Perhaps it is fate. Indeed, it seems like I was bound to review this game at some point or another. You know, it’s funny. The first time I got to see something developed by Kaigan Games was when I got to play Sara is Missing. Incidentally, Night Mind made a video discussing the inconsistencies in the plot and some of the gripes I’ve also had.
Of course, the premise of the game is interesting in its own right. It’s a horror story that happens entirely on a lost phone. Unfortunately, the rough execution of the project overall ended up dragging the project back. The developers didn’t give up, though. They took a lot of the feedback they’ve had and made a new installment known as SIMULACRA.
Nowadays, we find ourselves with this new series of “Phone Horror” games where we face an unknown entity and try to solve the disappearance of people. This review will be a super special double feature where I review both SIMULACRA and SIMULACRA 2. I will gather my thoughts about both games and I’ll also provide some long-overdue feedback.
Welcome to Bagogames’ review of the SIMULACRA series.
SIMULACRA – The Monster That Lurks in your Phone
The first game in the series could be considered a reboot of Sara Is Missing. In it, the player finds a phone on their front door. After being treated to a jumpscare (we’ll address them later), the player sees a video message. The video is made by the owner of the phone: Anna. She is missing and some people are looking for her.
Added to this, the phone continues to act strangely while you dive into it. From showing some corrupted pictures that need to be fixed to asking uncomfortable questions. The player ends up finding themselves in a dramatic situation where the life of Anna is at stake.
Since this phone belongs to someone else, you can snoop into her social media. Yes, that means you’ll have immediate access to her e-mail, photo gallery, and texts. However, things take a slight turn when you pay attention to the smaller details.
Why would someone like Anna (who is in a relationship, by the way) have a dating app installed? Why does she seem so distant from her mother? Who is this creeper that’s constantly sexually harassing Anna in her texts? There’s only one way to find out and it’s by unraveling the timeline of events through a thorough investigation of Anna’s phone.
When Horror Becomes Commentary
Of course, SIMULACRA also has a message to say about the things we do with our smartphones. In the end, we find solace in our phones and they become our personal treasure boxes for information. So, what happens when you invade someone else’s phone; get access to their secrets and friends; and even mess with the phone itself to unlock more personal aspects of the owner?
Yes, you NEED to do those things in order to progress the story. However, the game wastes no time in placing you in circumstances where decisions matter. Of course, even if your decisions are good in nature, they may not lead to the best possible outcome.
Being a short game, SIMULACRA offers the opportunity for multiple playthroughs. Unfortunately, when you start piecing things together you might notice some details that seem off. One of the biggest examples being the timing of some of the photos that were taken. The timing on them simply doesn’t make sense when compared to other photos.
This can be an immersion breaker for a lot of players. The more you delve into the phone, the more inconsistencies you’ll notice. But still, I believe that you’ll get your money’s worth if it weren’t for some other quirks that I find a bit annoying… We’ll get to those soon, don’t worry.
SIMULACRA 2 – A Missing Influencer; A Man with a Mission
The second game expands on some of the concepts explored in the first game. For example, we learn in the first game of the Simulacra. In the first game, you learn that the Simulacra’s objective is to assimilate victims that frequent the fictional social media app “Spark”.
In the second game, we learn that there are actually multiple Simulacrum created by an organization called Gateway 31. The Simulacra in the sequel is known as The Rippleman and it uses Kimera to provide Influencers an offer that puts other people’s lives at stake. However, it’s pretty tempting because it also gives them a massive following with none of the baggage of “Haters” and “Trolls”.
In SIMULACRA 2, we get to see a bunch of pricks influencers who have a bit of a shady past. I mean, one of them (A hatable guy called Rex) runs a pyramid scheme, for crying out loud. I have the feeling that this was a deliberate choice from the development team as well.
Getting to Know and Hate Influencers
See, in SIMULACRA 2, you really don’t see anyone as a “Good guy”. No, not even the detective you work with from the start. The game actively works against your best interests. That way, you end up making emotional decisions rather than logical ones. Once that happens, you end up screwing yourself out of a good ending.
Personally, I respect this decision. It encourages multiple playthroughs and it does build up the Simulacra as a mastermind that can fool gullible players. Some players might see it as a beginner’s trap, but I will give credit where it’s due.
The Simulacra in this iteration of the game is even more brutal than the last one. The victim of the case we’re investigating is brutally murdered by The Rippleman. The focus is basically doing our best to try and find the person who took the deal rather than focusing on who committed the crime.
In summation, I think that the stories in both games are pretty good. Both offer antagonists that are creative on their own. Not only that, but they also provide enough of a dramatic effect that can feel natural. However, multiple playthroughs can break your immersion in the game itself.
Unfortunately, the way your experience will go will also REALLY depend on the platform you’re playing.
Tangent – The Switch Version
A few months ago, the development team was kind enough to provide us with a review key of the Switch version of the game. However, the build that was provided to us was too hopelessly broken that I downright refused to extend my thoughts on it. In turn, this led me to try the experience with the PC and Mobile versions of SIMULACRA 1 & 2 instead and bought the Switch version in a separate account.
While I do applaud the development team’s efforts to bring the horror into other systems; there really was a lot of wasted potential in the Switch version. For example, they could’ve made the Switch itself be a (gigantic) phone once you turn the game to Tabletop mode.
I mean, that would also imply that the Switch version provides us with a FUNCTIONAL touch system. Which, again, it really lacked. No joke, I spent a lot of time struggling to use the touch function in a game where touch controls are basically how you play the game.
