This review contains spoilers for the storyline of Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story. These spoilers will be at the end of the piece, and there will be another warning before they begin.
When you find a lonely, lost phone stranded in public, there are only a handful of options.
You can walk away and move on with your life. You can pocket it for personal profit. You can turn it in to the nearest lost and found. For the inquisitive adventurer, however, there is only one course of action: break in and see what you can find. Luckily for those in the last group, Accidental Queens has made this a possibility without the requisite loss of an $800 Twitter machine. Their latest game, Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story, has the player stumble across a cell phone with no owner in sight. As you dive deeper and deeper into the phone, a heart-wrenching story of twists and turns reveals itself, guaranteeing that you won’t be able to put down your virtual phone for a minute.
The story begins by unlocking the phone to a dozen texts from a very distraught boyfriend. Looking deeper into the text conversations, as any prying eye would, you will find a slew of friends who have been concerned for a very long time. This worry was not misplaced, as the phone’s owner, Laura, has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. It is your duty, as a curious bystander with nowhere in particular to be, to delve into the eponymous lost phone full of clues to piece together just what has happened to her. Sifting through texts, notes, emails, and more, you continue to unlock more and more of the phone as you crack Laura’s passwords based solely on conversational clues. With each new level of the phone you reach, the mystery grows deeper, evolving before your eyes and making you almost apprehensive to go deeper, out of fear of what you may find out next.
It is strongly recommended that players, in order to fully appreciate the game, construct a corkboard of polaroids and news clippings connected by a thick red thread.
Gameplay is as riveting as it is immersive, which is to say, incredibly. The entirety of the game is the simulated screen of the lost cell phone, and, despite not being based directly on any actual phone OS, the interface is superbly intuitive, allowing the navigation to be as natural as browsing your own phone. Even the settings menu for the game is integrated into the settings app of the phone; this brilliant touch to an already innovative vehicle for a story ensures that nothing pulls you out of a world so vividly crafted for you. Combined with the supremely-satisfying indie soundtrack that can, naturally, be controlled through the phone’s native music app, the developers’ goal of recreating the experience of using a phone is achieved to a T.
Solving the mind-benders presented does not, in this case, progress the story. The story remains static, just slowly revealed more and more. This reward does not come easily, however, as the puzzles are severely difficult and intricate. During the reviewing of this game, several of the problems took over half an hour to solve, one of which devolved into simple guess-and-checking. While the reviewer in question may not be the most golden of standards to hold players to, it is safe to say that plenty of time and effort went into crafting these riddles, and it paid off. In terms of payoffs, though, few things in life can come close to the thrill of accomplishment and the surge of dopamine that follows finally finding the solution you’ve been looking for all along [EN: Tell me about it] . It is strongly recommended that players, in order to fully appreciate the game, construct a corkboard of polaroids and news clippings connected by a thick red thread. A piece of scratch paper will work just fine, too. Besides that, the best tip that can be given is to play it thoroughly and be sure to take it all in. Not only does this cut down on having to run around blindly, but the story carries much more weight and makes much more sense.
A tale of pain, denial, and isolation
WARNING: Spoilers below. It is highly recommended that the remainder of this piece not be read until after playing yourself, as the most magnificent part of the game is the process of figuring it all out.
Another Lost Phone tells an unexpectedly impactful and intense tale of domestic abuse and one woman’s discovery that she is experiencing it herself. Through the vivid story told in text, emotional and psychological manipulation and abuse are shown in their truly horrifying realities. Laura discovers that what she has long considered a wonderful relationship has been, in fact, a toxic nightmare. Through Laura’s conversations with her boyfriend, friends, coworkers, and a mysterious figure who isn’t what she seemed, a tale of pain, denial, and isolation is told in a way that is, sadly, far too accurate. These themes are heavily underrepresented in media, especially video games, so it is unimaginably important that they are being relayed like this. While fun and rewarding to play, the message of Laura’s story is one that needs to be told and spread in today’s world. The ending of the story is not what would be expected of it. At first blush, it doesn’t feel like there is very much of a payoff, and in fact can seem relatively lackluster. The truth of it is, the ending is real. It may not be the climactic finale that video games tend to have, but it is a devastating reality for too many people.
This isn’t the first time that Accidental Queens have explored the concept of using a lost phone to tell someone’s troubled story. Stemming from their experience with the Global Game Jam in 2016, the three women created A Normal Lost Phone, a similarly-formatted game that tackled a topic that rarely gets a platform: the experiences of transgender people. Through distinctly different yet spiritually similar puzzles and methods, players learn the tale of Sam, a trans woman coming to terms with her identity and how it affects her relationships with friends and family. This game, however, was not without its controversy. Already teetering on the edge of inappropriateness in terms of privacy violation, some critics found that the game crossed a line by simulating outing a trans character. This concept was actually addressed in the final email found, but regardless, the developers saw fit to add a disclaimer to Another Lost Phone, warning players that they were about to invade a fictional character’s privacy and of the content that the game contained. While debatably necessary, this further proves that the people behind these projects truly care about the matters they are dealing with and the people on the receiving end.
The Verdict: Excellent
Another Lost Phone is truly a masterpiece in its kind, setting a bar in both creativity and meaning that will be hard for future installments in the genre to match. In addition to being one of the most innovative vehicles for a puzzle-based story to be released in a long time, the story is immensely engaging from the moment you unlock the phone. Accidental Queens have now issued a challenge to game designers everywhere: use your art to tell stories that need to be told. This precedent is one that is sure to be followed. The only question left is what those stories will be.