Four rising social media stars. One of them ends up dead. The other three are the culprits. Which one of them killed their friend, Maya?
There’s your story, right there. There’s obviously a lot more going on with Simulacra 2 than that, but that summarizes the plot pretty well. I’m a big fan of video game mystery games and then finding out that Simulacra 2 was a “full-motion video” game (scenes shot in real life), I was on board. Besides, there’s a compelling case for snooping around the lives of squabbling minor internet celebrities that made me want to jump right in and start digging. I spent my holiday this year rapt in HypnoSpace Outlaw, a game where you surf the internet of the late 90s in a fictional world looking for clues and turns out Simulacra 2 is very similar in nature (minus the fake Geocities homages).
The conceit is that you’re brought in as a detective or a journalist, and you get to choose from the beginning. I’m not exactly sure how your decision rolls the story out differently, but after my six-hour playthrough of Simulacra 2, it pops up a line-and-block chart showing all the decision points you took (and more startlingly, the far more decision points that you did not get to see).
Once upon a time on the internet, there were four minor internet celebrities: Maya, a health food and fitness guru, Mina, a sobby folk guitarist, Arya, a bratty fashionista, and Rex, a brash winner-take-all motivational speaker. Maya is found dead in her apartment, and her phone is brought in as a piece of evidence, which lands in your lap after being handed to you by the lead detective for the investigation, Detective Murilo.
Quickly, you discover that Murilo is a grumpy old cop who is in charge of the laughing stock division of the police department in this universe: DOOP (The Department Of Occult Phenomena) and that while this is an active murder investigation, there are some strange happenings around the case where it falls into the lap of the occult. Upon cracking open the phone, you realize there is definitely something going on outside of our realm.
This is where you come in with your investigating. You are literally using the murder victim’s phone to wander around the fake internet social media sites (Kimera is the Instagram of this universe), and use a special tool you download to the phone called Warden to look for clues. When you find something noteworthy and tap on it, Warden will add it to your list of clues for future reference.
Strangely, there is a part in the game where you literally eavesdrop via text into a group chat between all the surviving influencers and Simulacra 2 FORCES you to jump into the middle of like, “Hey, I’m writing to you from the phone of your dead friend, whadda think about that?” But I suppose while you’re breaking any kind of police protocol by stealing a phone from evidence lockup in the first place, I suppose why not? It just seems like a weird thing to force the player to do. Once they realize that a detective (or journalist) is using their dead friend’s phone, you start different text conversations with them based on the information you’re finding on the internet about them, their relationship to the deceased, and their motives for wanting her dead…oh, and the spooky ghost. But I won’t get into that at all, should you want to actually play it.
One of the only problems with Simulacra 2 is that, while solving a murder mystery sounds like a lot of fun, when your three prime suspects are a trio of whiny, fake, pain in the ass social media starlets, hunting through their fake Instagram pages, Twitter feeds, Facebook-equivalent feeds can get a little draining (HASHTAG BEST LIFE). The developers of Simulacra 2, Kaigan Games, do a magnificent job of building out their fake internet apps, so much so, that your brain literally feels like you’re surfing real Instagram models and their petty lives. So buckle up for that.
The acting can feel a little stilted at places for us ignorant Westerners, primarily because Kaigan Games and the shooting all took place in Southeast Asia (although the game is clearly meant to take place in the United States). The shooting is on a fairly shoestring feeling budget, especially when the game is showing the “high life” of Rex, the motivational speaker trying to flaunt his “wealth”, but it’s good enough that if you don’t squint too hard at it, you won’t notice.
As I mentioned earlier, I was stunned after my six hours of game time, when it brought up that spider web map of all the decision points I missed along the way. Did I talk with Rex prior to talking with Maia about X or Y? Things that didn’t seem to be that influential, but there were definitely some decision points where you can see in a text conversation there are three options to respond to a certain conversation, but one of them might be grayed out because you didn’t talk with one of the other influencers first and get the necessary information needed to unlock it.
All in all, an enjoyable afternoon for $7.99 on Steam, sitting in my recliner and combing through Kaigan Games’ fake internet to get to the bottom of the murder of Maya.