite things not working out very well for me personally I still think it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible the first time you play, because it’s your one chance to play as confused and uncertain about what’s going on as the characters are.

Reading this you might think that I wasn’t a big fan of the game, I know, but I actually enjoyed my time with Simulacra for the most part. The unique presentation alone was enough to hook me, and it held my attention and entertained me throughout. It has its fair share of flaws, absolutely, but like I said, I’m still looking forward to going back for round two.

It’s worth playing at least once to see if you dig it, and if it is something you’re into you can also check out Sara is Missing and the spinoff Simulacra: Pipe Dreams, and keep an eye open for the upcoming sequel Simulacra 2.

Trailer

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