A game with an innovative approach to the horror genre, Simulacra is uniquely immersive and makes use of a brilliant type of realism to draw you in.
You play, effectively, as yourself. You find a mobile phone on your doorstep that glitches out just enough to allow you access to it so you can figure out who it belongs to. However, returning it isn’t as simple as dialling someone and asking them to come pick it up. The woman the phone belongs to, Anna, is missing and you are in possession of the only clues.
The aim of the game is to piece together the last things she did and find her before it is too late.
The gameplay is based around a linear narrative, but it’s structured in such a way that you feel like you are in control of the story and the role you play in it.
You have to read Anna’s messages and rummage through her photos and vlogs – some of which have been corrupted and need to be unscrambled, which makes for interesting little mini-games. As you investigate, you receive messages from Anna’s estranged boyfriend, her best friend and some men she has been chatting to on Spark, a fictional dating app. You get to choose your responses to them from a selection of options to try to get as much information out of them as possible – to figure out what has happened to her and if you can trust them at all.
For a long time, the game is ambiguous about the nature of Anna’s disappearance. There is plenty of speculation about whether someone in her life could have hurt her – perhaps the boyfriend she hasn’t spoken to in weeks. But there are clues in the game that suggest she might have fallen victim to something more sinister. Perhaps something supernatural.
Simulacra is an incredibly well-constructed game. Everything about it is believable. You are fully immersed in the story. The characters are very well written and talk realistically, which results in a noticeable emotional impact when you read their messages. The way these conversations make you instinctively trust or dislike someone can have an impact on the way you play the game.
The way Anna’s phone is built is also brilliant. There are only eight apps on her phone, but they all feel like real software you would use.
It’s a very addictive game. This is partially down to the tantalising mysteriousness of the situation. It is also, in part, due to the fact that you’re allowed to rummage through someone else’s phone. That, in itself, is something of an indulgence. It’s fun to notice yourself, at first, not invade Anna’s privacy too much but, as you get into the meat of the game, get increasingly comfortable digging through her history.
Simulacra is a game with a simple premise – a girl is missing, you have her phone, and you need to find her – that is excellently executed.