We were always told by our parents that we need to be careful about who we meet online because you never know who's on the other end of the line. It could be a Catfish or a murderer, and that's the kind of fear that Kaigan Games' Simulacra preys upon, having just been released on PS4, Switch, and Xbox One after its first release on PC back in 2017.
Kaigan Games also brought us the horror title Sara Is Missing, and if you've played that you'll be familiar with the premise of Simulacra. You're operating the phone of a missing person called Anna, and the entirety of the experience takes place within the phone itself, positioned in portrait within a landscape screen (something that cramped the space a bit, but we managed). Your job is to uncover what happened to Anna - it's as simple as that.
Simulacra wastes no time showing us the stakes either, as the game boots up with a corrupted video of Anna screaming in danger, telling whoever sees the video not to come and find her. At this point, we were already tense, and Kaigan isn't afraid to take control away from you like this at certain points to show you something scary.
As you go through, Simulacra slowly unfolds and gently guides you in the right direction. You start by answering the notifications available to you, texting Anna's boyfriend Greg, her Spark (like Tinder) match Taylor, and others, but this slowly leads to you investigating her Jabbr (Twitter), emails, and more as you try to find clues about not only Anna, but the people you're interacting with as well.
A central theme of Simulacra is deceit, as the different conversations you have all raise suspicions about the others. You have to figure out who to trust - if you can trust anybody - and which information to take with a pinch of salt, as people might have their own agendas as you try to locate Anna.
You can also be deceitful as well. After all, you have Anna's phone, and at several points, you can pretend to be her to get what you need. It's a pretty interesting way to play with the idea of anonymity in the digital age, and how it can both be sinister and surprisingly easy to personify someone else if you really want to.
For the most part, Kaigan's recreation of Anna's life via her phone is rather convincing, from her video logs to Jabbr posts and the texts that you get from other people, but it's occasionally just a little bit rough around the edges. The portrayal of Greg, in particular, is pretty unconvincing and we were taken out of the immersion a bit when he called.
It should take between three to four hours to complete Simulacra, but during most of that, you'll be in silence as you flick between the various apps and conversations to get information. That's why the sudden calls and other jumpscares that appear are so impactful, and we were always tense because we never knew what was coming. One time we were startled by a detective calling us, but it was so much worse because we were sifting through text messages at the time, focusing on the screen.
What's clever is that things seem fine at first (well, aside from the premise of a missing person), because you're just moving between apps and reading, but things slowly start to get weird. Files that were previously corrupt start to get restored, giving more of the story for you to piece together, and the whole time you're talking to other people and getting more from them as well. It's a gradual unfolding, but it's effective at bringing things to a simmer before an intense climax at the end.
The choices you make within this plot actually affect the outcome as well, and there are multiple endings. As you might have guessed, not all of these are good, and you need to be careful of what you say and do in order to get the best ending. Treating people badly might lead to unforeseen consequences, as will your impersonation of Anna, your attitude, and who you side with.
After a tense and unexpected ending, we were left impressed with Simulacra. It's the kind of game that can scare you at any point, which subsequently meant we were always on edge. It's a quiet, intriguing look into the dangers of an online world, albeit with a few rough edges, like some obtuse puzzles. That said, we had a lot of fun and a lot of jumps when playing through, but we just need a bit of a breather before trying for the other endings.
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