Telling Lies – Exploring the sequel to Her Story

Telling Lies is from Sam Barlow who previously made Her Story, a very popular indie game that is worthy of quite a bit of praise. Telling Lies is promised to be bigger, better, and more in-depth and it has succeeded at that.

Telling Lies focuses on David Smith, as he has moved across the country for work… ok that’s not exactly it, the problem with Telling Lies is similar to Her Story’s issue. The entire game is driven by the narrative and ultimately the discovery of that narrative is crucial to the game. There’s not a huge gameplay system or a separate puzzle, it’s about how the player discovers and learns about the story and the slow reveal of it, and thus much of the story is a spoiler.

A very loose outline of the story of Telling Lies is that David is an FBI agent investigating a group, and forced to move across the country to be away from his wife and daughter as part of the investigation. There’s a massive story here, and many different facets to it. The purpose of Telling Lies is for players to discover the full story by watching recorded video clips from David’s investigation and video calls, mostly the video calls.

Each of the video calls are split up into separate videos, so David’s and the other person’s files can be found by searching the database for words that were in the dialogue. The videos are also set up so players can only see and hear one side of the conversations, so while watching David’s videos you only hear David’s voice. All conversations are closed captions and players can simply click on the words in the subtitles to make searching easier.

Part of the game is about finding the other side of a call, for example, a character may drop the word “beach”. Players might see this as significant and search the database finding a second video call of the same length from about the same time (or three hours difference because of time zones) and suddenly players now have access to the other side of that video. Of course, many words are used in multiple conversations so players will also have the ability to find other clips. A useful bookmark tool helps you remember important statements in the videos that work efficiently.

The exploration of the database and finding different clips using search terms is a majority of the gameplay in Telling Lies, but it works for what it is supposed to do.

The videos in the game are extremely well done. They were apparently all acting out as actual video calls so they line up and many video calls show much more than just two people standing there looking into a phone lifeless. Characters move and show off the locations where they are.

The acting as well is great, Logan Marshall-Green plays David and brings a lot of life to the characters. Kerry Bishe of Halt and Catch Fire fame plays Emma, David’s wife, and is skilled in connecting with the viewer and the character. There’s a seven-minute mostly monologue by her that’s incredible and feels like one of the best scenes in the game.

The problem is, during her monologue, David is listening and there are about 6 minutes of that call of him just staring at the screen. Logan Marshall-Green is skilled and you can see him thinking as he listens but his side of that call is empty.

This is a problem for Telling Lies. There are over ten hours of footage here, and with most of them being video calls that’s about five hours of calls. But people don’t talk over each other so while there are about 5 hours of dialogue on those calls, there’s also five hours of silence and those silent minutes add up.

The core issue is there’s no way to watch two videos at the same time, nor is there a good way to seek on a call. Instead, players are expected to sit through calls and watch it, then watch the other side, and it’s a bit much for the long calls. You also have to rewind many calls to the beginning to see the entire call and that is also a rough process.

There could be a solution. If you find two calls that are associated, they should play simultaneously, and that would produce a better experience. Sadly that’s not what is available here. A shame because it’s a much-needed function.

It’s clear that finding the second part of a call is part of the game but the singular playback, no seeking and inability to match two clips make watching a call more work than it should be.

The other issue I have for Telling Lies is I feel that my path through the story ran out of steam after about a third of the videos. I feel that I fully understood the story at that point and while there was a single reveal in the next third of the story, I don’t know if I need to watch much more.

More isn’t always better. There’s a bigger story here, but there’s also much more footage than might be needed. Her Story had a nice self-contained two to three hours of footage, but Telling Lies wants to tell a bigger story, which it succeeds at. It also tries to tell that story of too long of a period of time, which doesn’t feel as necessary.

I also think the story here is slightly less interesting than Her Story was, and that’s a bit of an issue for me.

That’s not to say I dislike Telling Lies, however, it is a sequel to one of the best stories of all time. I like a lot of what Telling Lies does, and the experience is once again one-of-a-kind. But there are some mistakes here that could have been improved upon.

Ultimately I give Telling Lies a

8/10

If you haven’t played Her Story, I would play that instead of Telling Lies, however, I would recommend Telling Lies to any fan of Her Story, because it’s a similar game and a similarly solid story.

If you want more of my opinions on Telling Lies, you can find that on a video I recently did comparing Telling Lies to Her Story that is available here:

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