The beautiful thing about the video games industry is that games continue to offer fresh ideas and new perspectives. This is especially true in the age of narrative-driven experiences. Simulacra continues this trend with a unique take on the horror genre. However, be warned. This game is more about investigative work than performing any of the run-for-your-life actions we might see in Outlast or the violent options that are sometimes necessary for survival in Resident Evil.
Simulacra does follow the tradition of modern found-footage horror films, but with an interesting spin. This game is centered around a horrific story that unfolds on a “found” phone. You, the player, come into possession of a phone belonging to a girl named Anna. After watching a creepy video, the basis of the game then becomes accessing the various contents of Anna’s phone to learn her whereabouts or simply uncover the mystery. This is also done through interactions with her boyfriend and friends.
Play on a phone… on your Switch
Anna’s friends help lead the way by asking questions that force you to dig for answers. For instance, one lead might require you to determine what her latest post on the faux-Facebook app was. This leads to another task of figuring out the sign-in password through investigative work. This work might then lead you to look through photos, some of which are mysteriously scrambled and require the completion of a puzzle to view in full. The game seeks to capture the thrill of digging through someone’s phone to unlock a narrative that, in the end, proves to be on the freaky side.
Of course, dialogue choices can be made when texting or interacting with Anna’s friends and associates through her phone. These, in turn, alter the course of the game. The real mystery behind Anna’s disappearance and whether you can actually trust what any of these complete strangers are telling you is what drives the intrigue behind this title. As a game, there’s not much to it. In fact, it might make you feel a little weird as you learn to become an expert snooper. However, solving puzzles and following leads is the core of what you’re getting with Simulacra.
The mystery is satisfying on its own. Though I’ve only played through the game once, I know that there are multiple endings that are, of course, influenced by your choices. This could potentially persuade you through a second, or even third, playthrough. However, it wasn’t enough to get me to ride the replay train.
Smartphone detective 101
The game may only find a niche audience who enjoys investigative work interlaced with puzzles. However, the puzzles are sprinkled in at best, so you shouldn’t join this journey expressly for the brain teasers. The voice acting is a little rough around the edges, but the use of natural imagery with real people and the replicative structure of modern-day smartphones brings immersion back to the forefront when all is said and done. For a far more immersive experience, downloading this game on your phone might really bring it home. For the record, I haven’t tried that yet.
Simulacra is an inventive idea that brings both gaming and horror to something as simple as a smartphone. The title’s strength comes from its story-driven mystery and the spark of curiosity. Its weakness lies in the meager gameplay showing, which mostly amounts to something we do every day – flipping through a phone. The puzzles are fun, yet simple, and they aren’t present enough to truly consider Simulacra a puzzle title. This game will likely only speak to those who enjoy a good mystery.
A review code was provided by the publisher.