When everything is a lie, how can you discern the truth? Telling Lies asks you this compelling question as you scour through video clips of dishonest people, and the answers can only be found with your own intuition.
Telling Lies is an adventure game from the creator of Her Story, and it takes the same clever concept and interface to greater heights and success. In Her Story, you search through grainy video archives on a retro computer. Telling Lies uses a modern interface, but you still type in clues (like phrases or words found in clips you watch) that lead you towards new videos as you piece together an overarching narrative. While that may sound mundane on paper, it’s far from boring in its execution, thanks to phenomenal acting and a deep central mystery with many different threads.
You play as a whistleblowing FBI agent who stole an NSA disk drive, and you plan to upload its contents to the public. The entirety of your time is spent watching, rewinding, and fast forwarding through archived video calls (as well as some clips captured by hidden cameras) found on that drive in hopes of understanding what happened to four connected individuals. I don’t want to spoil the mystery, but the main premise is about a special agent infiltrating a certain group of people, and what’s most interesting is how this mission affects his life and the people around him. What was the point of this mission? How did a cam girl get intertwined in catastrophic events? I was fixated on finding the answers to these questions and more like them. Telling Lies isn’t especially challenging, but that works in its favor; the thrill comes from making connections and watching the pieces fall into place without feeling impeded by mechanics.
The four characters are all lying about something to someone, which makes connecting the dots an exhilarating experience. However, you can only hear the audio and see the video feeds of one person at a time. Sometimes it’s abundantly clear who they are talking to, such as a father’s animated expressions and simple language pointing to the fact that he’s speaking to his young daughter, but other times it’s more cryptic. Hearing half the conversation gives you only a fragment of the information you need, and assembling the rest is a lot of fun thanks to thoughtfully placed clues. For example, a tattoo on someone’s chest led me towards discovering their identity, since the character’s words couldn’t be trusted. Sometimes you find the other half of a conversation, and the moments of silence or facial expressions on a previous video make more sense and give you a better idea of what’s going on.
The best thing about Telling Lies is the fantastic acting from its cast. Whenever something felt off, like a badly put on Parisian accent, there was a reason behind it rather than an indication of poor acting. I loved getting to know the characters and seeing different sides to each person made them complex and real. This consistency of writing and performance is particularly impressive considering the non-linearity; no two players are likely to watch the same videos in the same order, so the story works regardless of your path through the clues.
Every character behaves differently depending on the situation. They may have a shorter fuse when talking to their wife in comparison to how they speak to their boss. I was utterly fascinated by a man who could commit horrible acts but still be a loving father, and by one woman who was adamant about keeping her identity secret.
Telling Lies is especially interesting in how its themes connect to real-world politics and ethics surrounding privacy when in the hands of a government bureau. I empathized with certain characters, particularly because of their conflicted motives. Viewing different facets of their lives made me feel like a fly on the wall, and this voyeuristic touch bounces between unsettling and engrossing when peeking into these private moments.
Once I discovered the answers to the central mystery, I didn’t stop playing – I continued to find every bit of video content I could because I was enthralled by the people in this world. Attempting to understand the psychology behind each character’s actions made me all the more invested and perplexed, because in Telling Lies, even the smallest fibs lead to the biggest discoveries.