This review contains spoilers for the game Sara is Missing.
Sara is Missing is the first title developed by Monsoon Lab. The game puts you in the position of someone who has picked up a lost cellphone, and then begins to look for clues that might lead back to the phone’s owner, Sara. With the help of the phone’s incredibly human-like AI, IRIS (get it?), you begin to piece together Sara’s movements up to the phone being lost, and her relationships with the contacts in her phone. As things progress, you are pulled into a creepy but ultimately ambiguous story of unsolicited sexual advances, haunted videos, witches, and murder.
The first thing to know is that Sara is Missing absolutely needs to be played on a mobile device. The immersion is effective on a surface level when playing on your phone, and playing it on your PC just won’t give that same sensation. You get a real sense of tension and fear from playing it on your phone. Looking down and poking through Sara’s phone feels real, even when you are confronted with the unbelievable capabilities of IRIS, such as her ability to recognize that you are not Sara and the ability to cross-reference photos with texts in order to let you know when a clue has been found. That said, if you can suspend some disbelief and accept IRIS as is, it doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility that we may see a similar AI in the coming years. All in all, Sara Is Missing is a genuinely immersive experience—at least in the beginning.
There are several places where Sara is Missing starts to break down its own immersion, slowly pulling apart the things that make it an interesting concept. The first place this happens is within the text messages that you are searching through looking for clues. All of Sara’s text conversations are written as though they are being spoken out loud, and lack any believable syntax for the way that people interact with each other over text messages. Characters interrupt and interject, which feels completely wrong and out of place. It’s everywhere in the game, and completely takes me out of the experience. The overall story is written competently, but it’s the small details that would really make this game work. Where the writing needs to be strongest, it simply isn’t.
The other significant issue I have with Sara is Missing is the “haunted video” that you view at a certain point in the story. The video is a collection of images and clips from creepypasta stories and, perhaps most jarringly, scenes from the web series Marble Hornets. While there is no connection between Sara is Missing and that series (it seems the creators of the series are alright with it now, despite it having been used initially without permission), it shows a significant lack of creativity. The haunted video is crucial to the places that the story goes, and really needs to have some significance and substance to it. Throwing together clips from well-known content doesn’t create that. I’ve seen theories that say maybe the whole thing is a prank or something, but that’s not how it feels to me.
Sara is Missing has a lot of potential, and the functional aspects of the game really do work. It makes for a good starting point for Monsoon Lab to develop mobile games that create truly immersive experiences. It’s disappointing really, because there is some real potential here that is missed in crucial ways. For a first attempt, it’s good, and I genuinely hope that something more can come from it. Sara is Missing is, apparently, still being developed and updated (though it’s already available through Google Play and the App Store, so to me that says it’s a finished product), but perhaps there will be changes forthcoming. Either way, whatever you think of the finished product, if you’re going to play it, play it on your phone.