Sara is Missing & I’m in a Creepypasta

With the craziness of my schedule over the holidays on top of interviewing for a potential new job, I’ve had neither the time nor attention span to focus on new games this month.  However, I recently saw a short indie horror game popping up in my video feed from various Youtubers, & after seeing the premise I knew I had to check it out for myself.

Sara is Missing (or S.I.M.) was created by Monsoon Lab for the 2016 Halloween Game Jam, which are essentially challenges to create games on a fixed time limit.  In it, you play as yourself, having found a random cellphone.  The only immediate clue as to the identity of the broken phone’s owner is the image of a woman and her cat on the wallpaper.  Upon trying to recover the phone’s memory, the phone’s supposedly helpful AI/personal assistant program IRIS (which a clever gamer would recognize as SIRI backwards) enlists your help in tracking down the missing Sara.  To this end, you find yourself on a voyeuristic journey through a stranger’s text messages, emails & gallery to uncover potentially the last moments of her life.

What drew me to this title was the almost augmented reality aspect of it.  Although it’s still just a program on your phone, it acts as if you’re using your own phone.  I love the rise in incorporating the modes of entertainment into the experience rather than just being vehicles.  My initial impression upon seeing S.I.M. was that it reminded me a lot of the recent horror movie Unfriended, which I adored.  It works similar to that movie, actually, with the player as the protagonist flipping through various software & files, trying to connect the disparate pieces of Sara’s life together to find her.

The game also has more than a passing vibe of the Creepypasta variety.  Finding a random phone presumably in the middle of the woods… cursed videos… Red Rooms & the deep web… In fact, I recognized some of the video clips spliced together specifically from Creepypastas, including Marble Hornets & Tomino’s Hell.

The game’s fairly short, depending on how in-depth you search through Sara’s phone, so it’s hard to give a full review.  Rather, I wanted to touch briefly on the positives & negatives.  On the positive side, the technology is well-integrated into the app.  Although I believe it’s also available for play on a PC, I played it on my Android, which I recommend for the most immersive experience.  It felt like I was really using someone else’s phone, to the point it startled me when my own phone got email notifications.  The IRIS seemed a bit weird, but I’m assuming it’s based on how SIRI works, & as I just mentioned I use Android so I can’t speak to how it imitates that.  Maybe SIRI is creepily self-aware.

Monsoon Lab did a good job of really establishing Sara’s character through just what we see on her phone.  Although most of what’s available isn’t related directly to solving the mystery, it helps flesh out the character, adding to the eerie blurring between the app & reality.  It made me think about what’s on my own phone & what that would say to someone who found it.  The overarching narrative is interesting, if a bit cliché to anyone familiar with Creepypastas, & they did a good job ramping up the tension toward the end when you have to decide whether or not to pass on the cursed video to save these strangers all the while someone keeps sending you pictures of them bound.  It does an excellent job of eliciting your own natural reactions.

But for all those good points, I was left feeling a little disappointed.  Not because the game is bad, but because it could’ve been better.  Granted, this was made on limited time, & I don’t even know if it’s considered finished at this point.  There are a lot of ways I can see S.I.M. improving.  I’d like to see more of a build-up for the mystery.  It only really takes reading one text message to figure out what happened & kicking off the climax.  I’d love to see a slower reveal, where you have to really piece different messages, pictures & emails together.  I’d also like the different “endings” to actually feel different.

But as I said before, I don’t know if the devs plan to flesh this out more.  I hope they do.  The very end definitely hints that there’s more to come.  Hopefully with all this positive press, they’ll be able to expand & make something truly remarkable.

I’m holding off on giving an actual score, so consider this a very strong recommendation to try this game.  It’s fun, short & free (or pay as you want on PC).  I will definitely be keeping my eye out for future updates.

– GamerDame

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N7 Day Brings New Initiative

It seems like there’s a crummy “national day of (insert random nonsense here)” every single day — at least according to Facebook — but for fans of the Mass Effect series, November 7 brings a certain amount of excitement.  I’m not sure when it started, but BioWare has claimed today as N7 Day in celebration of everyone’s favorite space Commander.  This day is especially important as it has traditionally been the day with BioWare begins their press release cycle for their next game in the franchise.

