Story beats and narratives are usually told in quite linear fashion. I remember loving the way the TV show Lost told flashbacks, flashforwards and dare I say flash sideways to explain narratives in a less linear fashion. Usually though, stories are laid out to be told by the writer or director – not for someone to find pieces of the puzzle through guess work. This is where the genius of Telling Lies shines through with its daring story telling that will keep you intrigued.
You play as a detective hacking a computer full of video footage. You don’t know why but you’ll soon be spending a lot of time with four main characters as they proceed to tell lies to each other and themselves. Some are trivial, some are huge and it is up to you to work out the context of what is going on and unpack the story. As a successor to Her Story, it follows a similar delivery of looking through footage for clues.
To do this you search using keywords. You can highlight them in the on screen text or search for them in the database, This brings up related videos for you to then watch and try to jump around between various videos. Whilst sometimes videos are cordoned off until you have searched and viewed a certain amount of other videos before, you are largely free to discover things randomly as you choose your line of research. This is fantastically freeing and means that you’ll likely discover things in a similar but not identical vein as other players. You’ll likely have an individual experience to you.
Telling Lies also likes to tell lies to its player too. A lot of narratives become background to the central plot and these twists and turns feel more like you waiting to see which ones are knowingly dead ends but needing to explore them anyway to get other key information. This will give you the keyword to then advance the plot. I stumbled across a really key moment in the story at the mid point of my playthrough and so I feel like my experience may not have been so shocking as others who got that footage later on. What I did find interesting was that I spent the rest of the game then wondering if that was really what happened or not so my interest was still held.
Where the game does have a stylistic issue is in the way footage is put together. Each video is one side of a two way call. You’ll be watching giant gaps of no dialogue as one side listens. You can’t play them together if you discover both for example. Admittedly, part of the puzzle is joining up the dots on opposite sides of various conversations but fast forwarding minutes of dialogue can be a bit strange. Videos also start on the keyword you searched for and not at the beginning of the footage so sometimes I kept forgetting to rewind before playing to get all the info.
Depending on how you play you get six different endings that show what happened to someone post game for the legacy of their life. Going that far was quite sweet and made it feel like you mattered. Ultimately the main story is a one shot pony but by altering your path simply you can experience a lot of endings quite easily. The only other downside aside from the long rewind/fastforward times is that Telling Lies implies there is a giant time limit on your actions. Every time you watch something, time passes and you have only the night to solve the mystery. It actually turns out to be entirely false though. You can just sit at the end of the game watching everything and searching all the time and the final cutscenes won’t commence until you trigger it. I’d have liked to have seen this better implemented if they really wanted to pull you down a ‘you can only see so much – make some choices’ route. Instead, its just…there.
It is a small quirk though in the overarching excellence of Telling Lies. The acting is superb. The script, whilst having some clunkers, largely remains quite talkative and grounded. This then helps sell the whole online video call nature of the footage too. Enjoyable from start to finish, this is an FMV adventure that you’ll likely enjoy. It just might be that you reach the end of the story a while before the end of the game.
Freeform narrative discovery makes everyone have a unique experience in the telling of the story.
By design, its open ended nature means that you may uncover the story in a lopsided manner, spoiling things by accident.
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