FMV games are back with a bang this summer. Erica was launched as a surprise release at Gamescom, and this month also sees Sam Barlow return with another title called Telling Lies, following on from 2015's Her Story. It's easy to tell that this is the same developer as well, because Barlow's new game actually shares many similarities to its predecessor, while also unravelling in its own way.
Her Story tasked the player with sifting through police interviews to get the information they needed, but Telling Lies is a little different. You're still sat in front of a desktop looking at video files, but these are a mixture of files that include recorded video calls, secretly filmed discussions, and more.
To help you with this is a computer program that can be used to search for terms in the subtitles, and this is how you start to piece things together. Listening to one person can reveal a term that you might think is important to the plot, and searching that might uncover more and more. Like a game of pass-the-parcel, the layers start coming off until a clearer picture emerges, except there's no one story running through Telling Lies.
Instead, we have a giant web that entangles the major characters, with the driving force behind it being the actions of David, the bearded gentleman you can see below. We won't say a word about the story, because uncovering things on your own is what gives Telling Lies its strength, but his actions affect everyone else, either directly or indirectly. It's a convincing show from all the actors involved, and you get a sense of increasing stakes as you dig deeper into the story, despite only ever having one side of a conversation.
In this way you can piece together the story in whatever order you want to, either jumping to the end and assembling the rest, or gradually piecing together things in a more chronological way. It all depends on the terms you search and what shows up, and it's worth noting that you only have a certain number of in-game hours to view videos and find the information you need, before the game's cutoff point is reached and the credits roll.
Many of the clips may be inconsequential, like reading a bedtime story or flirting, but it's all about discriminating and identifying important clues, much like something like Return of the Obra Dinn. You make your own conclusions about where the plot has gone and what's happened, for better or for worse, and Barlow pretty much offers no hand-holding in this regard. If you don't understand, you need to find more footage until you do get to grips with what's going on.
There's also a useful bookmark feature to use, as well as rewind and fast-forward and marks that appear once you've seen a video, organising your efforts a little as you go. You might even need a pen and paper too, because you might find that there's a lot to remember and a lot of key players in this mystery, especially during its later stages.
For all its merits though, Telling Lies' story isn't revolutionary in itself, and it didn't exactly blow us away when the pieces fell into place and we realised the sequence of events. There are revelations and dramatic moments, but we were left feeling a little underwhelmed once everything had happened and the credits rolled, rather than intrigued and impressed that we'd managed to piece it all together.
It also sometimes feels like a chore sifting through various files for the answers you need, skipping past the minor stuff to find the key details, and this is another thing that dented our enjoyment somewhat. Getting to the good stuff turned out to be a slog at times, and the extra content felt more like filler rather than the character-building it could have been.
Overall Telling Lies is a good FMV game that makes you use your brain to put together the pieces that are strewn all over. It's not easy and it's certainly not straightforward, but Barlow leaves enough clues to give you threads to follow, while still hiding details in there for the particularly eager detectives. It'll certainly entertain fans of Her Story, and offer a few mysteries to solve for those who want an experience that doesn't hold your hand.