This year was no different, as BioWare has been teasing that on N7 Day this year they would officially begin releasing information about Mass Effect: Andromeda.  They’ve even gone so far as to create an “Andromeda Initiative” to get people excited for the day.  It’s really strange, when you stop to think about it.  It’s like generating hype for the hype.  A perpetual hype machine!

Regardless, as I seem to be one of the few people who choose not to let the disappointment of Mass Effect 3‘s ending completely ruin the franchise, I have been looking forward to this game, & thus awaiting this day.

Prior to today, BioWare was encouraging gamers to sign up for their Initiative for special “debriefing” and “training missions”, which essentially just sounds like adding yourself to their news letter.  But by adding your name to the list, not only did you get a look at their new cinematic trailer, but access to a more in-depth “training” video on their site.  Both videos have finally started revealing some useful information about the sort of world Andromeda is building.

The training vid, done in the style of a recruitment video, offers some insight into the Andromeda Initiative that our Ryders will be a part of.  Initially founded in 2176, the same years as the Skyllian Blitz, its aim is to be a joint venture between humans & three other species to explore beyond the Milky Way, to find & colonize suitable planets.  The majority of humanity will reside in cryostasis aboard the Arc Hyperion, although some will reside within a separate ship called the Nexus.  It’s being led by Jan Grissom, presumably kin to Rear Admiral Jon Grissom, famous in the ME universe for being the man who led to expedition through the Charon Relay, thus essentially pioneering intergalactic travel.  A class known as Pathfinders will be at the forefront of this mission, acting as the frontman to explore potentially inhabitable planets.  At their lead is Alec Ryder (presumably the other man in the video as he wears the same scarf as seen in previous Andromeda teasers which have since been confirmed to be the father of our PC).  Alec was also part of Admiral Grissom’s team & highly respected.

The arcs are scheduled to launch in 2185, which takes place between the end of ME2 & the beginning of ME3.  The journey will take 600 years, placing it long after the end of ME3.

The cinematic trailer offers some interest tidbits as well.  It’s assumed the game will begin with the Arcs coming out of cryostasis.  But the start of the new trailer shows things going very badly & the default male Ryder getting sucked out of a crashing ship before waking up on a strange planet with a broken helmet.  Intriguingly, the trailer features all three Ryders (the siblings & father) equally prominently.  I’m curious to know if they’ll all interact together.  It looks like in several scenes the siblings are together (they wear the same blue-&-white Pathfinder armor seen on Jan Grissom in the debriefing vid).  But it’s also possible that something happens to Alec.  A scene in the trailer shows him interacting with one of those temples from the PS Pro demo, & a scene earlier has a female voice telling male Ryder he’s now “The Pathfinder.”  As that’s clearly a job title, it’s entirely possible they’re simply giving him his directive, but it seems like a strange thing to say if that was always his position on the ship.  It sounds to me like putting him in charge after something goes awry.

There isn’t much else solid we can glean from the two trailers.  The “three races” mentioned in the debriefing appear to at least include Asari & Salarian as they’re seen in the trailers.  I would guess the third Arc would include the final Council race, the Turians, but I don’t recall seeing them in the footage.

You don’t have to sign up for the Initiative to view the videos, but if you complete this & the five other upcoming “trainings” under your EA account you’ll earn a “Pathfinder-grade Helmet”.

Personally, I’ve very excited about Andromeda.  Yes, the original ending tarnished what would have otherwise been the perfect conclusion to my favorite game trilogy, & the whole stupid Starchild thing still irks me, but I at least felt placated by the updated endings.  Plus, with the new Andromeda timeline being set 600 years after the original trilogy, I feel like there won’t be much reference to the other games aside from characters wondering what became of the Reapers.

There’s no official release date yet, other than Spring 2017.

– GamerDame

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