Beyond the Phone Screen Terrifies by Playing Silly AR Games in a Haunted World
Beyond the Phone Screen sees you playing an augmented reality (AR) game in a town that’s not doing too well. With your phone in your hand, you’re supposed to find fun landmarks and activities. Click on stuff and you’ll get points. Except there’s creatures roaming around. A monster that’s carrying an eyeball in their hand. Beasts will run you down in the streets. A ghost made of visual noise follows you. Still, you need to get points if you’re to survive this haunting onslaught. It’s a neat take on the genre that sees you wrestling with your survival instincts as you try to play two games at once.
You enter the gloomy streets of your town. Your phone pings you in-game. A friend wants to tell you about an event in Civilian GO, the game that is sweeping the town. Except, the town is looking pretty empty right now. Even so, the game is kind of fun. You walk around and click on different icons on a map of your town. These give you little details about the town or encourage you to enter short foot races. Some are messes you have to tap to clean up. Some are monsters that, if you don’t tap them quickly, will make your brains pour out your ears and nose. It’s some light fun in your own town!
You have to juggle your phone screen and the real world as you wander through Beyond the Phone Screen. Your phone sits in the lower right corner of the screen, showing whichever item you were looking at last. You can take a closer look at your phone to use a variety of apps like chats, the game map, settings, and a camera. You’re probably going to want to see the Civilian GO map most of the time, though. It’s where you’ll see all the activities you need to do. You are playing an AR game, after all. So, be sure to always leave that on as you explore. Unless, you know, a monstrous face in the sky makes you forget to do that.
Now, you need to meander through the town looking for little diversions and activities you can do for points. Since this is an in-game AR game, you won’t get many indicators on the normal ‘real world’ map. You can only see them in the AR game map on your phone. If there’s something you need to click on to get points, you’ll need to watch your phone map to find it. These points do serve a purpose by the game’s end, so you need to do as many of these tasks as you can. As such, it’s important you keep an eye on the Civilian GO map. Although it can kind of silly to do that while monsters try to kill you.
To complete these activities in Beyond the Phone Screen, you have to pull the phone up. You can’t just passively click on icons or carry out any tasks when the phone is sitting in the lower right corner of the screen. You have to focus on the phone (which makes it fill most of the screen) to do anything with it. Now, looking at your phone for a second to check a notification or click on an icon doesn’t sound scary. It’s these moments when you’re not looking at the world where you’re the most vulnerable, though.
There are a handful of monsters that will pop up as you explore the town. There’s a dark, ghost-like creature made up of flickering static effects. There’s a creature that hurtles down the street. These things can sneak up on you quickly as you’re flipping through apps on your phone. Unfortunately, you need to use all of the apps to survive. In-game texts will help you figure out what to do. Your AR game map is the only way to find necessary activities. Your camera lets you take pictures of important things. All of these involve taking your eyes off the world around you and hoping that nothing is sneaking up on you.
Your phone is also your lifeline in Beyond the Phone Screen. You can temporarily exorcise the static ghost if you click on its icon as it floats toward you. You can banish the eyeball-carrying monster using your flashlight. And, again, all of the ways to earn points are only visible on the Civilian GO map. You NEED to keep flicking through your phone and doing things on it if you want to win or survive. However, it’s just as likely to get you run over or killed.
There’s this constant tug-of-war going on between the real world and the phone. Your phone has all of the tools you need to finish the game without dying. It has clues that will help you figure out where to go. It often does a good job of telling you when danger is nearby. However, sometimes you need to just run, and the best indicator of that is looking up at the world around you. This is especially true as more and more creatures get added to the game. Things get very dangerous after a short time, with multiple monsters hunting you. It’s probably going to be too dangerous to do anything but take off.
If you start running with your map off, though, you’re not seeing any opportunities for points. If you’re looking through your chats for clues, though, you won’t see danger creeping toward you. Beyond the Phone Screen keeps you fretting over whether you should be looking at your phone or the real world. It makes you constantly re-evaluate what’s best in the moment. At times when you’re about to die, it also forces you to calmly click through your phone to hopefully save yourself. This adds even more tension as you flip through apps in a struggle to survive a lethal encounter.
Finally, there’s the face in the sky. This creature appears after some time passes, and while it does not directly attack you, it adds pressure to the game. I didn’t need to be told anything to know that this face was something dangerous, too. Its blank stare exuded a menace that gave me uncomfortable chills. As soon as it appeared, I could feel that something was going to go wrong soon. Having to play a silly AR game while that thing glared at me felt totally ridiculous, deepening that conflict in myself. Still, if you want to live, you need to play it.
Beyond the Phone Screen is a tense game that makes you constantly second-guess yourself. It feels ridiculous to be playing such a goofy game AR when monsters are about. However, that game, and your phone, are the only things that will save your life. It creates this feeling of internal conflict as you try to stay alive, made even worse by the face looming in the sky. Your eyes are torn between the world and your phone, always fighting your instinct to look at one or the other. It’s an unsettling experience that showed a side of AR games that I really want to see more of.