Telling Lies allows me to state how much I have a love for FMV games. I remember putting the likes of Contradiction: Spot the Liar near the top of my Game of the Year list in 2015. It did however lose out to Her Story, from the master of the genre Sam Barlow.
I can’t actually review Telling Lies, because to do so will absolutely take away from the experience. I can say instantly though, that it is something incredibly special and you should stop and buy it right now. Whatever platform you have access to.
Why am I so late in ‘reviewing’ this then? Especially if I claim to admire not only Her Story so much, but also its creator Sam Barlow? Well that comes down to no longer have a PC capable of playing games and a lack of funds. I watched on with envy as I heard time and time again about how wonderful a game it was.
I reviewed Her Story for Gamestyle back in 2015 and I gave it a 10/10 at the time. Just moments into this, Telling Lies reminded me as to why I gave Her Story such a score half a decade ago. That’s because within those opening moments it all came flooding back.
There is a reason Sam Barlow has nailed the FMV genre so much better than many others. It is because he takes the shortcomings of FMV and uses them to the games advantage. Rather than using a series of filmed elements that try to come together as a traditional style game, or a full on interactive movie, they are instead used as a something within the game mechanics.
You are given canned video and you need to watch and make notes (oh the notes, more on that later), then reference those against other videos, make more notes, do more searches and piece things together yourself. There is no guiding narrative or mechanic to ‘get right’.
You are given an OS that you must use as a tool to piece together the story that unfolds. The OS is clearly a fake linux type system, which has all the basic you’d expect from such a thing. Including the added bonus of Solitaire! I would say maybe the desktop is a little too tidy, but I can let that slide.
Anyway, this is there purely to give you a way to view these videos and make searches. It actually makes it super realistic. Especially when played with a set of headphones on and you pick up on the ambient sounds. There is also the clever reflection in the ‘screen’ that does tell your brain that you are infact there in the moment. It is such a subtle detail, but it works in the best way. Ig honestly took me a while to realise the reflection wasn’t actually me, but the person you are playing.
As with Her Story I got lost in the game. I became engrossed with the characters and everything they had to say. The only thing that was off-putting initially was seeing an actor I instantly recognised in the shape of Logan Marshall-Green and not just because he is the spit of Tom Hardy. He may not be the biggest actor in the world, but has been in enough movies and TV shows he is recognisable.
Now this isn’t me bashing the casting choice, because Logan does a fantastic job along with the rest of the cast. But one of the amazing things about Her Story was Viva Seifert, who has come out of absolutely nowhere to be an absolute revelation in that game. Well unless you had a deep and unhealthy knowledge of Merethiel from Runescape. Having a complete unknown helped sell the story spectacularly well.
It is the same with Kerry Bishé, Alexandra Shipp and Angela Sarafyan all of whom have had decent roles across various films and TV shows. All really rather good at what they do.
It honestly isn’t a negative though, it just meant I spent a little while trying to place the face. I soon got over that and if you’re reading this before playing, then you won’t need to go over the same as me.
Unlike other times film and tv actors get roles in games, when it is usually to add star power to get a few more sales, which in turn shows in the performances. Those used in Telling Lies are not being used in a sound booth or in mocap, they are doing what they do best and acting. It works and it works rather well.
Anyway, back to the game and those notes. I took out a pad and pen in preparation for Telling Lies because I knew based on my experience with Her Story that it would be a good idea. I also knew at one point I’d look like Charlie from that one scene in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia that became a meme. Trying to make connection between characters at certain points that may or may not be important. Wondering if I need to look for clues in certain words, or if I missed anything in a simple ‘I love you’.
The deeper I got the more Telling Lies started to mess with my own thoughts. I started to piece together things that had no bearing on the final outcomes. I had to follow that lead anyway. If I am going to be a good detective, then i need to follow them. I can’t go back to my client and not be 100% sure of what I was telling them.
Wait a minute… I am doing it again aren’t I. This is a game, not real life and I am not being employed by anyone to investigate anyone else. Get a grip.
But that is the genius Sam Barlow brings to the genre. He has you believing everything you are playing. You forget at points you are playing a game and not actually doing detective work. I mean, he did go extravagant this time around and upped the budget for extra actors, but boy, does it work well.
The game works well as standard but sat in a room on your own with the lights out and a pair of headphones. Well it just comes to life. I couldn’t tell you how much footage there is, but I must have watched it all many times over. There is something so satisfying listening to deep personal moments and then looking for things that could be important.
The only thing that would have made it more satisfying would have been an analogue dial like on old CCTV systems. Well the ones I remembered from being in retail anyway.
Back to notes and why they are so important. I remember one evening I picked the game back up, referred to my notes from the night previous, then heard something in a new tape. This had be going back through my notes and going down another path of videos. Many of which I’d already scrubbed, but found something new to note, before getting back to the point I’d originally started on.
As things start to unravel the more interesting it all gets and the more I was drawn in. I felt something for these characters. I din’t need to like or respect them, but I felt something for them all. I had seen them during personal moments with each other and knew more about them than anyone else in the game knew about each other.
Yes it sounds like hyperbole from my part, but I really don’t care. For every single AAA produced micro-transaction infected cynical cash grab, there are games like Telling Lies to remind you just how much creativity there is in the industry.
As long as the likes of Sam Barlow keeps producing games of this quality. Then there will always be something special to look forward to. I have no idea what is next project is, but I am already eagerly awaiting it. (Her Story ported to Switch wouldn’t too much to ask would it?)
I have lost many hours to Telling Lies, just as I did with Her Story and it has left an impression on me that will live with me forever. In the same way a certain piece of music, a special film or book can do. I wondered if Her Story could be bettered and whilst Telling Lies doesn’t ‘better’ Barlow’s previous, it equals it.