By: Sam Barlow / Annapurna Interactive
Sam Barlow’s Her Story is one of my favorite video games, perhaps the one that’s stuck with me the most. I clearly remember back in 2015, getting it a few days ahead of release and thinking I would just play for a little bit and then get back to cleaning my apartment. But my home stayed dirty that day, because I couldn’t put my iPad down until I completed the game. If I tried, it beckoned to me to attempt just one more search term.
If you haven’t played Her Story yet, rectify that right now. It’s a full-motion video game (FMV) acted entirely by Viva Seifert. The whole game takes place inside an old PC, where you search through a database of interview clips from a murder investigation. The idea is to listen carefully for important keywords that can help you find more clips and fill in the blanks. It can be completed in a few short hours, but will stick with you long after, as you rewatch clips and try to sort out all the facts. Aspects of it are intentionally left vague so you never quite know if you figured it out. And I loved that about it.
So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Barlow was working on a spiritual successor, a game that uses the same mechanics but is on a much bigger scale with more than one actor. Telling Lies has been in production for several years now and is finally releasing August 23rd. It stars Logan Marshall-Green, Angela Sarafyan, Alexandra Shipp, Kerry Bish╬ô├╢┬ú╬ô├«├ë and other recognizable faces. Once again, I was lucky enough to get a copy ahead of time and have so far spent about four or five hours with it. This time, you’re using a newer computer with fancier tools, like the ability to copy keywords directly from a video and search them. There’s also a full cast of characters and far more information to sort through, as the clips span two years. Thankfully, there’s an in-game notepad for jotting down words and names you want to remember, as well as search history and bookmarks. The controls also feel better optimized for touchscreens this time.
Telling Lies didn’t have that jaw-dropping moment for me early on like Her Story did, but it does have the same kind of hook going with its gameplay. An hour zips by before you know it and you’re forcing yourself to take a break instead of following up on the new terms you found. The cast is actually fairly large, so part of the puzzle this time is identifying everyone. The video clips aren’t from crime scenes, but are instead stolen NSA footage following four specific people and those around them. If you thought Her Story was too short, you’ll be happy to learn that this is much longer. It can even be a bit overwhelming at first with the sheer amount of information you’ll uncover early on. There are longer clips this time and not all of them are relevant to the main storyline. In fact, many feel like you’re invading someone’s privacy, listening in on intimate moments. And I’m pretty sure that’s by design, that you’re not meant to watch every last clip. So instead of just finding five clips and watching them straight through, then looking for more, I’ve been jumping around a lot. It’s hard to ignore all the names and important keywords that pop up without wanting to search them right away. I estimate there’s probably several hours of footage I’ve found but haven’t even watched yet. That’s how big this game is.
There’s still a lot of holes in the narrative that I need to fill in, but I like that the game deals with relevant political issues in a mature way. Yes, this is a game that wants to you think about the world outside and not just escape it. I can’t wait to dive back in and see how everything unfolds, as so much of it is still unclear. I should have a proper review in time for release on August 23rd, but if you’ve been aching for another nonlinear game that gamifies search engines, Telling Lies should certainly scratch that itch. You can also pre-order it right now for $6.99 if you want to make sure it downloads automatically as soon as it’s available.