Full motion video gaming may not be as popular as it once was, but it’s still around and is still going somewhat strong from what we’ve seen. We’re happy that it is, too, because it gives us something unique and different to play in-between some of the heavy hitters and more traditional offerings.
It wasn’t long ago that we gave a glowing review to The Complex, and now we’re back with director Sam Barlow’s latest: Telling Lies.
Like his first game, the indie darling Her Story, Telling Lies uses computers, typing, searching and video content to present and deliver its narrative. As such, it’s a lot like an interactive film, especially given that there’s next to no gameplay on offer outside of manipulating video, typing and messing around on the computer itself. For this reason, the appeal of such a game is kind of limited, and I can only see it appealing to a niche group of gamers. Then again, that’s always kind of been the case with this type of title.
Things begin when a thirty something woman comes home and heads directly to her computer. Then, once she boots it up, an external harddrive is installed and its contents become available to the gamer. That’s the only real introduction you’ll get here, nor can you expect any sort of real tutorial. It’s possible to bring up the controller layout and button assignments map, and there’s a short help screen that tells you how to rewind and fast-forward video or search for key words, but that’s about it. By searching for keywords, I mean highlighting what the characters say via their subtitles and searching for other videos where the same name, word or term is spoken. Searching through videos in that way ends up being the crux of the experience here, along with actually watching them.
We’re not talking about film footage either. Everything you’ll watch has been taken from recorded Skype calls or something similar. It’s either been recorded from someone’s computer or their phone. Each video is only one side of a conversation, too, meaning you’ll have to find the other side by searching. It’s usually not too difficult, though.
The story that is told through these recorded conversations is that of an undercover FBI agent named David, who’s left his family (which consists of his beautiful wife, his young daughter and his wife’s ailing mother) to go undercover within a group of eco-terrorists that has its eyes set on attacking a pipepline. It’s actually pretty fitting and modern in terms of its topic, given that people here in Canada have been arguing about the Keystone Pipeline out west.
Upgrade‘s Logan Marshall-Green delivers a very strong and believable performance as David, and he’s joined by a rather impressive cast. There’s Halt and Catch Fire‘s Kerry Bishe (who plays David’s wife), Shaft‘s Alexandra Shipp (who plays an eco-terrorist) and Westworld‘s Angela Sarafyan, who was cast as a cam girl. David has a thing for them, you see. Combined, they make these characters feel alive and keep Telling Lies from feeling cheap or cheesy. For the most part, it feels like a movie.
As the main character, you’ll use your computer to try to piece together the story of David and the operation he got himself tangled up in. This is easier said than done because there’s nothing linear about this game. You’ll search names and key words, but that doesn’t mean the videos you find will appear in order. Nor is there an obvious order in which to look things up. As such you’ll spend hours going through many different conversations, in an attempt to make sense of everything. As you do, the in-game timer will tick down and the night will progress further and further towards early morning. In fact, the game begins around midnight and achievements or trophies are earned for making it all the way to five a.m. The timer moves slowly, though, and sometimes hardly moves at all, which is one of my biggest problems with this game.
Truth be told, Telling Lies bored me, and I wanted it to speed up. I appreciated what it was trying to do, and the artistry behind it all, but I didn’t have much fun playing it. Sure, it had some interesting moments, was well written and featured strong performances from talented actors, but it wasn’t very enjoyable for the person playing it. Eighty percent of my time spent with this thing was spent in confusion that eventually led to tedium and to me becoming downright bored. Hell, I eventually started playing Streets of Rage 4 on PlayStation 4 and left the Xbox One on in hopes that the clock would tick down to 5am. It didn’t move when I wasn’t playing, though, which was disappointing. Even leaving a video on didn’t do much.
Due to the above, it’s kind of fitting that some videos basically have you watch as David’s daughter and wife fall asleep, while he reads them bedtime stories.
Even when I was playing, my mind wandered and I started to wish that I was playing something else. That isn’t what I expected when I started this thing, or when I saw its cast and pre-release trailers. It all seemed so interesting, but it bored me to death after a short period of time. Playing Solitaire on the in-game computer was more fun than rewinding and fast-forwarding videos and looking for words to search. I wish that wasn’t the case, as I really did hope to enjoy this one, and was looking forward to playing it. I did care about the characters at first, and continued to be somewhat interested in what happened to them, but the tedium really got to me.
When it comes to presentation there’s not a lot to say. You’ll spend almost all of your time looking at a pretty bare-bones desktop, while using its simple operating system to watch videos, search through a database of stolen footage and play Solitaire. It’s a pretty basic looking game outside of its video footage, which is of decent quality but could be better. This was likely a stylistic choice, though, because the main character (the lady who came into possession of the videos and is using her computer) can almost always be seen through a reflection on the monitor itself.
The audio is quite solid, too. It’s loud enough to not need a high volume level, is clear and is driven by strong performances that feel both emphatic and believable.
At the end of the day, Telling Lies is a tough game to score. I appreciate what Sam Barlow was trying to do with it, and feel that it’s pretty well made overall, but I didn’t really enjoy myself while playing it. I kept counting time until it would end, and can’t see myself ever playing through its disjointed and tedious story again. It’s not bad, but it’s not all that good in my book either.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
- Very strong cast
- Well acted and pretty well written
- Solitaire was fun
- Tedious and boring
- Slow and disjointed narrative