The Simulacra series is a great example of how mobile gaming can be a perfect marriage of form and delivery. And yet, for some reason, I played the first game on PS4, finding the experience very odd while trying to be immersed in the virtual phone displayed on my TV screen. Having learned from this less than optimal experience, I made sure to play through the recently released sequel on my smartphone instead.
The original Simulacra saw you exploring the phone of a missing person and recreating their past digital life through unlocking apps and investigating their social media presence. Focusing on the darker side of dating apps and the intrusion of a demonic virus (the Simulacra of the title), it was a revolutionary mobile game that has spawned a vast number of imitators. Now a true successor has been released and takes on a more recent development in digital culture. Rather than an individual’s personal digital self, the target is the influencer and their reliance on algorithms and exposure. This welcome shift of emphasis means that the game doesn’t feel like a rehash of the original.
Graphically, Simulacra 2 is effectively designed, but obviously nothing to phone home about. Mimicking a phone screen and user interface on an actual phone ensures that the game feels incredibly immersive. The familiarity of the standard phone interface also ensures that it is quick and easy to navigate between the various apps and files stored on the digital phone – although I did occasionally wish there was an inbuilt notepad as having to write some things down on paper felt like an odd intrusion of a pre-digital age.
The audio is mostly atmospheric music to set the mood with the exception of voice acting. This was of variable quality with some characters being highly convincing whilst others veered towards the cheesier B-movie end of things. Given the setting, however, I didn’t find this to be too big a distraction.
One of the main developments between Simulacra 2 and the previous game is the choice of character to play as. This adds a greater element of replayability (although the alternative endings of the original already helped with this) as you get to explore the phone through the eyes of either a cynical detective or a journalist. While the narrative is essentially the same, the two approaches feel different enough to warrant at least a second play. I found the journalist option to be the more natural, as the idea of liaising with the cop felt more organic and helped to stagger the delivery of crucial investigative material throughout the story.
Simulacra 2 takes a few hours to complete, so there is plenty of game for the price. If you do feel like consuming it in bursts, there are fairly regular autosave points, which was particularly useful as my experience did include a few crashes – my less than stellar Android phone could also be to blame. At time of review there was no scene skip option while replaying, which means having to sit through a lot of the same material to get to an option to take a different branch of the narrative.