Simulacra | game review
Do you really know who you're talking to online?
Game summary: An interactive horror experience of exploring a missing woman’s phone. (Steam)
I'm going to be honest up-front and admit that I only played through Simulacra because I managed to get it for £0.79 in a sale on Steam. I first saw it years ago as a mobile game, but I'd never seen it so cheap until the day I bought it and thought that such a small cost was worth at least trying out. Fortunately it was, as the game's pretty good, if not anything truly special/
Simulacra is a horror game that takes you on a journey using the interface of a lost phone - unfortunately leaving large empty spaces on your screen if playing on PC - and it is a truly fascinating experience. From the well-written story populated with well-realised characters to the simple controls, this game is pretty easy to recommend for fans of horror games or those who enjoy a good mystery.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Simulacra is its simple controls. Everything is controlled through the user interface of a lost phone, so you only need to use your mouse to interact with the different apps and messages, with only one timed section requiring any real speed of input - fortunately, failing this part doesn't end the game and is woven into the story. The interface is easy to navigate, and you'll quickly feel comfortable moving between different apps and messages as you try to piece together what happened to the phone's owner, Anna.
The fictional phone apps and user interface are really well-designed and add to the overall atmosphere of the game with fictional versions of most of the major social media apps out there. The array of apps and messages on the phone feel like they could belong to a real person too, which helps to further bring the world of Simulacra to life and keep you immersed in the experience.
And, while I'd say it's not the main point of the game, it does a great job of pointing out how much time people spend online interacting with each other instead of in-person, or using social media, and how dangerous that can be if you're not careful. It's actually a pretty damned good cautionary tale about the dangers of oversharing personal information and the importance of being mindful of what we post online, which can make some of the horror aspects that little bit more unnerving with how close to reality it can feel.
Another standout feature of Simulacra as a horror game is the unpredictability of the jump scares. They're genuinely unsettling - play in the dark with headphones for the ultimate experience with how the game toys with 3D sounds - and it could have you jumping out of your seat if you're of a nervous disposition. The sound design is fantastic and adds to the overall tension of the game, and could have you questioning your own hearing after a while with how subtle and varied the effects can be.
The biggest surprise is that the characters in Simulacra are well-written and feel like real people. Even the more annoying characters are still well-written and feel like they could actually exist, although some of the voice-acting really doesn't work at all. Still, you'll find yourself caring about these characters and the outcome of the story, which is a testament to the quality of the writing. The story is engaging enough to generate that "just five more minutes" feeling and will keep you invested until the very end.
On the other hand, the game is a pretty linear experience, with most choices being mild diversions rather than taking proceedings in wildly different directions and you'll quickly realise that the scares occur at pretty much the same place and time. While the impact of the jump scares may decrease on repeat playthroughs, the overall experience still remains enjoyable, thanks to just how natural it feels using a phone to communicate with others in a variety of ways.
Simulacra is a solid recommend, albeit not a must-play title unless you're a fan of horror games or enjoy a good mystery. You might not be able to change all that much, but I liked the story well enough regardless, and there's enough variety to the characters that most people will find someone to like - and everyone will probably find one person in particular to dislike. The ease of play works wonders and it does a surprising amount from an audio-visual standpoint considering how text-driven it is.