Detective Murilo suspects foul play in the mysterious death of social media influencer Maya Crane. Fearing the response he might get from his colleagues for his outlandish theories on the case, he enlists the help of the player instead. Risking his position, he compromises evidence and assigns you, playing as either his protégé or a thrill-seeker in search of their next big scoop, to investigate Maya’s phone. It doesn’t take long for you to discover that the circumstances around her death are not only beyond strange, but potentially paranormal.

SIMULACRA 2

Kaigan Games
PC, Nintendo Switch
January 16, 2020

Sidequest was provided with a copy of SIMULACRA 2 for PC in exchange for a fair and honest review.

SIMULACRA 2 is an FMV horror game that has you thoroughly explore a woman’s phone to get to the bottom of what led up to her death. Gameplay is entirely framed through this phone. Like an actual smartphone, you can send text messages, make calls, and browse through apps. You must collect clues by thoroughly perusing Maya’s social media accounts, reading through chat logs, and recovering files. The “Warden” app stores your collected clues, features a case directory directly linked to the police department’s archives, and is also your main channel for contacting Murilo. If you feel stuck at any point, SIMULACRA is also generous in providing tips or hints on what to do.

A text chat log with Detective Murilo. Murilo's messages read in this order: "I need the case re-opened. By force if necessary. So I borrowed the only evidence I need. The victim's phone. Which you have right now." Your character responds: "Is this a dead person's phone?!". Murilo responds: "It's grim and it's weird I know. But it's effective. The 'investigation was a whole load of incompetent police work." From SIMULACRA 2, Kaigan Games, 2020.

As an FMV game, SIMULACRA 2 makes use of its found footage element through live-action produced clips and actors. Similar to Her Story, another FMV, found-footage-styled game, you look through a database of video and assorted media to piece together a bigger story. Like the Orwell games, in which you play a government worker spying on citizens through an invasive surveillance system, you must also take risks when it comes to clicking links or even typing in forms to get any piece of information that may be crucial to lead to the next steps. Although it would be logical to gather as much as you can before drawing conclusions, there is a possibility that the wrong leads can instead result in a negative outcome.

SIMULACRA 2 shares a similar premise with the first game, in which you are forced to explore a woman’s phone to figure out what had happened to her. Murilo is also a returning character, suggesting the two games are in the same universe. Sara is Missing, one of Kaigan Games’ first projects, pretty much laid the foundation that would lead to the SIMULACRA series in an effort to explore the horrors of technology and voyeurism in our digital culture.

A pop up window overlaying a blurred backdrop of a social media feed. Text above it reads: "CLUE FOUND." Text in the window reads: "Mina D'Silva. Comments from Mina's post. 'Whoa, didn't know you were in that crash! Or that you knew Erica. Small world.' '...Funny though, they always said the driver got away.' 'Uhh but Mina's saying they were caught...'" Below, a description: "Mina's Tragedy. Mina reveals that a personal tragedy has been a major source of inspiration for her music, but some of her fans are doubting this." A close prompt is below. From SIMULACRA 2, Kaigan Games, 2020.

On the Sara is Missing itch.io page, Kaigan Games states, “We store so much information about ourselves on our mobile devices that deducing what we really are like in real life becomes as simple as tapping on a screen.” This is especially poignant for SIMULACRA 2, which revolves around the impact of influencer culture and the potentially negative ramifications it has on both the influencer and their consumers. For instance, going through Maya’s texts, you will discover that she has amassed obsessive fans and stalkers who have sent her hateful messages. You can examine the negative impact it had on her mental health and whether or not it has any connection to her death.

Influencers, like celebrities, revolve their livelihoods around being seemingly transparent about who they are. But at what point does it become voyeuristic and too intrusive? Are you any different or worse than their consumers? And should you be held up to scrutiny, literally looking through a deceased person’s phone? Where is the line crossed?

SIMULACRA 2‘s simulation of what the average smartphone is capable of is really impressive. However, the game has a few issues that can be jarring or mood-breaking with its inconsistent tone, especially since it depends on a serious, heavy premise. There are no jumpscares per se, but several stylistic effects to create false corruptions and suggest something creepy is happening quickly got old for me. The game is also quite huge in file size, so at times when a video was artifacting or going through a buffer effect, I could not tell if the game was doing it on purpose or if it was a consequence of poor optimization.

There are clear times when SIMULACRA 2 wants to be funny, but others where it was accidentally so, with inconsistent writing and poor performances from the actors. At times, the game just feels dated and cheesy. But as with a lot of FMV games, some cheese is to be expected.

A video player shows a young woman looking distressed, staring at the viewer, in a dimly lit room. The video if artifacting and appears corrupted. From SIMULACRA 2, Kaigan Games, 2020.

It is worth pointing out that a lot of Kaigan Games’ works revolve around a woman going missing or being found dead, so I’m hoping that they will at least do something a little different plot-wise if they intend on continuing this found footage formula. This context that makes the subject matter a little troubling in spite of its earnestness, and I personally feel SIMULACRA 2’s premise could have been more creative, instead of constantly rehashing otherwise meaningful themes centered on a woman’s distress from a third-person perspective. Murilo’s incompetencies are funny, but become alienating when you have to confront Maya’s dead body immediately after. To be fair, this is an issue not entirely specific to SIMULACRA 2, but rather of many games in a similar genre. Other FMV mystery games like Erica and Her Story are other examples that could be re-examined with this in mind.

SIMULACRA 2 is also currently inefficient for replayability. For a game that recommends multiple playthroughs to experience multiple outcomes, strategic saving in SIMULACRA 2 is currently impossible. The game currently offers no means of having multiple save states, only allowing one, and starting a new game will wipe your one and only save state. In addition, you cannot freely save, instead depending on autosaving at certain points of progress. A second playthrough means starting a whole new game, even though you may already know what specific decisions you must make at a specific point to branch off and differentiate your playthrough.

A bright, overexposed image of a mobile phone recedes into a completely solid black background. The phone's wallpaper of smiling, young woman holding flowers is faintly visible. From SIMULACRA 2, Kaigan Games, 2020.

For fans of intrigue that can get a little bit silly, especially when it comes to FMV games, SIMULACRA 2 will be right up your alley. But for anyone who would like to play a mystery that is played straight, this game might be hard to take seriously. SIMULACRA 2 is otherwise another interesting, decently innovative take on our digital culture, and for that, it is something worth investigating.

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