By Drew D. / March 24th, 2020
|Release Date||January 30, 2020|
|Genre||VN, Horror, Mystery|
|Platform||PC, Android, iOS|
Simulacra 2 is the newest addition in the budding mystery horror franchise by Kaigan Games. After the success of Simulacra, the series continues as players are once again tasked to unravel the truth behind a murder mystery full of distrust, misdirection, and the paranormal.
In Simulacra 2, players take on the role of either a rookie detective or a tabloid writer tasked to investigate a prematurely closed case involving the demise of a social media influencer. This victim, named Maya Crane, is reported dead by heart attack, yet Detective Murilo, your contact within the police bureau, speculates far more is afoot than what is initially concluded. Going behind his superiors’ backs, he recruits the player to dig deeper into what he suspects is foul play and hands over the most critical piece of evidence, Maya’s cellphone. It’s through the cellphone that players search for digital clues, recover, decrypt, and analyze crucial evidence, interrogate Maya’s closest colleagues, and decipher the cryptic trail that leads the players’ decent into the paranormal.
The story of Simulacra 2 is fairly amusing, one which possesses plenty of twists and miscues that will not only keep players guessing, but may lead them to several different endings. Depending on how much evidence is collected, how you interpret and use that evidence, and how you interact with the suspects, players may end up drawing conclusions prematurely or even make false accusations, leading to one of these false endings. I appreciate the similarities here to real investigations and research, as staying away from biases and not jumping to conclusions will allow you to uncover the truth and achieve the real ending. I also appreciate the overall tones the narrative manages to create, instilling perceptible feelings of mystery, urgency, and fright. These tones definitely helped in driving my desire to find out what happened to Maya and how the mystery is finally resolved.
Despite the intrigue of the overall story, the narrative and delivery aren’t perfect. For one, the game can severely drag and test one’s attention. This is mainly due to the writing quality, as I found it to be often bland and listless, only serving to move the plot along. The conversations, too, are mostly stiff with hardly any emotion. The writing for Detective Murilo is an especially egregious example, as his entire script is dry and predictable. His conversations boil down to clichés and uninspired hints at what to do or where to look next. I will say the conversations and arguments with the three suspects are the standouts, as some of the fear, doubt, and suspicion they have for each other is palpable and may lead you to a wrong conclusion should you be swayed. Unfortunately, these conversations can also go in the opposite direction, with over exaggeration and painfully predictable reactions. Overall, I wish the writing were stronger, with more balanced levels of emotion throughout rather than the bland, emotionless text with the occasional overreaction.
As for Simulacra 2’s characters, I found them to be mediocre at best. Rather than fleshed out personalities, they instead have obvious personality types. While this does play into the tonality of the questions you choose to ask and decisions to make regarding your interrogations and possible endings, that’s really the only contribution their character qualities make. And so, I found it difficult to emotionally invest in any of them because of their sheer lack of depth. Rex is supposed to instill feelings of anger and disgust, Mina, initial feelings of sympathy. Yet, the feeling I feel most strongly is indifference. Even after facts come forth and when perspectives of the players should shift regarding these characters, I remained disinterestedly impartial to them, their situations, and any of their possible outcomes. And their personalities remain painfully static, never growing or evolving, nor gaining additional qualities as the story progresses. They remain one-dimensional, which not only comes off as shallow and bland, but their overall effect feels both scripted and empty.
I also took issue regarding the main antagonist of the game, for I was expecting something more plausible. The direction the writers take with the antagonist, though surprising, did take me out the story a bit and I found myself unimpressed. Fortunately, this reveal come towards the end, yet, I am still underwhelmed, given the degree in which the tones of mystery and the aspects of traditional detective work had initially meshed with the horror elements of the plot. Perhaps not playing the first game affects my opinion, as they supposedly share a common antagonist and so perhaps I would have been more receptive to its return. Regardless, I found the fantasy aspect of the antagonist to clash with the realistic qualities of the characters and the narrative up to the point of the reveal.
