Category Archives: Demos

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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Cute & Whimsy in Final Fantasy XV

After being burned with Final Fantasy XIII, I’ve been taking all the hype around xv with a grain of salt.  The slow trickle of information revealed caught my attention, but the same could be said for the last major release.  With XIII being my first experience with the long beloved franchise, I got excited when I learned Square Enix was actually going to release it on something without Sony’s name attached to it.  You can read my review for my full opinion, but in short, saying a game gets good 20 hours in isn’t a selling point.  And in XIII’s case I never got to a point where it got better.

However, I’ve always been a gamer with the mindset of evaluating each game on its own merits, regardless of any stupid decisions developers may have made in the past.  So I have been at least keeping an ear open on Square’s upcoming release.  And what I’ve heard about XV at least has me… reservedly optimistic.  I like the world they seem to be building, mixing classical, modern & futuristic aspects.  It makes Eos (the planet the game is set on) feel both familiar yet fantastical, which is something I can appreciate.

So when a Platinum Demo dropped last week, I quickly downloaded it & took some time to play through.

Based on some of the elements included in the demo, I believe this is more of a tech show-off than a level actually removed from the base game.  However, the brief story does tie into it, from what I can tell.

It begins with the hero of XV, Prince Noctis, for some reason falling into a coma.  Waking up in a dream, he finds himself being led by a sort of spirit guide.  An absolutely adorable fox-like creature that speaks to Noctis via text messages to help lead him back to the waking world.  The journey begins childishly enough, with the creature bestowing “kid-friendly” weapons to face the nightmares that become increasingly dangerous as you progress.  Toy swords, rubber hammers that squeak when you hit things, and “spells” that range from fireworks to raining meteors on your foes.  Based on my readings, I believe this functions as a backstory to how Noctis gains his magical abilities.

The demo’s pretty short, taking me a little less than an hour to complete, but I feel that that’s long enough to accomplish what it was meant to do.  That is, show off some of the game’s systems.  In particularly, the combat is on display.  Given that XV has a real-time combat system, I feel letting players get accustomed to it in a demo is a smart move, since previous titles had turn-based combat.  Turn-based combat has really fallen out of favor in recent years, particularly from Japanese developers looking for success in the Western market.  I personally have no problem with turn-based, but I can understand wanting to appeal to a broader market.  Plus, with XIII’s Paradigm system, this feels like part of a natural progression.

My general impression of the combat is that it’s going to take some getting used to, even for gamers use to such systems.  For one, depending on how quick the enemy is, casting magic can be tricky unless it’s an Area-of-Effect spell.  At least with the spells available in the demo, they don’t target enemies.  You have to actually hold the attack button & aim.  Plus, there seems to be “ammo” for the spells, like they’re being cast with a scroll or some other limited item rather than having some sort of Mana pool.  That’s not to say they don’t have their uses.  I was pretty successful at casting a spell in front of me & letting enemies run into it.  And, on a superficial note, the effects are great.

The second part that might take some adapting to is dodging.  I’m not entirely convinced having the dodge & defend mapped to the same button is a good idea.  Manually dodging didn’t seem to offer much invulnerability, unless it’s really finicky with the timing.  However, holding down defend allows Noctis to auto-dodge, blinking out right as an attack lands.  This was far more effective than manually rolling away.  But for some reason this didn’t happen in the beginning of the demo.  Defending with child-Noctis just blocked damage, while defending with adult-Noctis did the auto-dodge, so I’m not sure what’s up with that.

Overall, though, while I think the combat will take some learning, I think it has potential for being compelling.  Having the fights take place in real-time, in the open world, lends to interesting strategies.  For example, I noticed lots of hazardous barrels & targetable scenery, which could possibly be used to damage enemies.  Given the size of some of the enemies & the inherent difficulty in getting close to them, this could be useful.  I appreciated how holding the attack button made Noctis close the distance with enemies.  Assigning & switching between weapons was quick & easy, although shifting from attacking to dodging was a bit delayed.  And it would’ve been nice to see how combat will work with multiple NPCs.

So while my opinion hasn’t changed in that I’ll still wait until the reviews are out after the release in September this year before I decide if I should buy it, what I have seen makes me think it’s at least going in the right direction.  There was nothing that made me slam down on the confirm option when it asked if I wanted to preorder the game when the demo was over, but there was nothing that turned me off either.

– GamerDame

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