Horror gaming has felt dead to me for a good, long while, despite what YouTube personalities (and their fanbases) may tell you. Games with cheap jump scares, buckets of blood, and other gimmicks meant to illicit shock as opposed to genuine dread aren’t scary to me, nor are they particularly good. I miss the PS2 days of the genre, where players could expect mind-bending stories, oppressive atmospheres, and actual exploration as opposed to “press X for a loud thing.” Now, two years after The Evil Within and Alien: Isolation gave me hope for the ailing genre, Here They Lie has finally come along and given horror gaming another shot in the arm.
Initially, the narrative of Here They Lie seems simple. You’re a guy in a suit chasing after a beautiful woman, who just happens to be leading you into the decrepit ruins of a city. But the further in you go, the more you realize things aren’t as they seem. A bizarre cult of humans wearing animal heads roam the street. Hazy rooms are filled with glory holes featuring cartoon animals. Things are randomly set ablaze as a giant, humanoid man on fire doggedly pursues you. With each passing chapter, things get weirder and weirder, until players must surrender themselves to a bombardment of psychedelic, abstract imagery and plot twists. Nothing about this game’s narrative is “simple,” ultimately, and you’ll be grappling with questions about it long after it ends.
That’s part of what makes Here They Lie’s story so great. My favourite horror titles are ones that are both scary and mystifying in equal amounts. What makes something like Rule of Rose or practically any Silent Hill so unsettling is a firm commitment to the unknown and unexplained. A tangible sense that something’s askew, but you’re never able to quite explain it—that’s what makes it so scary. The Tangentlemen have encapsulated that feeling in a three-to-four-hour experience, producing a title that becomes gradually more unsettling as the narrative unravels, then leaves you feeling a sense of unease after the perplexing, ambiguous ending. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be left feeling perplexed, anxious, and weirded out.
The animal people fornicating with CRT monitors may have a little something to do with that, but I digress.
What drives home the narrative is the format it’s presented in. While Here They Lie would be a stellar title even without the aid of VR, I found it to be one of the best uses of the technology yet. Gameplay is a blend between “walking simulator” and stealth, with some dynamic moral choices and “outrun the scary thing” moments thrown in for good measure. However, the addition of actual head movement brings a new layer of interaction to the table. I physically moved my body to peek around corners and whipped around to see if anything was chasing me, and bumping into a wall made me feel like I was physically pressed against something. Not only that, but there are moments where players lose control and have to experience things in first-person. Bloody, moaning animal people grinding against you or getting strapped to a chair and forced to inhale hallucinogenic spores from a dead bird, for example. It’s horrifying, disgusting, and I couldn’t get enough. VR feels like the right direction for horror to go, based on this game, and I sincerely hope other developers can come up with something this grotesque, macabre, and fascinating.
Here They Lie is honestly the first VR title that convinced me the platform can be used for more than gimmicks. Sure, driving a tank, racing a car, or riding a creepy roller coaster can be cool, but they’re limited experiences. They don’t put you into the role of a person and allow you to explore or tell you a nuanced story. Here They Lie does, and out of all the PSVR launch titles, it’s the one that feels the most like a traditional game—just with an extra layer of immersion.
It’s a joy, then, that it’s not only a great VR title, but a flat-out great game too. The Tangentlemen’s commitment to Lynchian surrealism and Cronenberg-esque body horror has produced one of the more engrossing titles of 2016. Here They Lie is scary and provocative in equal amounts, and features things I’ve never seen done in this medium before. Some technical warts and lack of visual polish might throw some off, but they’d be missing out on one this year’s most aggressively original games.