Sam Barlow

[Review] Telling Lies (PC)

From the creator of Her Story, comes one of the more anticipated games of its kind, Telling Lies, an interactive video game. Like its predecessor, Telling Lies has users explore videos on a computer to discover the truth behind David Smith, FBI Agent, and what he has done. A real web is weaved that includes his wife and family back home, his duties as an undercover agent, and other possible lives led in secret. You play as Karen Douglas, a former FBI agent who has stolen a hard drive full of videos she will review to get to the truth behind David’s past. She / You view the videos on her desktop – a sim of a Windows 10 knock-off. By entering keywords, or highlighting them within the videos’ closed captioning, you review dozens of recorded video chats and conversations between David and many key people in his life. You can scroll forward and backward through videos to figure out timelines, and you can also jot down notes using the computer’s “memo app”. You only have a finite amount of time to view material on the hard drive, so you have to move fast.

As a spiritual successor to Her Story, Telling lies does some things well. The story itself stretched out for miles and seemed a bit of a rabbit-hole, which wasn’t bad, just difficult to keep the sequence of events straight; I understand this is a goal to the game. The acting was impeccable, anchored by Logan Marshall-Green’s David (the actor is best known for starring in Prometheus). I really enjoyed the look of the game, particularly being able to see Karen’s face reflected on the computer screen as you view the videos.

However, I have to say I was disappointed in Telling Lies, particularly in its gameplay. As good-looking as this game is, it is simply window-dressing, because the video-viewing is a mess. That’s right, the one thing this game relies on to tell its story is a complete shit-show. Telling Lies uses video chats between characters, but players only see one side of the chat. This could mean you would view a 3 minute video, with most of it having one character nodding back at the camera as they are listening to someone you never hear in the same video…yet you feel compelled to watch in case you miss something important. To watch the other side of the convo, you have to enter the right keyword, and maybe then it will come up. We never see a full conversation side-by-side, and heated discussions are left one-sided, which totally lost their impact; this dynamic really took me out of the story.

Speaking of keywords, entering a keyword brings up every video with that keyword in it. The only thing is, the video starts playing right when that keyword is used, so a 7 minute video could start playing 3 minutes in! One can rewind the video from the beginning, but it’s a very slow tedious process. You can see how there are some serious problems here! The game itself becomes how one can view a lot of videos quickly and there is no fast seamless way to do that! Not fun!

I’ve been grappling with whether or not I would recommend Telling Lies to others…and I am on the fence. I think some people would get something out it, while others would be frustrated by the gameplay. Your mileage may vary…

2.5 / 5

Telling Lies
Sam Barlow
2019

[Review] Her Story (PC) (2015)

I have played a handful of games that have touched on the subject of criminology, where you play a detective on the beat picking up clues, interviewing suspects and arresting perps. Some games do the subject well and are intuitive (see Cold Case Files: the Game or Unsolved Crimes), while some crime games, not so much (see Crime Scene or CSI: Dark Motives). Never have I had a crime-themed gaming experience like what I had with Her Story. Instead of getting clues at the start, you are using already-collected evidence to come to a conclusion.

Her Story opens with a feeling you have gone back in time to the days of Windows 98, as you are presented with a dusty CRT computer monitor. A database program from twenty years ago is running on-screen. No sound is present, except for the faint humming of overhead fluorescent lights which can be seen reflected in the monitor.

A handful of live-action videos are open and available on-screen for viewing. All are short clips (30 seconds or less) of a woman who appears to be in a room being interviewed. They all seem to be out of sequence. The subject matter of what she says instantly piques your interest as you soon realize this woman is being asked questions about the whereabouts of a man named Simon and her involvement with him.

The videos available to you on-screen have been watched…now what? You are given a text box on-screen inviting you to enter random search terms of your choosing. You come to realize you are searching a police investigation database to view the videos. You pull clues from what the woman had said in previous videos and try entering them in the search box. More video results come up based on your search terms. You notice this woman is in all of them, and you learn soon enough Simon is dead and she is a suspect.

Her Story loops around and subtly confuses. Just when I thought I had the sequence of events down, the game pulls a fast one. I take to writing things down in my trusty pocket notebook, like a cop would. More search terms, more videos…suspense ramps up…soon enough, the ending reveals itself…

I am not going any further into the gameplay, except to say Her Story is very much a unique interactive and satisfying experience that I won’t soon forget. Do yourself a favor and get this game!

5/5

Her Story
Sam Barlow
2016

Side note: The “Win 98” desktop shortcuts are .txt files, a trash bin and a game that are active too. You can open them and view them!