Immersive, a little disturbing, and socially on point, Dead Man’s Phone strikes a chord from its title alone - and it very well should, as it expertly holds up a mirror to society to show us exactly what’s wrong with it. By scouring through - albeit creepily - a murdered teenager’s phone, you aim to solve the mystery of the horrendous crime, but end up discovering something else entirely by the end of the whole thing.

What’s Dead Man’s Phone all about?

You play as a detective working for New Scotland Yard in London, assigned to the curious case of a 16-year old boy falling from a tower. The BAFTA-nominated crime drama is an interactive experience where you conduct interrogations, chat with persons of interest, and cook up some super-sleuthing with your team, all in the context of trying to find out who killed the innocent teen.

Dead Man's Phone review - gameplay

Currently, the story of Season One is divided into six chapters, with the final one being an alternate ending. The duration for each chapter is indicated before you begin - plus, you can also choose any chapter you want to play (but honestly, why would you want to play a murder mystery non-linearly?).

What’s the gameplay of Dead Man’s Phone like?

Because it’s an interactive found-phone game, you’ll spend a huge amount of your time in every chapter just scouring through the victim’s phone, whether you’re combing for clues in his photo album or eavesdropping on his chat history with his contacts. The idea of prying into the deceased’s personal stuff can feel a little unsettling at times, but it’s all done in the line of duty - of course, that line does tend to get blurry the longer you stay on the case.

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Outside of the victim’s phone, you can try to piece everything together with Vikram (the buff Forensics guy), Sophie (the sweet and lovely Intelligence expert), and your eyes and ears on the ground in the form of DCI Sutherland, PC Bronson, and PC Maguire. You exchange text messages, video clips, and phone calls now and then to switch things up, but it never really gets too monotonous, to be honest. There’s enough intrigue and mystery in the case itself, as you might think you’ve got it all figured out one moment only to be absolutely stumped the next.

Thankfully, it’s not easy to get stuck. You’ll likely always find highlighted clues simply by tapping on everything new you find on your YardOS interface, whether you’re checking live maps or catching the latest news from the BBO app (which, by the way, has everything from celebrity gossip to an escalating COVID-esque virus outbreak). I think you can also ask Sophie for a little push in the right direction when you’re stuck, but I’ve never really had the reason to try it out myself.

How about the game’s aesthetics?

As for the look and feel of the game, it’s all pretty straightforward - the barebones approach keeps things serious and grounded, although it does tend to feel a little vanilla at times. It’s mainly text-based, but the attention to detail is simply astounding. There’s an impressive amount of thought and effort that went into each app, and fantastic writing when it comes to the dialogue.

To make everything feel a little more authentic, characters talk in different dialects, and you even get brief pauses in between messages (plus typos!) for more realism. In the interrogation room, the footage of whoever’s being questioned emphasizes the emotions felt inside the room, whether it’s palpable distress or cocky confidence. The calls are also incredibly well-voiced, making the experience even more engaging.

What’s the appeal?

I honestly didn’t think I’d get so deeply immersed in the game when I first started playing, but with how well-done everything is, it’s really just impossible not to care. For one thing, the game asks for your full name and refers to you as such throughout; for another, it forces you to really get to know Jerome Jacobs - the poor victim - as a requirement for solving the case.

During chat messages, you’re given the option to pick your answers, but even after trying out a bunch of combinations, I didn’t feel like I affected the outcome of any particular event. Choosing one answer over the other simply opened up more dialogues for me to read, so I’m not sure if the narrative is supposedly unchangeable or not. But regardless of the choices, the socially relevant story really hits all the right places, and boy does it hit hard. It pushes all the right buttons the way a social commentary would - and I don’t want to give anything away, but suffice it to say that you’ll feel all the feels after the credits roll.

Still, it’s not all about gloom and doom - there are a few lighthearted little gems scattered here and there for a quick laugh or two, like Sophie talking about her day or Vikram showing off his “guns”.

Dead Man's Phone graphics

Unfortunately, the connectivity issues really took a lot of points off and put a damper on my gaming experience. For some reason, connecting to WiFi with my tablet or my phone didn’t work no matter what I tried - I was only able to play the game each time I connected using my mobile phone data, which really took a huge chunk out of my data plan. There are downloads required at the start of every chapter, and you can’t play the game at all if your internet connection is a little wonky.

Also, I encountered a handful of glitches where nothing would appear in my chats. The most frustrating was when the game would forget my progress, so I’d have to restart the game and go through previous actions all over again.

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Still, Electric Noir, in my opinion, did a phenomenal job at the narrative pace, which really steals the show. Investigations take time, but you can skip through the waiting period if you’re hanging onto the edge of your seat. Characterizations are so well-done and the writing is just top-notch - it’s hard to believe it’s a completely free-to-play game with no ads, no in-app purchases, and absolutely no strings attached.