One day I was scrolling through my feed, on the bookstagram side of things, when I came across an ad. Now this isn’t totally uncommon because instagram is a free app and it advertises a lot of things. However, this one caught my attention. It was advertising an app called unrd and featuring a story called “Last Seen Online.” The brief clip caught my attention and as I was a little bit bored (August has been a slow reading month for me) I decided to go and download it. I hopped over to the App Store on my phone (because I believe it’s iPhone only at this time) and downloaded it.
When you open the app, it’s fairly simple. They offer you three different stories, one is coming soon, in different genres: horror, thriller, mystery. Each story has a title and a number of days. I had to go with “Last Seen Online” because that was the one that got me to download the app. This particular story says 8 days. This means that the story plays out over the course of eight days of real life time.
The basic premise of the story takes place around a girl named Amy Morris. She’s 25 years old, almost 26, and is planning a night out with her friends for an early birthday celebration. You have access to Amy’s phone and all of her text messages which will display the story as you go. The story starts off before their night out and it prompts you to read the various text message conversations to find out what’s going on so far. There are normal things like conversations with her mother (who is inept at emojis), her father (who is kind of a jackass), and her various friends including the group chat planning the night out. Due to the title of the story and the little video introduction to the story, you know that Amy is never going to make it home from the night out. From the instant you open the story, you get to watch the text messages come in in real time and over the course of the next eight days the story unfolds until you get to find out just what happened to Amy.
Certain chat conversations are locked and can be unlocked by keys. You can get keys by referring friends (which I never quite figured out how to do) or by buying them. I was at first stubborn enough to say that I wouldn’t buy anything. I’d never been the type to buy paid features from an app, but then messages from one of the locked conversations came in and I couldn’t quite help myself. It cost about $6.00 CAD to buy the 21 keys required to unlock the seven conversations I didn’t have access to previously. I will say, that for me, the money was totally worth it.
I was quickly engrossed in the story. I knew that Amy was going to go missing and that something bad had probably happened to her. I didn’t know what happened or how, but I wanted to know. It was fascinating to watch the texts roll in from her friends talking about the morning after with their hangovers and slowly realizing that Amy was missing. If I’m going to be honest, I got pretty obsessed with the story. It’s like a book, but more of a tease. The story played out slowly lasting the eight days and I had to wait for things to happen. IT amped up the anticipation for me and the suspense. I turned the sound on on my phone for the first time in months so that I could know as soon as possible when a text came in.
For quite awhile it became all I could talk about. I annoyed Kari with frequent text messages about the story, though I never spoiled it because her husband was reading it. I also told the whole story to my mom, including reading all the texts from the climax/denouement to her as we walked the dog today. I literally could not shut up about it. I was completely engaged in the story and knowing that I would have to wait to see how it all ended it amped up the experience for me. When I read a book, I know I can stay up all night to read it if I really needed to know the ending, but with unrd you’re forced to watch the story play out over time.
So, as I mentioned, I was very engrossed in the story, and it was fun to try and guess what was happening as it went along. I’m the type of reader who likes to try and guess what’s going to happen and then gets really excited when they get it right. I don’t get disappointed if I get it wrong either because it’s just fun to try and guess. In this case I made some correct guesses, but I still ended up being totally surprised by the ending. Some people might call that predictable, but for me it’s the nature of the mystery, and I love a good mystery.
Another cool feature is the way the story is presented. Technically you are in possession of Amy’s phone, but it’s really just her phone in one app which serves as a sort of What’s App/texting and social media platform because they can post stories. The texts are always accessible if you have unlocked all of them, but the stories only last for 24 hours. Since the story feature exists, the app has to be a bit more multimedia than just the visual elements. They hired actors to play out the scenes from the night out of Amy and her friends partying. They even recorded clips for audio messages that get sent along the way. They created a fake instagram for Amy and news articles and news casts. It made the experience feel even more real.
I would give “Last Seen Online” five stars. The presentation was amazing. The story kept me interested. I was invested in the characters and their motivations. It evoked a deep reaction in me, which is all you can really ask for from a story. I enjoyed how it resolved and the way that they concluded it. There was genuinely a part of me that wanted to click on the next story and start it immediately, but it’s only three days long and I don’t know when the next one after that comes out and I don’t want to run out too soon. I would say that the only major downside of this app is that you have to pay for the most important text conversations to be unlocked. For me, the purchase was worth it. I got a lot of enjoyment out of the story and value wise, $6 seemed pretty reasonable. I will pay up to $14+ sometimes to go see a movie in theatres for two hours of entertainment. $6 for eight days worth really isn’t so bad. They do have a refer a friend feature though, so if you can convince seven of your friends to play (and figure out where the referral code place is hidden) you can unlock all the important conversations that are locked. For each friend you refer you get three free keys (and they do as well).
I highly recommend this app and this story. If you do download it and read it, please feel free to message me and talk to me about it because I know I needed people to talk about it with when I was going through it.