Clunky and Unresponsive
It’s even more annoying to play the game on a gamepad or with the JoyCons. Mainly because once you get to those, it makes something as simple and mundane as typing on a keyboard a troublesome process. The footage speaks for itself, folks:
Your eyes aren’t deceiving you; this is me painstakingly trying to use the touch functionality. The game just kept backing out for no reason whatsoever even though I was trying to pick a choice. So, imagine what happens when we get to a sequence where you’re pressed against time like in that annoying section where you must answer questions correctly before a factory reset.
Of course, that isn’t all for when I played the Switch version of both SIMULACRA and its sequel both games kept on crashing on me. So, by all means, the version you should be playing is the PC or mobile version.
Of course, the thing that really bothers me the most is the overabundance of unnecessary jumpscares. See, Nick Nocturne did argue that building suspense is VITAL for effective horror. Messing with the player’s psyche can actually get you invested into the plot while making you dread the unknown.
In both SIMULACRA 1 & 2, you get to stare at a background behind the phone. The light constantly flickers behind the phone; you can hear subtle noises like knocking on a door and in some instances, you can see something passing by the corner of your eye. Of course, when all of that buildup ends up with no payoff, it really becomes pointless.
So, I think that SOME jumpscares can make sense. Like, for example, when you suddenly lose control of your phone and see the corpse of the victim opening their eyes before abruptly booting you back to the home screen.
However, I also don’t like how there are times where you just get a “BOO” moment which happens in both games. The first game does present this problem more so than the second one. I believe that if the development team focused on making the buildup leading to a payoff that makes sense, the jumpscares would be justified.
The Jarring Voice Acting
Another thing that can turn some players off is the acting and the delivery of some voice lines and scenes. Most of the acting in both games feels heavily scripted. Not only that, but some of the actors seem to be given a pretty lousy direction.
I mean, there are segments where the player gets called out of nowhere by some of the contacts on the phone. That’s nice and all, but you can’t even talk to them back because there is no way to actually speak through the phone. This makes the phone segments to feel tacked on because the whole thing happens in a smartphone.
Let me tell you one thing about me, I barely get any calls in my damned cellphone, to begin with. My contacts mostly text me and barely even send me any voice messages. So, I believe that the amount of voice messages and calls these guys get (influencers or otherwise) is unrealistic in and of itself.
Maybe if they also provided us with the ability to have a voice actor to represent the player and let us choose responses during the voice calls rather than have no choice at all and the characters yell at you like you’re being an asshole, it would feel more natural.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and you get to listen to a pre-recorded line that’s very noticeable rather than contact from someone else’s phone. However, I will also say that when the actors are good, they downright steal the show.
Detective GODDAMNED Murilo
This character is downright amazing in SIMULACRA 2. Detective Murilo always acts according to his character and always seems to be invested in the role he is given. Added to this, he also successfully gives the impression that he’s a grumpy old man that REALLY doesn’t know how a smartphone works.
He often is shown throughout SIMULACRA 2 incompetently handling his phone while trying to contact you. Sometimes he even makes calls on the player on accident or he tries to use the camera function and accidentally messages you instead.
I definitely found Detective Murilo to be a really great character that fit the role he was given.
Anna, The Missing Vlogger
Another great character is Anna from SIMULACRA. She uses vlogs to talk about her daily life and the events leading up to her encounter with the Simulacra. Her dialogue during these vlogs feels much more natural compared to the forced voice acting that’s plastered throughout the game.
She grabs the role convincingly, even more so than the victim from the second game: Maya. When Maya is supposed to look distressed, she often looks like she doesn’t know what she should be scared of. In the case of Anna, she does realize why she should be scared and she even tries to warn the player about it.
Those are the few instances where the acting does become a highlight. As you can see, it’s pretty few and far between.
The Slow and Boring Pace
Another thing that irks me about both games is that the pacing is horribly SLOW. This game really wants you to dig through social media, messages, and more to get the full picture. That’d be cool if it weren’t for the fact that its literal mountains upon mountains of text that you have to pay attention to.
I get it, it’s supposed to be slow. But slow doesn’t justify the fact that it can fail to engage some players. Or, in the case of SIMULACRA, you can have multiple instances where players are chatting with someone, only to be artificially stopped because they didn’t progress the story the game wanted them to.
A horror game is always meant to be engaging. And, I’m sorry, but if the only way you can keep me engaged is through jumpscares that don’t make sense; I’m bound to shut the game off and play something else.
Overall, I think that SIMULACRA 1 & 2 is a good series of games that does try its hand at an interesting concept. Both games are fairly cheap on phones and PC so you’ll be able to get a bang for your buck and get a fun horror experience.
However, they also lack certain aspects that would make them great horror games in and off themselves. For one, they keep trying to rely on jumpscares to keep the player engaged. Not only that, but the amount of text expected to be read by the player and the slow pace can kill the immersion quite easily.
I’d love to see more effective implementations of the SIMULACRA, social media, and phone functions. I believe that the development team is onto something when it comes to creative design for horror. Also, Rex is a prick and he should be burned.
What do you think about our SIMULACRA 1 & 2 review? Do you like the idea of a horror game taking place on a phone? Do you own any of the games on your phone, PC, or consoles? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Want to read another review? Check out our Disaster Report 4 review.
SIMULACRA 1 & 2
SIMULACRA 1 & 2 is a good series of games that does try its hand at an interesting concept. While both games succeed in some aspects, they also lack in others.
- It explores the concept of horror in a cellphone quite well
- The atmosphere can be excellent at times
- Some of the deliveries in the voice acting are excellent
- The Simulacrum can downright play you like a fiddle and trick you into making the wrong choices
- The Phone Call sections are unnecessary
- The acting is forced and can break the immersion
- Jumpscares that don't make sense
- The game's blunders with pacing and progression keep it from being an engaging and enjoyable title.
- Rex exists (SIMULACRA 2)