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.