As the video game industry begins to accommodate more and more unique experiences, what we define as interactive entertainment expands. This is largely thanks to the boom in independent development over the past two generations, which as a result, has given rise to select genres once assumed dead. Full-motion video is just one example, and Telling Lies feels like a premium take on that experience. The result is a captivating narrative held back by some clunky interaction.
From the developer behind PC hit Her Story, Sam Barlow has crafted yet another FMV thriller which takes place entirely on a laptop screen. It's your job to work out the story behind four select characters and learn what links them together by watching the videos they have recorded over a certain period of time. The left thumbstick controls the laptop's mouse and a search bar lets you dig through clips containing the term you choose.
That's about as far as what you would consider traditional gameplay goes, allowing the story to quickly become the centrepiece of the game. The four main roles are played by Spider-Man Homecoming's Logan Marshall-Green, Deadpool 2's Alexandra Shipp, Argo's Kerry Bishé, and Westworld's Angela Sarafyan. More minor characters help to flesh out the story here and there, but for the most part, the videotapes you rummage through will focus on the quartet in question. By analysing these clips, you'll slowly begin to uncover the mystery at hand.
The plot eventually centres around one particular character, but that's not to say other members of the cast begin to fall by the wayside. Quite the opposite, in fact. Logan Marshall-Green puts in a phenomenal performance as he battles to save a dying marriage and maintain a normal relationship with his daughter, while Kerry Bishé is on the opposite end of that as the wife. Meanwhile, Angela Sarafyan plays the seductive role of an online cam girl and Alexandra Shipp is involved in movements to halt development of questionable structures. How these characters intertwine and relate to one another is what forms the crux of the narrative.
It's an intriguing story, too. Feeling like you've cracked the code only to discover another plot point allows you to become quickly wrapped up in Telling Lies' fiction. With more than 150 videos to watch across a four-hour playthrough and multiple endings to find, there's a good amount of replayability to keep you coming back to learn the finer details which string this tale together.
It might sound slightly overwhelming to have instant access to so many clips at once, but the game does a good job of letting you sort through the content and organising it. You can bookmark any video at any point throughout its duration to return to later while tags make sorting them much easier. The game even lets you circumvent the search function entirely by simply selecting subtitles and triggering an inquiry whenever you like. It's an intuitive set of mechanics which makes navigation a complete breeze.
However, problems start to rear their ugly heads when the rewind function is taken into account. Due to the nature of Telling Lies, whenever you search for a word, name, or phrase, you are telling the program to look for the exact moment that term appears in a video. This is instead of simply listing the clips which contain the word and it quickly leads to issues -- especially in the early game.
When you're just starting out in the first hour or so, you'll want to watch videos in their entirety so that you can take in as much information as possible. The rewind function doesn't really facilitate for this, however. You can scrub through a scene to make it back to the beginning, but even on the quickest setting, Telling Lies rewinds at a snail's pace. For larger videos, it gets to the point where you can very comfortably have a good scroll through Twitter on your phone before even making it to the halfway point of a video. It's completely immersion-breaking, made all the more baffling by the fact that the game uses so few of the DualShock 4 controller's buttons in the first place. We don't understand why we couldn't simply press L2 to immediately start a video from the beginning.
What may surprise you is that the game does actually include this functionality, but the interaction required to make it happen feels like a combo from Street Fighter V or Tekken 7 more than anything else. If you hold the thumbstick to the left the moment you open a video, it will actually play from the very start. However, this input needs to be done so quickly that it almost feels like a glitch. It quite literally needs to be performed in a split second. The game also never tells you about this, meaning a lot of players will never discover the trick. It’s safe to say that its implementation is absolutely baffling.
Telling Lies is one of the best experiences to make use of FMV on PS4, telling a fascinating narrative that'll have you guessing what revelation will come your way next. What's more, the star-studded cast of characters does an excellent job of bringing the script to life, but it is held back by a perplexing rewind function. Had it been implemented better, the game would be on the cusp of greatness. Although, in its current state, Telling Lies is still a very safe recommendation for fans of the genre.