One last note regarding the characters, I will say their acting isn’t as terrible as I had first feared. I felt the cast had managed to portray their characters beyond the level of budget horror films, so I give them credit. Regarding your decision making, they all convincingly conveyed the characters’ worst aspects, potentially skewing your perceptions of possible evidence and even leading you to form biases. The fact that all three characters have such striking flaws in relation to their character types makes it even easier to assume their guilt. However, this also thoroughly reminded me of my personal disdain for influencers, for just like in real life, these influencers are only capable of spouting complete nonsense. I’m sure many of us get enough of that in real life already. Yet I cannot deny the potential impact of how players play the game and mistakenly draw a wrong conclusion, so I appreciate the misdirection this can cause.
Moving on to gameplay, the entirety of Simulacra 2 occurs through the victim’s cellphone and I found this to be rather clever. Searching through social apps, scouring through Maya’s past SMS and email messages, and recovering her deleted gallery and videos, all of these play into the investigative elements of the game and help to drive the story. Everything works exactly as you would expect it, meaning scrolling through it all, starting conversations, reacting to messages, all in similar fashion to handling a real device. As for its execution, I found much of it well implemented, such as finding hidden clues in available reports or conversation chains. I also liked that vital clues were spread across different formats as well, ranging from deleted pictures to catching people in lies during conversations. These clues you find, in turn, reveal or unlock access to more content to move the story along and this procedural method of revealing the narrative, and thus the mystery, is both solid and impressive.
However, the actual process of finding that one piece of vital information or moving the story forward involves the scouring of tons of fluff content. It’s a lot, to the point of overwhelming, and it’s also all written and designed to be as close to real social media posts, conversations, trolling, and the like. This means much of this fluff is as asinine and brainless as in real life, making me want to do what I normally do when I see it; stop and do something else. Yes, I realize the plot involves internet celebrities and influencers and the themes of the game rely heavily upon this aspect, as do the characters’ background and personalities. Yet, when we’re discussing a traditional game, visual novel, etc., I should want to pursue the story and unravel the mysteries. Simply put, this want of mine to continue playing was interrupted far too often. There’s so much I found to be unnecessary that it overwhelmed and felt distracting. I understood what I was getting myself into from the start and I do believe the creativity and the style were there, but execution in this regard leaves an obnoxious feeling, one that hurts the overall experience.
Fortunately, Simulacra 2 does have a few bright spots that manage to make up for its shortcomings and these can be found in its aesthetic quality. The visual and audio presentation of Simulacra 2 is fantastic, definitely the spotlight stealer and the element of the game that will leave the greatest impact. As the game is played through Maya’s cellphone, everything looks and feels like the real thing. In app interactivity, switching between apps, all of this looks and feels real. As I played this on PC, I can only imagine how much more depth could be gained by playing this on an actual mobile device because it’s that accurate. I also thought the use of videos and audio clips was a unique direction to take. It departs from the traditional usage of static pictures and drawn or rendered assets seen in most other visual novels. However, the use of videos and scripted sound bites also means enduring the acting quality. Still, the innovation here stands out.
Much of the horror is delivered via the visuals and the results are pleasantly frightening. Jump scares are the common method of adding that horror element, yet they aren’t completely random either. Rather, you are provided cues when they may occur, which I felt only makes the scare much more terrifying. The anticipation that comes from these cues, in the forms of static, glitching, or subtle changes in pictures or screens you’ve seen previously, all add to the build before the scare. The soundtrack and use of sound effects also add to the heart-pumping feel of it all, keeping you tense until the thrilling payoff. Speaking of the audio, the soundtrack fits well with the events on-screen. You won’t be humming the tunes outside of the game, but they amplify the tone of the events and atmosphere well. The purposeful use of silence at times also adds to the drama. The sound effects are equally impressive, driving both the feel of playing through a phone and adding to those shocking moments. Again, the aesthetics, directly tying to gameplay and the horror, are where Simulacra 2 shines brightest; I am thoroughly impressed.
Simulacra 2 is an intriguing experience, with plenty of mystery and innovation. Navigating the game via a phone is clever and its departures from a traditional visual novel are apparent. The flaws in both its story and writing quality are noticeable, however, and add to it the less than stellar acting and you have conditions that can easily break immersion. After a first playthough of about five to seven hours, there will be few reasons, other than achieving the true ending, to revisit the game. The shock value will wear away, differences in bad ending paths are insignificant, and the changes between playing a junior detective or a journalist are minimal. Clever and unique, Simulacra 2 still has much room for improvement.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
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