What would you do if you found an abandoned phone, just laying in the street or on the floor outside of your front door? Would you wipe it and keep it for yourself? Would you hand it in to the police? Or would you delve into its library of personal information in the hope of tracing its owner yourself; especially if it contained some alarming content that suggests the phone’s owner is in some form of trouble. It’s a premise that’s been investigated within a few video games, most notably, The Lost Phone series of games and was a genre originally designed to be played on mobile platforms, such as your phone. In that context, these games work very well, but in recent years they have transitioned a port onto games consoles and whilst they can lose some of their immersion on these platforms, they still retain a engaging level of gameplay and none moreso, than that of Kaigan Game’s and Wales Interactive’s Simulacra as it dials a release onto the Nintendo Switch.
The context behind the game runs along the lines of you discovering an abandoned phone that has been left on your doorstep. Right from the moment you boot the phone up, it’s inherently clear that something is not right here and that the original owner of the found phone is in some sort of trouble. With the information in hand, it’s now up to you to utilise your detective skills and discover what has happened to Anna, the original owner, through a series of interactions and research; all within the data that is stored on the phone. This is achieved through phone calls, simulated live chats, browsing videos and photographs and exploring a number of apps from dating to social media.
What makes this particular title stand out from other games within its genre, is the use of real-life imagery and video footage to add more immersion to the investigative journey you undertake, as well as a series of apps that are modelled on real-life counterparts, such as the Tinder-themed Spark that uses a swipe left or right mechanic and chat rooms or the Twitter account that is simulated with the Jabbr app. It creates a more believable premise in the investigation of the phone you now find yourself in possession of and provides a quality that is highly immersive as you chat to friends and family, browse profiles and piece together the mysteries that surround the disappearance of Anna.
The game plays primarily as a horror experience, with the predicament of Anna, a series of distorted audio cues and video footage and some genuinely frightening jump scares that certainly caught me off-guard on more than one occasion. It provides a very tense atmosphere as you seek to find the answers you need and play with trepidation with what may be revealed next. A number of gameplay elements combine to keep the game interesting with some puzzle components that need to solved to reveal certain clues. It does a clever job of keeping you up-to-date with what your next objective should entail, from logging in to a certain app, finding a pass code or keeping a friend of Anna’s in the dark about what is happening. However, it never goes as far as to tell you what to do; this is something that needs to be worked out for yourself.
Progress comes through investigation. Scouring previous emails or texts, interacting with live chats or browsing photos to find information. Finding the solutions to your problems can be very rewarding and it’s here where the fun of the game lies. The phone can also throw unexpected events at you too, ramping up the tension as you try to find the answers and solutions to a number of problems. Certain videos, photos and text messages can become corrupted, forcing you to piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle to reveal their true identity or meaning. However, one of the most interesting aspects of the game, is the interaction between yourself and the contacts on Anna’s phone.
Through a series of twists and turns, the five-hour or so story opens on a number of fronts that forces you to ask questions of morality and trust. Do you befriend Anna’s estranged boyfriend or make an enemy of him? Do you trust the stranger on Spark or is there more to him than meets the eye? It’s an element of the gameplay that keeps you on your toes and works towards you finding one of a possible five different endings; producing a form of longevity as you replay the game to find an alternate ending to the one that you may ultimately reveal. In fact, there are so many elements to the game and so much that happens, that you’ll eventually find this a phone that is hard to put down.
You can see that this is a game that was developed to be played on a phone and in that premise, would make for a very immersive experience. Unfortunately, it can lose some of that appeal with this release on the Switch; especially with its rigidity of only being able to play the game in a landscape mode. A lack of portrait rotation is a missed opportunity here, although it does make full use of the Switch’s touch-screen capability. However, that’s not to say that is loses any of its gameplay values and in terms of a ‘lost phone’ game, is easily the best of its genre that I have come across to date. It’s instantly playable and a thoroughly engaging affair with masses of playability, shocks, scares and intrigue to keep you coming back. However, that’s not to say that it isn’t without its nuances either.
For the most part, the production levels on this game are very high, especially with the portrayal of the main antagonist, Anna. Her video scenes are very well acted throughout a series of scenarios. However, the same cannot be said for the other characters contained within the game; especially with that of Greg, Anna’s boyfriend, who produces some very hammy dialogue indeed and takes away some of the immersion that the game portrays so well. The ability to save on-the-fly is also sorely missed here, instead forcing you to play through certain scenarios until the auto-save feature is activated. It’s only a minor nuance, but one that I found a bit unhelpful with the game’s general premise as a casual and mobile affair; although the auto-save functions are rarely few and far between.
Overall though, Simulacra is a lost phone game that captures the whole feel of its premise superbly. With its simulated apps, real life footage and general scares, it creates a totally immersive and believable experience that is enjoyable to play. It’s different levels of interaction, through chats, browsing and puzzle solving helps to keep things fresh and is further bolstered by the game’s ability to throw all manner of surprises at you and its interesting dialogue that forces you into a state of morality and a series of alternate endings. Everything here has been well constructed to produce a must-have title for any horror or lost phone fan and despite a couple of annoyances, is a worthy addition to anyone’s Switch library with the most realistic depiction of a lost phone story that I have ever played; let alone one of the scariest.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
Simulacra is one of the most realistic, horrific and truly terrifying lost phone stories you’ll ever play.