Video game sequels are usually all about doing what you liked from the original bigger and better; Halo, Gears of War, Uncharted, DOOM Eternal, etc. A lot of the time this works and it is why most successful sequels are generally regarded as better games than their predecessors, but there are the exceptions to this rule; Telling Lies – the spiritual successor to Her Story – is, unfortunately, one of those exceptions. It is bigger in every way (more storylines to follow, more ways to engage with the game, more characters) and it is better (better quality of life features, better acting in some cases, better moments of discovery in others), yet as a whole it pales to comparison to the unique, finely paced, and laser-focused predecessor. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, a worthwhile risk and sequel, but one that ultimately is a bittersweet experience.
Telling Lies is a lot like its predecessor; while there is an opening shot of a character opening a laptop and inserting a USB in it, the premise is roughly the same: Look at FMV, pick up on keywords, and use the search bar to get new FMV/information, repeat until you’re satisfied, upload/end the game. However, Telling Lies is much better at being a game than its predecessor; in many ways Her Story was a bad game. Although it had one core mechanic, it failed to make that mechanic efficient to use with in-game tools only; you had to have had a way outside of the game to write down information or potential keywords; tagging videos and searching for other keywords, made the first videos disappear afterwards and you had to search for the tags to find them again; piecing together the plot was something that had to be done outside of the game with other tools, re-watching videos was a drag, etc. Telling Lies fixes most of these issues; there’s an in-game notepad to write down anything you want, the FMV have subtitles that allow you to click on specific words and search for them immediately, there’s a bookmark functionality that stores the videos you’ve marked and allows you to use tagging for grouping together videos based on characters/themes/suspicions, there is a fast-forward/rewind feature that makes revisiting old videos less of a drag. It could have been better with marked words from the videos having copy/paste functionality for further ease on taking notes, bookmarking having also folders and sub-folders for better organization and allowing the player to follow specific plot-threads or dates through videos, but it actually made this “keyboard-detective” format into a good video game. Even beyond the mechanics, Telling Lies succeeds at bettering the individual components of the experience; I love Viva Seifert from the first game, but Logan Marshall Green is giving another exemplary performance (especially given the weird format he has to work with) and most actors are pretty good as well; there’s even a solitaire game for easing your mind and taking a break if you want to do that. So, in pretty much every department Telling Lies either betters or changes the experience significantly, but there is one element we have yet to discuss: The Story.
At this point, I have to give out a spoiler warning; this is one of those games where even knowing a character’s name is a moment of discovery and could alter your experience. Spoiler-free version for the rest of the article is that I think if you enjoyed Her Story, you will enjoy Telling Lies despite its flaws, however if you haven’t played either then I still think Her Story is the superior of the two and you should check that out first. For those who still want to read on, let’s get into Telling Lies and what makes it different from Her Story.
Firstly, Telling Lies is still a “keyboard detective” experience through and through; you still listen to characters talk, pick up on keywords, and use them to watch more videos, with the end goal being to form a complete story. The big difference between the two is the format of those videos; Her Story was a police interview where investigators had already asked a question and you see the answer; Telling Lies is a “found-footage” styled conversations, where characters talk to other characters about something. This leads to a big decision for the developers: Do you allow the player to listen to the whole conversation or is it still going to be about getting one side of the event and figuring out how to get more pieces of the puzzle? They chose the latter and, while I get the reasoning behind it, that decision made the game overall worse than its predecessor. Watching and listening to a character have a conversation with someone else, without being able to listen to what they are saying is simply put dull; there are amazing moments where you listen to the other part of that conversation and piece it together, lip syncing the dialogue of the other person, and feeling like a freaking genius, but those moments are only valid in the beginning, and for each of those moments there are 3-minute long videos of you watching a character hearing a monologue from someone else and it is desperately boring. Here’s the best way I can describe how this feels: In Her Story I wanted a fast-forward function because I would revisit videos a handful of times to double-check details and try to pick up new keywords; in Telling Lies there were videos that I was seeing for the first time and I was fast-forwarding through them because I was bored. In all honesty it’s a lose-lose situation; you make the other person audible and the whole game is broken because you can hear their voices and listen to their lines, which would make figuring out the thread you need to follow pretty trivial, or you make their dialogue so vague that it would be infuriating to listen to and not match how people actually talk. This doesn’t make the decision any less boring, but I get why this game is the way it is.
Furthermore, Telling Lies has several plot threads to unravel, which kind of fixes an issue some players had with the first game; even if you randomly stumble upon a big twist, there are so many mysteries and connections between characters, situations, and events, that you only spoiled yourself on one of the many things you want to figure out. Simultaneously, it makes the story less effective; it gets so convoluted and complicated with several timelines, changing relationships between characters, people lying to each other (duh!) and having to make sense of it all is certainly possible, but its less effective as an experience. I got through Her Story in 2 hours and then spent an additional hour searching for the videos I missed, but I found out I was satisfied (wink) from the things I discovered, so I stopped and that story stayed with me for weeks; Telling Lies took me 6 hours to get through the first time and I went back for an additional hour to find every video (which I did) and I already forgot most of the threads I discovered. That’s not to say that there isn’t an interesting story or two in the game, because I still remember and appreciate those, but those experiences are less complete because without the other bits that got lost in the weird pacing of the game they are not as strong.
A while back I wrote an article about the third Bad Boys movie and how that movie is better at every, single element from the previous two, yet it is still my least favorite movie from the trilogy; it’s not a one to one analogy, but it’s pretty close. Telling Lies does what most good video game sequels do; it’s bigger, better, but as a whole it is, unfortunately, worst.