App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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Simulacra is my absolute favorite horror mobile game. It cleverly tells its story through a phone interface, which makes for a surprisingly immersive experience that you can play on the go. Simulacra: Pipe Dreams is a kind of follow up to Simulacra that shoots for scares while satirizing the current state of the mobile games market. There are moments where this combination really works well, but for the most part, Pipe Dreams doesn't quite reach the same highs as its predecessor did.
Unlike Simulacra and a lot of other games that use a phone interface to tell a story, Pipe Dreams isn't a “found phone” game. Instead, you are playing as the owner of a phone who is friends with Teddy, a guy who is down in the dumps about his current life situation and has come across a mobile game to use as an escape from his worries.
Since there's no mystery to what your phone contains, Pipe Dreams is very much a game about conversation. Most of the gameplay revolves around you exchanging text messages with Teddy. Very quickly into the game though, you'll discover that things aren't quite right. Phone glitches, creepy sounds, and curious responses to your texts let you know that Pipe Dreams is more than just a game about talking, but it's up to you to try and figure out what it all means.
Piss away your time
In addition to the conversation piece of Pipe Dreams, Teddy also insists that you join him in playing his new favorite mobile game, Flapee Bird. As its name suggests, Flapee Bird is a parody of the surprisingly popular Flappy Bird that was seemingly on everyone's phone back in 2014. In this game, you're still piloting a bird that you have to tap to pilot through pipes, though in Flapee Bird, your bird pees as it flaps.
As on-the-nose as this parody seems on its face, the more you play Flappee Bird, the more Pipe Dreams layers on more subtle (and not so subtle) critiques of the modern landscape of mobile games. Between fake ads, outlandish fake monetization schemes, and a few other, clever tricks, the “game within a game” parts of Pipe Dreams feel pretty well thought out. It’s just a shame that this fake game isn’t actually particularly fun to play.
As good as the satire in Pipe Dreams can be, it doesn’t always fire on all cylinders. Even when it is though, you also have to contend with the fact that this is also a game that trades in horror. At any given time, the game is trying to thread the needle between being cheeky and scary, and it just doesn’t do it very well.
It also doesn’t help that Pipe Dreams is a game based around your text conversation with one specific person. Part of the fun of games that emulate a full-on smartphone interface is that there are things you can dig into and discover, or settings you can fiddle with to solve puzzles. Pipe Dreams ditches all of that and instead presents a mediocre mini-game and texting back and forth using canned dialogue responses with a guy who doesn’t seem particularly interesting.
The bottom line
Where Simulacra was a found phone game that kept you guessing, Simulacra: Pipe Dreams is a far less mysterious—and subsequently less interesting—experience. The mix between humorous satire and horror in the game just doesn’t gel well, and the lack of discovery on top of this makes for an experience that feels more like a chore to play through than it should.