I would never have expected FMV experiences to become a thing in video games again, but they've started to pop up here and there and some have been downright excellent. One of the first ones to come to mind is Her Story from creator Sam Barlow. With Her Story carving out its spot as one of the best story-based games of the past decade, here comes Telling Lies, the spiritual sequel. And, after a brief stint on PC, it's now come to consoles and it's an experience that feels better on some platforms than ever.
Telling Lies isn't something that offers a lot of backstory at the beginning. Players go in completely blind, only with the briefest of setups leaving them on a PC home screen. There's no real introduction to the controls or any tutorial. The idea is for players to rummage through a live video archive and try to piece together what's happening themselves. They'll gradually be introduced to four different characters and as players see their videos, their stories will start to intertwine.
The main mechanic involves using your own brain and exercising lateral thinking and deductive reasoning. As the first video clips play out, it's up to the player to determine what to search for next and uncover clues through search terms. Punching in a single word or phrase will yield a handful of fresh video clips containing the search parameters. The clips will almost always search for the word in context, so there's no playing the full video. On top of that, players can only get so many clips on a results screen, so the searches eventually have to get more specific. And there's no Safesearch filter, so not only are dirty searches possible, they often prove helpful.
Progression is ultimately determined by how well the player can conduct standard searches, as well as by how much they can remember. The key to piecing together each character's story is remembering crucial moments in their encounters. Thankfully, there's a bookmark feature to help keep major moments in place.
While I won't spoil the finer points of the Telling Lies narrative and the various twists, I will note that the acting from the game's four characters is superb across the board. Players get to learn the intimate details of their conversations and encounters, starting with seemingly-simple relationships that get much more complex as the story goes along. These videos span almost a year and having watched a good chunk of them, there's a real sense of emotional range conveyed by each of these characters. Each video is a look into their psyche and their emotions, which often change depending on the time period.
There's casual conversation and flirtation that gradually develops into scenes of full-blown tension. The performances are especially captivating, considering that the actors aren't playing off of each other. They're essentially delivering one-person monologues that are spliced together into a cohesive two-way conversation. The way the story itself is structured in this manner makes Telling Lies a narrative-based story unlike anything else out there.
The console controls are essentially the same across the three major platforms. However, having reviewed this on the Nintendo Switch, it makes me feel like Nintendo's handheld hybrid is the better platform for a game like this. The touch controls felt more intuitive for the story that Barlow was trying to tell, like I was looking to access something off a tablet.
As for Telling Lies itself, it's an outstanding story and one that's told in a novel way. What makes the game especially memorable is the individual acting performances and how the actors are able to convey a range of emotions. There was nothing over-the-top or anything that made me want to mock the dialogue. Everything is well-written with strong performances to match. I missed the original PC release, but I'm glad I got to experience the Telling Lies story on Switch.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch code provided by the publisher. Telling Lies is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $19.99. The game is rated M.
- Clever concept
- Wonderfully acted
- Strong story that progresses based on player deductions
- No real introduction to the story or controls
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Telling Lies (Switch) review: Searching for answers
Sweet. This has been on my Steam wish list for a while after I played Her Story. One of these days I’ll be in the mood to play it!