Following the success of the 2015 release Her Story, game designer and developer Sam Barlow expands on the idea, modernizing the feel of it with Telling Lies. Originally launching last August for PC and mobile platforms, Telling Lies lands on consoles today. As another game that centers around full motion video, does it continue the same success?
In a nutshell, the game allows access to video conversations between an undercover FBI agent, his family, targets of the group he infiltrates, and various other supporting characters. The way you gain this access is through a laptop that has an NSA program running on it. When words are input into a search field within the program, videos that contain that word or phrase are displayed. To limit the player from having the entire database at their disposal, it caps the result at five videos. Combine this with out of sequence videos and only seeing one side of the conversation as well. This leads to a non-linear story where your recollection and detective skills will be tested.
The engine that really drives the train along is the superb acting by the game’s cast. The main character looks like Tom Hardy to me, but my wife thinks he looks like a combination of Chris Evans and Paul Rudd. Either way you slice it, that’s not too bad. In reality, that actor is Logan Marshall-Green, best performance winner at the Golden Joystick Awards for his portrayal of David. He’s also one of the producers for Telling Lies. Alexandra Shipp (Straight Outta Compton), Kerry Bishé (Halt and Catch Fire), and Angela Sarafyan (Westworld) round out the equally impressive main cast of performers.
The gameplay and controls are very simple; it’s essentially just clicking on icons, typing words in the search bar, and rewinding or fast forwarding through videos. Even though PC controls would be the easiest and most sensible option for this, it works perfectly fine on console. The background music is pretty simple too, but there are a few stand out songs from Shipp that bring the quality up. There’s also some new features from the previous version, adding a bit more to the original experience. This includes a playable version of Solitaire (with a slight twist) and some new achievements.
The formatting of the story does take some getting used to, and might not be liked at all by some. As previously mentioned, for the most part, you’re only seeing and hearing one portion of the conversation. With everything being out of sequence and having to search for similarly themed videos, it greatly elongates the story, leads to long moments of silence, and makes seeing the full picture a much more difficult process. Although jagged initially, it’s incredibly unique and feels second nature after thirty minutes or so of gameplay.
Another aspect that takes some getting time to adjust to is the reflection of the person you’re controlling on the computer monitor. There’s also some on-screen dust as well, both elements omnipresent during gameplay. It’s almost like the letterboxing on the top and bottom of a screen during a widescreen movie. They’re not noticeable after a while, but when you do see them, it’s all you can think about and look at for a while.
Thankfully, the in-depth and engrossing story, the strong execution of the actors, and the sheer uniqueness outweigh these negatives. It appears that the genre has much more to offer, and Telling Lies exemplifies it greatly. Hopefully Sam Barlow and other creators can take it to new heights.