Imagine finding the phone of a missing girl and having to delve into her private life to try and find out where she might be. It’s a daunting prospect, right? Well, also imagine that there’s something strange going on with that phone and that it constantly throws jump-scares your way. That’s the concept of SIMULACRA – the ‘found-phone horror game’ from publisher Wales Interactive that has now made its way over to consoles.
SIMULACRA’s narrative kicks off in an interesting way: typically, these kind of games see the player stumbling across a lost phone, but this one is instead left at your house for you. If that’s not creepy enough, the phone belongs to a missing girl named Anna that hasn’t been seen for a few days. This means that you’ve got to try and find a way to help her, right? Well, when you uncover a video on her phone that sees Anna seemingly held captive in a state of distress and BEGGING the viewer not to come find her, it opens up an even darker mystery for players to uncover…
I loved the concept behind SIMULACRA and it drew me in from the get-go. Maybe it helps that I’m a sucker for ‘found footage’ horror films too, but using a phone to unravel a mystery was just neat. The twists-and-turns throughout the tale kept me intrigued, plus the fact that there are multiple choices to be made meant I could shape the story along the way – there are five endings to be had in total, so there’s definitely room for repeated playthroughs. That being said, whilst the concept is neat, it does lose its novelty on subsequent playthroughs… I mean, we all have enough texts to go through on our phones, so why do it in a video game over and over again? With around four-hours playtime to be found though, there’s plenty for players to sink their teeth into either way.
You have to use the phone to solve SIMULACRA’s mystery, which means reading through Anna’s messages, using her social media and dating apps, and even snooping through her gallery of photos to uncover clues – basically, Anna’s phone has all the functions you’d expect to find on a typical smart phone. However, you’ll have to use the information you uncover as well as a bit of logic to solve some basic puzzles along the way too, as well as respond to the contacts on Anna’s phone to try and find out new pieces of information. There are a few people that you’ll communicate with and you can make different choices as to how you respond to them based on what you learn about them or the information you find on the phone, which adds an interesting twist to the game’s narrative.
It all sounds very simple in design, but the investigative element involved in examining someone else’s phone was really neat. I like video games that feel believable, so browsing through a similar device to the one that I use in real-life and examining the sort of apps that I also use just felt so immersive. I haven’t played many of these ‘found-phone’ games before, but I found myself completely absorbed into the experience. Sure, it’s not the most thrilling of games that I’ve played, but it was certainly unique and intriguing.
There’s an air of tension to be found throughout SIMULACRA, not least because you’re essentially investigating a girl’s disappearance, but also because there’s a horror-vibe throughout and jump scares aplenty. Yeah, I’m sure you wouldn’t expect to be frightened by jump-scares in a game like this, but there’ll be plenty of moments where sudden sounds or images will cause you to let out a little shriek – more than a few caught me off guard, so bravo to the game for that. It added to the game’s overall horror vibe so I appreciated them, as I did the many other little subtle eerie issues that cropped up with Anna’s phone. I won’t detail them here though not to ruin the surprises, but do expect to find yourself creeped out when playing through SIMULACRA.
So I enjoyed my time playing SIMULACRA, but I couldn’t help but to feel that I would’ve enjoyed it a bit more if I had played it on a mobile phone. Sure, I played on the Nintendo Switch so it was at least handheld, but the aesthetic and gameplay setup makes it clear that it was designed with smartphones in mind. I can’t imagine playing it without a touchscreen at least, which is something PlayStation 4 and Xbox Gamers might want to consider. It should also be noted that if you have ZERO interest in a game based around a mobile phone, SIMULACRA will do nothing to entertain you since… well… you’ll be using a phone the entire time. It’s a heck of a lot more enjoyable than it sounds, but I can appreciate that it won’t be for everyone.
SIMULACRA is unique and eerie, with its take on the ‘found-phone’ genre making for a mystery that kept me hooked in throughout. Sure, it would’ve probably been better played on an actual phone as opposed to a console, but I still had a good time unravelling the secrets behind Anna’s disappearance, all whilst getting constantly spooked my jump-scares.
Developer: Kaigan Games
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC