SIMULACRA at its heart is a well layered puzzle game that unravels the story of a mysterious disappearance, but as you’ll see often repeated in the game, nothing is as it seems. Beyond the obvious problem challenges and character dialog lies a short story science fiction horror narrative that subtly works its way out from beneath the surface to take over the entire game. This is our Simulacra review.
The experience starts with you finding and investigating a lost phone. Upon opening the glitched phone you’ll be treated to a video of a terrified woman who pleads with you not to find her followed by several text messages. The entire game is played as if you’re on a smart phone, using it just like you would on your own mobile, with parodies of popular social media, dating, photo, and messaging apps. At first, you’ll chat with friends and boyfriends, solve a few word and picture puzzles, and start to get an idea who and what our protagonist, Anna, is all about. By the end of the game you’ll be jumping between apps, messages, and the built-in browser to piece together clues to unlock your next steps and the final mystery.
The word and picture puzzles themselves are fairly easy and straight forward. They unlock pieces of information that you need to put together in order to answer more complex challenges, such as getting passwords or people to reveal information. All the way through the game branching dialog choices affect our future options, what clues we find, puzzle options, all the while shaping which ending we’ll see. I found that adds a lot to the replay value because not only are there different endings to explore, but the journey can play out a little different each time depending on those choices.
At times the plot line pushed me into making dialog choices I wouldn’t have otherwise made forcing the story in a particular direction. This was sometimes annoying because I wanted to push and pursue something but my dialog options, or lack of, hindered me. Overall those moments were few though and didn’t upset or impede the flow of the game.
In addition to our mystery and main theme SIMULACRA touches on some sensitive topics such as sexual harassment, privacy, and corporate responsibility. In each of these scenarios the player is given the opportunity to decide how they would like to respond and address the situation.
Don’t get the impression that this game is just about fun word puzzles and solving a mystery though. That would be an injustice. Echoing classic science fiction literature and film, SIMULACRA communicates a technological moral imperative in masterful form. While you get an idea early on that something more is going on it does a great job at obscuring the details until the very end. The story of the missing girl belies a deeper more sinister horrific agenda that society has brought upon itself by forgetting to explore the consequences of technology before jumping head first into it.
Unfortunately, like many of the b-rated sci-fi shows of the past SIMULACRA is held back a little by what I’m guessing is a small production budget. The video and voice over work is cringe worthy and awkward at times which is a shame because it detracts from an otherwise brilliant game and message. Standing out however, Phraveen Arikiah does a good job as the good-hearted slightly lecherous and lonely Taylor.
SIMULACRA surprised me. I didn’t know quite what to expect from a game that looks like a phone. I certainly didn’t expect an interesting and sobering story. If you enjoy mystery adventures with a flexible story, then I’d recommend giving SIMULACRA a try, but remember, nothing is what it seems.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on PC/Steam with a code provided by PR.
OVERALL SCORE: 7/10
- Fun puzzles
- Well written story with interesting characters
- Branching narrative with replay value
- Some voice and video work is awkward
- A little short