Backlog Review: “Telling Lies” – Get Your Dirty Little Fingers In Everybody’s Pie

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One of the great things about gaming is the genuine fact that for every type of gamer, a game exists. Whether they started in the NES days or they’re a recent addition to the gamersphere, some game out there will suit their fancy. Adrenaline junkies have fast-paced adventure franchises like Uncharted, Gears of War, or Doom. Thinkers can enjoy a classic like Tetris or the more modern adventures of Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice. Sports fans can virtually recreate any major sport, and intrepid explorers can discover the vast worlds of Hyrule, Night City, or the irradiated Wasteland. From first-person shooters to point-and-click adventures, puzzlers to platformers, and everything in between, there is literally a title in the gamersphere to satisfy any player.

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Then there’s Telling Lies, which fits no genre, has no gameplay in the traditional sense, and in exchange for genuine feelings of sleaziness and discomfort brings a fantastic experience hard to recreate in any other medium.

Gameplay, or Complete Lack Thereof

Main screen for Telling Lies showing retina screening and videos

Telling Lies (or telling l!es, as the title card would lead you to believe) categorizes itself as an “interactive film,” and after a few minutes into the “game” players will understand why. Telling Lies places players in the role of Karen, right around the time that “Karen” became synonymous with harassing innocent people of colour and demanding to see the manager because her pumpkin-to-spice ratio was slightly off. Karen has swiped a USB drive from the NSA. The game kicks off with Karen sitting down at her desktop with the USB plugged in. Telling Lies gives you a desktop interface, a few shortcut icons, and says, “Welp, figure it out.” Tutorial? There are no tutorials in the real world. You can scan the in-game version of the “read me” file, but Telling Lies has no intention of telling you that you only have a limited amount of time before the Government busts in and demands what’s theirs.

Telling Lies presents its narrative in the form of video clips. Clips, thanks to a quirk in the surveillance program, only show one side of a conversation at a time, so while you may know who is talking, you may not know who they are talking to, or what exactly they are talking about.

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Gameplay, if it can be called as such, basically amounts to Google searching. Using the in-universe search function on the desktop, players aim to piece together what the hell happened via FMV clips. And that’s it. No gun fights, no interrogations. What happened, happened. Just figure it out. At first, it’s a bit jarring, then a bit boring, then, as the mystery starts to unfold, it becomes enthralling and honestly a little bit dirty.

Characters in Search of an Exit

Telling lies screengrab from gameplay

Explaining too much of the plot literally takes the game away from players, so I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, but do be aware minor spoilers for the early parts of the game may be present.

Depending on player choice, cybersleuthers will be introduced in varying order to four main characters: David, a down-on-his-luck guy who comes from a family of cops, David’s wife Emma, whom he is currently estranged from but still communicates with, Emma’s daughter Alba, and a cam model/sex worker he’s hiring as a substitute therapist. Who knows who? Who knows about who? What does Emma’s mother have to do with anything? And why can’t David show up to Alba’s recital for Christ’s sake??

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The “experience” (I cannot stress enough that this is far from a normal “game”) left me with a couple different feelings that are usually not associated with positive reviews. One is that at times, while I was snooping through these stolen video files, I felt very sleazy myself, like I’m the one who’s the slimeball for trying to comb through these files to find the truth. Not the hooker, not the man with more secrets than a 24-hour Clue marathon, I’m the one with problems for not only discovering what’s happening for digging through their dirty laundry but continuing the investigation after said discovery.

The Glamourless Life

Secondly, at times, I was bored. The part that most real-world private investigators will tell you differs from mystery novels or film noir is that a lot of investigating is dull – combing through files on computers is not the glory and glamour of high-speed car chases, cracking suspects, or daring shootouts. Often times it’s looking through files, articles, clippings, microfiche (if you’re of a certain age), and yes, there were a few times I was, indeed, bored with searching through video files. However, it’s a testament to the story that Sam Barlow and Furious Bee craft that even though things got dull, I was compelled to continue and discover more.

Is Telling Lies a good game? No. Is it a bad game? Definitely not. It’s just hard to categorize this as a game – it’s more of a digital storytelling experience, one that will stick with you for a bit.


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Ryan Bates
Ryan Bates
A gamer since the days games only had 8-bits to work with, Ryan is a So Cal native who likes gaming now as much as he did in olden times when the year started with a 1. Other interests include theme parks, boxing, obscure trivia, and trash movies. You can find him out in the World Wide Weird on Twitter at @RyanWritesGood.
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