Halloween 2020 Gaming Special, Day 5: “Simulacra 2” (PC)

Kaigan Games‘ narrative thriller Simulacra 2 brings even more social media horror in smartphone form.

Simulacra 2 (PC)
(Malaysia 2017, developer/publisher: Kaigan Games, platforms: PC, iOS, Android)

A reporter/rookie detective is given the smartphone of influencer Maya Crane who died a mysterious death, only to find out that there’s much more at stake in the social media world than likes and followers.

An influencer’s life and death
The first game already dealt with social media in the way how people present themselves and how they interact, questioning the way how trustworthy these virtual personas are. The sequel takes this one step further by showing a world in which Maya was part of a group of influencers who all have their agendas: Some are in it for money, while others want to express their feelings or crave for acceptance and recognition.

Making people buy in vegan life styles, promoting cosmetics, or giving motivational speeches are all ways for them to stay relevant in the ever-changing world of social media where likes and followers can turn into haters and trolls. With people buying products or attending motivational seminars becoming sick or losing money, it’s a tough business. Even personal life stories turn out to be fabrications to sell more, as being online 24/7 and coping with the pressure of meeting expectations of fans has an effect on each influencer’s psyche and private life.

A different kind of investigation
Unfortunately, the focus on the “social media/influencers are bad” idea becomes rather preachy and tiresome after a while. As browsing through social media channels with new posts and comments is sometimes crucial to discovering clues, one soon understands how these people work in the influencer scene/business, making them memorable and annoying at the same time.

It’s not only influencers one gets in touch with, as there are other contacts, the most important one being detective Murilo from the Department of Obscure Phenomena (short: D.O.O.P.) who helps out in the investigation. It’s here that some of the much-needed humor comes in (although the motivational speeches and a rap song by one very obnoxious influencer are excellent, too), because Murilo doesn’t only play the misunderstood cop, but as someone who can’t seem to handle new technology, constantly having trouble with his cellphone or shooting videos.

Scary phone time
With all sorts of posts, emails, and messages to read, in addition to watching videos that are nothing more than fashion/cosmetics/lifestyle promo material, it’s easy to forget that this is a thriller with horror and sci-fi elements. Like its predecessor, it takes a while before the scarejumps and creepiness set in, even more so because of the sheer number of texts to read. But as one soon learns about the Rippleman legend and it becomes more difficult to trust the influencer group’s statements, things start to get really interesting.

Of course there are again sudden picture and sound distortions and the phone behaves stranger the more one progresses, turning even a phone call into a jumpscare. However, the game works best when making the player dig deep into each character’s personal history and the secrets they hide. Unexpected twists and turns, new revelations and paranoia culminate in a very trippy ending or rather endings depending on how much the investigation yielded.

Digging (into) social media
The gameplay is similar to the first game, as one reconstructs past events by interrogating suspects and finding new contacts via chats, phone calls or emails. This time, however, one collects evidence by capturing it with the special police app Warden. Scanning pieces of evidence that can be found in posts, comments, online articles, emails, chats, and photos are saved for later use, as presenting these clues unlocks more dialogue options or decrypts corrupted data like videos and chat histories.

This investigation method can become rather tedious, though, as too much time is spent on browsing through posts in order to find just the right section in social media or online article texts. In addition, the national police catalogue allows the player to search for cases or persons, which is a nice change from rather long chat sessions.

Despite using the same apps again and again, boredom seldom sets in and one usually knows what the next objective is, as a log helps to keep track of what one should do. These tasks don’t often have to be done in a specific order, and if one gets stuck, one can consult the log, as it gives clues that can be unlocked until the final solution is presented.

Life-changing decisions
Various decisions have to be made during the investigation, a few of which are time-sensitive replies during chats. As it’s not often clear what the consequences are and there’s only one automatic savegame slot, this can become rather frustrating. Some of the decisions result in alternative story paths and endings. Those who want to try out different ways can do so after completing the game, as all the unlocked and locked narrative paths are shown in a tree diagram. With the fast mode that allows speeding through conversations or sections one has already experienced, replaying the game is much easier this time around.

One shouldn’t expect a long playtime for each session, though, as the first playthrough takes around 5 hours. Choosing another character won’t change much of the gameplay or storyline, as one is still in contact with Murilo, thus unlocking only slightly different dialogue options. These usually have something to do with the sort of evidence one has collected and shown so far, while one also has to be careful how one approaches each suspect, as this can also result in different outcomes.

Modern technological advances and acting mishaps
The 4K video quality is great, with the various influencer photos and videos perfectly capturing the sense of making money with pretty pictures. Acting skills aren’t particularly great, although this might come down to the exaggerated portrayal of the social media celebrities.

Still, there’s only so much overacting one can take with whining and fake smiling, even though this is probably the effect most of the characters should have on the player. But it makes it rather difficult to feel any empathy for them, making some scary sequences unintentionally funny.

While there isn’t any accompanying music, there are a couple of songs that are unlocked the more one progresses in the game, and these are of a very high quality, both in vocals and instruments. But atmospherically, it’s the distorted sounds, voices, and other creepy effects that make certain parts difficult to play alone in the dark.

The same but different game
Simulacra 2 continues the phone thriller/horror mix of its predecessor, but it’s much more focused on social media, which makes it more relevant, but also more predictable and rather didactic at times. There are still enough scary moments, but these only occur much later, after the player has familiarized himself or herself with memorable but also quite annoying characters. While the gameplay still relies on browsing through posts and being in chat rooms, it’s much more varied thanks to police apps. It’s also much more accessible thanks to a hint system. With multiple endings and a narrative path tree that shows how to change the story, the game remains highly replayable and comes recommended to anyone who thought the One Missed Call movies were missed opportunities.

Score: 8/10

Buy the game for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the iOS version on
the iTunes store

Buy the Android version on
the GooglePlay store

Official Website

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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