Replica – What We Think:
You are in a dark room. The only light comes from the screen of the smartphone in your hand. There is a lock screen, but nothing to indicate what the code to unlock it might be. Some previews for text messages scroll by, providing enough information to figure out a way in. Suddenly, a call comes through. The caller identifies himself as an agent of the State. You’ve been detained to prove your loyalty, and your family has also been detained as incentive. To gain your freedom, you’ll have to parse the data available on the phone and provide enough proof to label the device’s owner as a terrorist.
Albeit a brief tale, Replica offers up a cautionary tale of what can become of the shared information we assume is private. Touching on classic through-the-looking-glass tales as 1984 and The Matrix, the player must also face the dilemma of fully supporting a neo-fascist government versus risking all to gently nurse the remaining embers of freedom.
The Truth Is Out There
As you begin to dig through the information on the phone, it becomes clear that a radical new government has risen to power. They have censored the internet, restricted access to many popular social media sites, and are detaining any individuals that even remotely appear to pose a threat. Creating a case against the phone’s owner is going to require access to personal accounts on the phone, and digging deeper is the only way to find clues to the required passwords.
There isn’t a wealth of data to parse. This explanation given is that the phone’s owner is paranoid of being captured, and so he frequently deletes his texts and information. While this keeps the range of the search narrower, it unfortunately makes the experience of peeking in on someone’s private life less genuine.
Each new snippet of info that pins the owner of the phone to a life of terror delights your captor. What’s disturbing is that a lot of seems like the sorts of things that any free-spirited Western teenager might dabble with. The powers that be only seem interested in snagging enough evidence to create an incredibly loose case against any citizens they deem to be a threat.
The interface looks and feels like any popular Android or iPhone device. Click on an app to open it, and clicking in the password app will bring up the virtual keyboard so that you can attempt to crack that code. Images stored on the device contain information about when and where they were taken. It’s also possible to access the settings menu for the device, allowing you access to Bluetooth and Location features. Treat the in-game phone like you would a new device that you’ve just activated. It isn’t just the phone’s owner that is of interest.
While the experience is brief (you’ll likely complete the first playthrough in under two hours), there are hints along the way that can lead you to other endings. There are 11 possible resolutions in total, each of which puts a crazy spin on the overall narrative. A couple of them even end the game minutes after starting, with nods to The Matrix.
The second playthrough introduces an app that will allow you further incriminate your target by attaching incidents to laws introduced by the new regime. And should you decide that being a faithful government ferret is right up your alley, you may even find that although your captors maybe paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about your subject. Maybe snooping around for the favor of powerful figures isn’t so bad after all?
There is a distinct creep factor to sifting through someone’s phone, even in the context of a game. Creepier still is the gradual transition from being a reluctant participant to becoming an eager life-destroyer. Replica serves as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking that their social media interactions are private. In a relatively free society, the risk may seem minute, but who’s to say who might take power tomorrow? And while you may for a while in the good graces of the authorities by demonizing perceived threatening individuals, someone may well be scouring your own information and creating a case against you.
Replica is available via Steam.
Watch the official trailer for Replica below: