Adventure Gamers Awards
NOTE: SIMULACRA has been rated and evaluated separately.
The burgeoning phone sim subgenre is one that really only seems to lend itself to very limited, rather passive gameplay. The majority of player activity consists of scanning personal details for clues to enable you to unlock more personal details in order to ultimately find the phone’s lost owner, or some version of the same. What’s interesting, then, is how Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story and SIMULACRA take such a similar premise and develop it into two gaming experiences that, while not quite worlds apart, are at least different enough that each one offers something unique from the other.
Developed by French studio Accidental Queens, Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story is the spiritual sequel to A Normal Lost Phone, meaning the two games do not follow the same plot or characters. The story sees you, the player, finding an abandoned phone lying on a train station bench and must now attempt to locate its owner by digging through text messages, emails, and image galleries. After discovering a frantic string of texts from Laura’s boyfriend who’s been desperately trying to reach her for days, the mystery of the eponymous young woman’s disappearance begins to unfold.
This game, available both on PC and mobile devices but optimally experienced on the latter for greater realism, sees you learning about some pretty serious issues that Laura had to deal with during the last few months saved in her message history. Nosily invading her privacy like this is never fully justified narratively, but look past the ethical aspect and before it’s all over, the designers have woven topics like bullying, isolation, and mental and physical abuse together to tell a mature story of one woman finding her inner strength to put an end to it.
Also following up their debut investigative phone title, the freeware release Sara Is Missing, Kaigan Games brings its first commercial offering SIMULACRA to PCs, phones and tablets. This too is a standalone game, another spiritual sequel, so no prior knowledge of the first is necessary to enjoy this one. Here again players take on the role of a protagonist who finds a phone, this time mysteriously abandoned right on their own doorstep. This isn’t so much a “lost phone” game as it is a “deliberately delivered phone” game. Who left the phone and for what reason is something that is discovered over the course of the story.
As the outset, it quickly becomes clear that Anna, the phone’s owner, has vanished without a trace, with her boyfriend Greg and best friend Ashley sending messages looking for her. But SIMULACRA soon evolves into more of a supernatural thriller, with some slight horror elements – jump scares, creepy noises, disquieting visuals. The game certainly seems to target a slightly different demographic, as it becomes more about the search for the missing girl rather than unearthing what happened to her in the past.
While the two approaches certainly share elements in common, Another Lost Phone is very focused on examining the written contents of Laura’s phone to figure out a series of passwords and other information to access locked applications. Each app that is unlocked gives new clues toward the next password that must be cracked, and each reveals further details of what happened to the missing young woman. In this way, Laura’s Story is fairly linear; the developers are leading you down a predetermined path, though it is up to you to put together the pieces of the puzzle and get the full picture.
While never frustratingly difficult, this game nonetheless offers some clever takes on the “password required” trope. Laura’s email and text messages are immediately available to read, but before you can even attempt to access her separate PowerJob instant messenger archives, internet connectivity has to be restored to the phone. Finding the right network, as well as the password for it, becomes the first task. In an interesting later twist on a similar puzzle, you have to match up pictures of Laura’s family, friends, and coworkers with their names, requiring some pretty detailed gumshoeing through all of her communiques.
SIMULACRA handles things a bit differently. Starting up the game brings you to Anna’s lock screen, and without the proper password there seems to be no way to even access the phone. Attempting to do something to get started causes the phone to suddenly buzz and crackle, with the image distorting and letters spelling out “Help me” appearing on-screen. Over the next few screen-taps, things get even creepier as the phone does what it wants, like all buttons suddenly displaying “Gallery”, leading you to a specific video, all the while emitting otherworldly sounds and feedback. Having no other choice, you get your true introduction to the game when playing the video, which features a frantically sobbing Anna scared out of her mind and begging whoever is watching it NOT to come after her.Continued on the next page...