The Controls Are Telling
HIGH:A weird, eclectic yarn of a mystery
LOW Playing with a controller is simply inferior.
WTF: Someone tell the Need For Speed team that FMV is alive and well.
Her Story sticks out in my mind as a fairly important game as it came out at a weird time in 2015 when indies were transitioning from “Retro platformer/artsy piece on Xbox Live Arcade” to whatever nebulous definition one wants to assign to the term “indie” at this point. Along with contemporaries like Undertale, Soma, and Gone Home, Her Story helped blur the lines between smaller, ‘budget’ titles and the AAA sphere, and that’s absolutely been a net positive for both the industry and consumers.
Telling Lies, the new game from Her Story developer Sam Barlow (who also served as the creative director on the astoundingly underrated Silent Hill: Shattered Memories) is essentially a more refined, higher-budget spiritual successor. As with its predecessor, the less one knows about the core plot before going in, the more interesting and surprising it will be, so please excuse my intentional vagueness.
In Telling Lies, the player controls a woman staring at a computer screen in first person perspective. On this computer is a wide assortment of recorded videos with conversations from four different people. The way players ‘progress’ is by listening to conversations and then picking up on key words like “murder” or “spy” and then searching for new videos where characters speak those words.
The goal is to figure out what the hell is going on, who these people are, and why the player’s avatar is doing this in the first place. I’m a fan of games where having a notepad and pen handy is useful, and by the end of Telling Lies, as was the case in Her Story, I had two pages of scattered vocabulary that would get me admitted to a psych ward if a medical professional randomly found it.
As a follow-up to Her Story, Telling Lies is a tremendous success. While actress Viva Seifert is missed after her exceptional performance in HS, the dingy sets and compressed video she was confined to are a thing of the past here. Everything from the quality of the lighting to the UI on the fake computer screen has been significantly improved, leading to an experience that definitely feels like a step up.
One thing that does carry over is the same shockingly-good-for-an-FMV-game level of acting, as Logan Marshall-Green, Kerry Bishe, Alexandra Shipp, and Angela Sarafyan all do a tremendous job injecting life into characters that are essentially Zoom chatting. It adds up to an exceptional level of production overall.
So, that’s really all I need to say about Telling Lies as a game. It’s great and I recommend it. Sam Barlow took his template from Her Story, expanded it, and made a better thing. This should be celebrated. So why isn’t this review over? I had issues with the version of Telling Lies I played.
The game was originally released for PC and Mac in August of 2019, and console version was just released — hence, this review. Unfortunately, I must emphatically say that Telling Lies is something that was meant to be played with a mouse and keyboard. Being able to use a computer interface to navigate a faux computer screen is obviously more intuitive than using a gamepad — an Analog stick is a terrible substitute for a cursor on a desktop.
Furthermore, the most common action one does while playing Telling Lies is entering keywords into a search bar, and obviously using a controller to navigate the PS4’s keyboard is not only slow, but it also shatters the immersive motif of pretending to be at a computer. It’s hard to maintain the illusion of being this woman trying to find the truth when the keyboard prompt I use to buy games on the PSN Store pops up every five minutes.
Telling Lies is a fantastic game…On PC. On consoles it’s playable, and for those who don’t have any other alternative it’ll do in a pinch, but playing with a mouse and keyboard is the way to go. The experience is so thematically intertwined with the pretense of using a personal computer that a lot is lost in the translation to home consoles. Considering the low system requirements, anyone with a relatively recent laptop should be able to run the PC version, making the console versions obsolete on arrival. The devs did the best they could with the port, but it’s still a distant second best to the original.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Furious Bee and published by Annapurna Interactive. It was originally released in August of 2019 on Steam, and is now available on PS4, XBO and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a Base Model PS4. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to playing the game, and the main story was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and features Drug References, Sexual Content, and Strong Language. While the game doesn’t feature any shocking imagery, the dialogue has multiple obscenities while also working with some very mature themes and subject matters. For an older teenager who likes mysteries, I don’t see a lot here that could cause problems, but this definitely isn’t a game that skews towards a younger crowd.
Colorblind Modes: The game features no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game features subtitle options and presents them in large, clear font but with no way to resize them. All dialogue and instructions are provided in text. Due to the nature of the title, I see zero potential impediment to someone playing this game without the ability to hear it. I’d say it’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are not remappable.