Platforms PC
Developer Somi
Publisher Somi
Release Date July 11, 2016

Replica is a game in which you stare at a phone the entire time. You don’t actually use your own phone, you use someone else’s, rendered on your PC monitor in front of you. You wake up in a strange location with someone else’s phone and are guided by a mysterious voice (via text, there’s no voice acting) to scour it for proof that the original owner was engaged in terrorism.

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Replica has a lot to say about security and freedom. It feeds on your potential for voyeurism. You need to piece together someone else’s life via their smartphone – hacking into their various social media apps, messages, photos and everything else that they have stored on there. Sometimes what you need will be plain as day, other times you’ll need to figure out what it truly is you’re actually seeing.

Your primary task is simple. Hack this strangers phone and prove he’s a terrorist. Comb through the various apps, files and messages and then click on relevant scraps of data. But there are 12 potential endings, so naturally it’s not necessarily as simple as all that. It’s very much a case of the developers having thought of everything, with all of these endings being prompted by the many different ways you can play the game.

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You might think that focusing on endings in a review for a game is counter-intuitive. It’s not. It’s generally a very short path to an ending here. Some can be uncovered in seconds, most take longer. Depending on how stuck you get on some of the puzzles, Replica has a couple of hours of gameplay to it before you’ve seen everything. To its credit, all of Replica’s endings build on one another.To get the full picture of what’s actually going on you’ll need to see them all. Even the “worst” endings will enlighten you, giving you a new piece of the puzzle as to the world you’re investing yourself in.

Replica is a visual novel combined with a smartphone simulator. While you’re directed by your sinister Homeland Security handler towards a specific task, it’s very easy to go off book. Answer phone calls, crack into Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, call people – there are many different paths you can take through Replica’s twisting story, and each will usually yield new and different answers to your questions.

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Replica’s main problem, however, is in its repetitiveness. There is a handy feature built into the game that will allow you to reload the game to a point just before any decision that results in an ending. This can be useful if you’re doing things in a certain order, but there are times when you’ll still need to restart the game to undo actions taken earlier, which may have excluded you from getting other endings.

The trouble is, you have to retrace all your steps over and over again. So unless you’ve been keeping a catalogue of every password and username, and each and every action you take and what its consequences were (or if you have an extremely good memory), you’re going to end up having to solve the same puzzles over again. Luckily dialogue can be skipped, otherwise it would be a repetition that would ultimately destroy the entire experience.

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As it stands its merely an annoyance more than anything else. This repetition is highlighted and made worse by the fact that playthroughs generally last minutes, meaning that repetition is hammered home regularly. Unless you’re stuck on how to trigger any of the other endings, which is itself a whole different type of frustration. Luckily there aren’t that many potential actions you can take in Replica, and thanks to its rudimentary gameplay design you won’t find yourself stuck for very long.

There’s nothing quite like that first playthrough though. Replica gnaws away at your sympathies right from the get go. As you’re going through this strangers life you get to read the messages from his loved ones, messages which become more and more desperate the further into the game you go. The game constantly puts you at odds over the right thing to do – should you dodge the calls from concerned parents or answer them?

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Replica spends its entire time throwing up these moral dilemma’s, always dressing them differently. On a surface level, the game questions how much freedom is worth giving up for security. But there’s a lot more at play. You become intimately familiar with the person who this phone belongs to. You can’t really help it, thanks to having access to their entire identity (it’s amazing how much of us is on these smartphones we own).


Summary

A short review for a short experience – Replica is an intriguing game that asks important questions of its players. It’s a puzzle solving smartphone simulator that tasks you with peeling away the layers of another persons entire life, forcing you to pass judgement on another Human being via a snapshot of their social media and text message interactions. It’s an interesting experience the first time around, but to get the full story you’ll need to complete the game a dozen times. It’s here the experience turns sour, as you’re forced to run a gauntlet of repetition that gets tiresome long before you’ve uncovered all the answers you need to satisfy your curiosity. 

6

 


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