App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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There are few mobile horror games that are actually scary, but Simulacra is one of them. I’m certainly not a buff on the genre, but the way that Kaigan Games was able to slowly ramp up an unsettling tension while you perused a stranger’s phone makes it one of the most memorably creepy games I’ve ever played. Simulacra 2 trades in some of the same tricks that made the first game so great, but it also struggles to tell a story worth caring about.
Just like the first game, Simulacra 2 is all about investigating a woman by poking around on her mobile phone. You learn very quickly in this game though that the reason you’re investigating Maya is because she’s been murdered, and you’re a detective from a specialized department on the police force that investigates “obscure phenomena.”
To figure out what happened, you need to do all kinds of things, like dig through her old social media posts and talk with her friends via text. To help you piece together what’s going on, you have a special police app called WARDEN that can recover corrupt data and also give you access to your boss, Detective Murilo. Whenever you find anything significant, you end up using it to unlock new data or talking with Murilo about it to get new objectives to complete.
Missing the mystery
Without delving too deep into the narrative (which is definitely the driving force of the game), Simulacra 2 revolves around Maya’s group of influencer friends and a deal that didn’t go the way they expected. As a result, a lot of your time in this game involves investigating Maya’s colleagues and figuring out whether they might be connected with her death in some way.
When I say a lot of your time is dedicated to this, I mean the overwhelming majority of Simulacra 2 consists of choosing preset replies to text messages between Maya’s three partners. As you do this, prompts may appear to let you add snippets of their conversation to WARDEN to use as evidence later, but this hardly feels like investigating or solving puzzles. Where Simulacra relished in having you piece together clues by sifting through photos and posts, Simulacra 2 is always overeager to hand over answers to you to keep things moving along.
In addition to feeling less mysterious than the previous game, Simulacra 2 also feels way less personal. All of your discussions are around the business of being a social media influencer, and all of the evidence you sift through is found on this game’s equivalent of Instagram and Twitter. Simulacra 2 tries to inject personality into the game through some character moments with Detective Murilo, but they do little to save you from the self-absorbed trio of suspects you’re forced to chat with constantly.
As a horror game, there are moments where Simulacra 2 delivers some scares, but these mostly depend on the same tricks that the first game used. In addition to being familiar, the scare tactics here are also more ham-fisted. Between the unlikeable characters and underwhelming horror elements, I had a hard time emotionally investing in Simulacra 2, which made this short narrative adventure feel like it was dragging on for much longer than it really was.
The bottom line
A big part of what made Simulacra so unnerving was its intimacy. You spent lots of time in that game looking at things you weren’t supposed to see. It felt wrong, especially when it started leading you down a dark and scary road. Simulacra 2 abandons all of this to tell a clumsy cautionary tale that feels just as artificial as the social media lens it’s filtered through. It’s an utter disappointment.