Engrossing television can turn the average human being into a transfixed slave of storytelling. You know what it’s like. You’re compelled to sit forward in your chair, hands supporting your head and you feel the tension build through your body the deeper the plot gets, maybe even shouting and jumping out of your chair when a shocking plot point is revealed. “No way! Who the hell is Steve?”
I found myself doing this a lot with Telling Lies, the spiritual successor to Sam Barlow’s acclaimed Her Story.
You’ll forgive me for being sparse with the details here, but even revealing character names can take away from the experience. It’s something you’ll need to discover as you go along.
Telling Lies follows the lives of four people, each with an intricate story that you need to figure out. This is done, as in Her Story, by watching video footage of each person. It’s not as simple as going through a sequential list of videos, however. You must enter keywords into a search engine that will return up to five videos that feature that chosen word. The game kick starts you with the simple term ‘love’.
From there, it’s all about attention to detail as you watch the footage and pinpoint particular words that might mean something. Unlike Her Story, Telling Lies video footage is all captured from webcams, laptops and mobile phones found in a stolen NSA database. How very Big Brother. This means that all the conversations are two-way, so you’ll need to pay attention to the small details if you want to glean what’s going on. Getting the other half of a conversation can open up whole cans of worms and tons of new avenues to explore.
Your job is to watch hours of footage and get to the bottom of what’s going on. The system used to scrub through the videos is called Retina and is briefly explained in a file you can find on the interactive desktop. The desktop itself is pretty neat with loads of little details and easter eggs to discover. You can even play solitaire, if you need a break from the intensity of the main mysteries.
The meat of the game is spent piecing together the puzzle. One night, I sat down at 10pm saying I would put an hour in. The next time I looked at the clock, it was 1am. I was stunned at how thoroughly engrossed I was by Telling Lies. It’s so easy to get lost in the drama. It’s like an interactive Eastenders, just with a better plot and less getting thrown out of pubs. Once again, being intentionally vague here, imagine my shock when I discovered character ‘A’ talking to character ‘C’ when they should have been talking to character ‘B!’ The scandal! I needed to know more.
The deeper you dig, the more twists the story takes which at some point led to panic as I frantically tried to discover the fate of certain characters.
The characters themselves are brilliantly brought to life by some top names, including Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan and The Invitation’s Logan Marshall-Green. Believability is all in the performance and these guys deliver. I’m not typically a fan of FMV-based games as performances are normally lacking, but these actors and actresses will have you hanging off every word as they sell you their characters story, their character’s truth or their character’s lie. It’s so good, in fact, that you will really need to pay attention to their honed expression, which often give away a lot without the gurning excess of LA Noire.
You can tell you’re going somewhere when you type in an important key word and the soundtrack kicks in. It was the kind of push I needed are an hour of flicking back and forwards watching a father read his little girl a bedtime story. It’s subtle enough not to take you out of the moment and spurs you on without putting “YOU’RE DOING WELL” up in flashing lights.
Sometimes, and I’m not sure what triggered these events, the screen would shift focus to my character’s face as something happens in the background. At this point, you’re thinking ‘man she’s been sat there for hours!’ as you glance to the top right-hand corner and it says 2am on the desktop. These little details are brilliant and further add to the realism on show.
Another neat feature is the ability to bookmark and tag clips. I made notes outside the game anyway and might have gotten a little obsessed with creating a giant map of what was going on, but the in-game system should be enough for most. If you spot something in a video that piqued your interest, then just pause the video and press the bookmark button. These clips then get saved at the exact timestamp with the current spoken text for perusing later. These can then be tagged and groups together if need be.
One downside to finding new clips is that some of them are up to nine minutes long and when a search term puts you halfway through the video, scrubbing back can be annoying. There really needed to be a ‘play from the beginning’ option.
Telling Lies also doesn’t have any real tutorial or hand holding during the initial stages. You are on your own to discover the truth. I normally get a bit impatient with this style of game, but it worked for me on this occasion.