Simulacra is the latest game from Wales Interactive, who have been responsible for some of the more interesting FMV style games to be released on console and PC over the last few years, with Late Shift being a favourite here at Thumbstix. Although Simulacra has been about on mobile devices for a while now, it gained its console and PC release in December 2019. It is a story about exploring the mobile phone of a missing female (Anna) and your subsequent events in trying to find out just where she is and what has happened to her. The phone in question has a plethora of apps, including email, messaging, social media and dating apps, all of which will contain information on events building up to her disappearance. Along the journey you will also have various text chats with people in Anna’s life.
As soon as Simulacra begins you know you are in for a spooky ride, with the developers advising you that “the game is best played with headphones” meaning there are some jump scares on the way, and I wasn’t disappointed with them either. However, these tend to peter out quite quickly, leaving your character to concentrate on their task in hand, whilst completely ignoring the spooky stuff altogether. Which was weird. The use of headphones does also reveal the brilliant subtlety of the audio design, with knocks and breaths adding a lot more creepiness than the jump scares.
Anyone who has ever done a bit of social media stalking will feel right at home with the main gameplay. Although it is quite linear, it is decently varied, starting out with a gallery search to find out Anna’s cats birthday, which is used as a passcode, and then later searching a website in order to contact a female who is the unknowing “other woman”. There are also text passages to decipher and images to piece together. Putting together the clues will allow the story to continue, which then usually is marked by another conversation with one of the two men in Anna’s life. Firstly Greg, the ex-boyfriend with a temper, and secondly, Taylor, the dating app friend with a shady history. The story plays the two off against each other and insinuates that either could be responsible. Except, you know the spooky stuff means that its probably not. Your relationships with the two men, and your subsequent decisions will give you one of five possible endings, with a new game plus mode – which quickens the text chat – to allow you to change things around to see the different ones.
There is a lot to like – not love – about Simulacra, but to me one thing was wrong. The voice acting and dialogue, apart from Anna, was just too cheesy and poorly acted. Some of the on-screen dialogue was misspelt, which I think is one of the laziest mistakes to make – unless it was deliberate because real people can’t spell! A lot of the conversations were also too long, and as a quick reader I would have preferred to speed these up, as they did just become boring. When there was dialogue to listen to, it was also fairly amateurish and didn’t make the characters believable. In my mind, there was too much talking and not enough doing. This was even more frustrating as the game does ramp up the tension in your goal of finding Anna before it’s too late. I therefore found the pacing issues of long, drawn out text conversations with Taylor quite painful, and may have added to my final decisions on how I dealt with him, and therefore influenced the final ending!
And the ending, well it left me a bit flat, but again this may be a personal issue, as I detest the real life narrative that it relates to – no spoilers – the impact of technology in society. Maybe the other endings may have been more satisfactory for me – but then I would have to replay the whole game again, which is something that I’m not sure I have the time and patience for, given that I didn’t love my initial playthrough. It’s not that I didn’t like Simulacra, as it does a lot of interesting things, especially at the start. There is just too much I personally didn’t like about it.