Developer Accidental Queens‘s Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story shares similarities with its first game, the indie hit A Normal Lost Phone. Like before, you’re charged with the task of unraveling the intimate details of a stranger’s life by searching through the text messages, emails, and photos on their phone.
[This review has spoilers — Ed.]
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What you’ll like
A creative and evocative interface
It’s true that we’ve now seen a number of games designed to mimic other interfaces. The award-winning Orwell has you scouring citizens’ personal information and social profiles for government surveillance. Likewise, Hacknet takes place on the computer desktop and terminal of an elite hacker. A handful of titles have also used fictional phone interfaces to add a level of immersion, such as the thriller Sara Is Missing or Lifeline, which purports to be a text message conversation between you and a stranded astronaut.
I have a soft spot for these simulacra of real life. These interfaces make it that much easier to believe characters and situations could be real. And Another Lost Phone uses its interface to great effect, evoking feelings of both empathy and guilt.
Going through someone’s phone is an incredible invasion of privacy. Because it belongs to a fictional character, you know you can give in to your natural curiosity and snoop around — but you still feel kind of guilty. This is especially true when you start cracking Laura’s passwords and reading secret messages that she’s exchanging about traumatic events.
Some of the information is also subtly conveyed through timestamps. It’s a clear way to communicate how Laura is spiraling further into her situation and how she’s slowly being distanced from her friends. And it’s impossible to miss the signs because we’re all used to checking timestamps on our phones anyway.
Story-telling and puzzles
Normally, I enjoy more of a challenge out of puzzles. But in the case of Another Lost Phone, I don’t mind the simplicity. Its puzzles are fairly lightweight and easy to solve. They’re more symbolic — a ritualistic peeling away of layers as you dive deeper into Laura’s troubles until she, and you, figure out the truth.
You’ll have to read through almost everything to get the information you need to crack Laura’s codes. You’ll see little details, like a list of symptoms that Laura’s been experiencing, that give you insight into what she’s experiencing. Others, like a recipe for stuffed zucchini, are little personal touches that reflect mundane details about her life. When she increasingly cancels her plans with friends, you read between the lines and realize what’s happening to her.
It was the right approach to keep the puzzles unobtrusive. If you had to scour the text over and over again to decipher the correct solution, it would begin to take away from the narrative. The easy and occasional puzzles allow the story to slowly unfold and breathe a little as it does, enabling you to focus more on the content and how it makes you feel.
What you won’t like
Too brief and too sparse
Laura’s digital life is minimalist. If someone found my phone, they’d have to scroll through pages of apps I never use, notes written while half-awake, and dozens of dumb cat pics I’ve sent my sister. Laura’s phone is neat, organized, and just the essentials. In fact, it’s a little too bare — which, I understand, keeps players focused on the task on hand.
At the same time, it kind of breaks the illusion. I don’t know anyone whose phone isn’t crammed full of odds and ends. It’s a sterile environment that feels impersonal. And sure, this could be because of the kind of controlling relationship Laura is in, but I feel like the developers skipped over a chance to give us more of an idea of what kind of person she is and what her interests are — and maybe some digital trace of how that’s changed as her situation worsened.
By leaving a little too much to the imagination, Another Lost Phone is also brief. It’s maybe two hours long, depending on how fast you read, and I wished it was longer. Not just for the sake of more, but so we could get to know Laura better. As it stands, the story feels somewhat rushed, spanning less than a year.
Just as I didn’t get to know that much about Laura, I felt the same way about Laura’s friends and family. I know that her sister works in a restaurant because they mentioned that in one conversation. But I don’t really know what kind of relationship they have beyond just a good one.
Each of the conversations with the friends is important because it reveals how Laura is pulling away, but the characters themselves are loosely defined. There’s the woman who Laura runs with sometimes, there’s the college crowd who Laura used to get drinks with, there’s Laura’s supportive coworker. They’re all fairly flat, and I wanted more distinct personalities from them. Even the way they text is almost identical, though that may be because the game is translated from French.
I think it’s also possible that Accidental Queens painted itself into a corner by virtue of the action all taking place in the past and also on a phone. It’s hard to communicate a personality or exposition via text without seeming either hokey or unnatural. If Laura’s sister had started waxing on about something they both should have known, it would’ve definitely broken the illusion of the exchange being a private conversation.
There’s also no real active situation going on that could help reveal the characters in real time, since everything’s already happened. However, the characterization still feels lacking, and I feel like there could have been a better solution — maybe by throwing some of the friends into a group chat to have them play off each other and show what kind of people they are. Though the lack of personality wasn’t a deal-breaker, it definitely made some of the text conversations a bit dull to read.
Another Lost Phone is a brief exploration about one woman’s experience with domestic abuse, and though there are some missteps, I enjoyed the experience overall. It’s definitely an important topic to talk about, and to Accidental Queens’s credit, they do so without being overly heavy-handed. I only wish our time with Laura wasn’t so brief, and that we learned more about who she was beyond her relationship with her abuser.
Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story is out now on PC, Mac, iPhone, and Android. The publisher sent us a code for this review.