I know based on a report the game gave me at the very end, I only saw about half of what Telling Lies had to show me. I think I’m okay with that.
In the roughly four hours I was given to rummaging through hours of footage of the interwoven lives of its characters, I managed to find the one video I truly wanted to see just as I was about to run out of time. It was the one that answered the question that was on my mind the entire time I was searching through FaceTime and laptop camera videos: what happened?
Telling Lies gives you no exposition whatsoever as it sets you down in front of a computer filled with videos surrounding the life of a man named David, played by Upgrade star Logan Marshall-Green. These videos can be as mundane as him telling a story to his daughter to as intense as the ones that depict key moments in Telling Lies’ overarching story. All you have to do is search through them using words spoken in these conversations, with each video being one side of a two-sided exchange. At several points, I had to use the context clues of what one person was saying in order to search for and find the other side of a conversation.
You’re given no guidance on what’s important to see, what terms to search for, or even where this is all leading. Theoretically, you could stumble upon the final video in as early as your first search attempt then have to backtrack and see what all led to that point. I personally ended up following threads in one storyline just to overlap into another. But ultimately I had to stumble upon all of these to find the answers I was looking for in time.
Unlike its spiritual predecessor Her Story, there’s a sense of urgency in Telling Lies because there is an unspoken time limit. The clock in the corner of the screen is always there, and scenes outside of the computer happen periodically to remind you that time is actually passing by and the clock is ticking. In retrospect, that I found some of those closing beats when I did made my playthrough feel like it had an actual narrative thread the game wasn’t actively giving me, but one I projected onto it myself. As I was made to understand the passage of time was going on in-game, I knew I had to find the videos I was looking for before I was forced out, and thankfully Telling Lies had tools in place like fast-forwarding and rewinding through videos to mitigate the longer time sink scenes, even the ones that felt like filler or red herrings.
At the very least, those moments of filler were elevated by the excellent performances of each cast member. Each video is only one half of a conversation, but as I grew to know these characters in these brief glimpses into their lives and relationships, it became easy to fill in the blanks of each video and still receive the full effect twice over when I found the correspondence. Marshall-Green is a constant in almost every exchange, but actors like Love Simon’s Alexandra Shipp and Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan make the most of their vastly different roles as well.
The individual stories of Telling Lies go in so many different directions that each of these characters and threads feel like their own story, only connected by David who exists at the center. Some can be so compelling you might spend a majority of your time searching through those specific threads, but they all inform each other, and they all lead to the same end.
Writing a standard review for Telling Lies is tough because I want to be able to convey how I experienced the game while also acknowledging no one will ever experience it the same way. I want to tell you about specific moments that resonated with me, but I don’t want to inform anyone’s path through a game that, without my influence, only gives you the tools to forge your own. I want to talk about how the game made me feel, but doing so could impart an expectation the game never actively sets out to meet. Telling Lies isn’t really trying to make you feel a certain way, it merely presents a truth to you and it’s on you to decide what matters, what’s worth understanding, and how you’re going to get there.
I’ve only seen around half of the story Telling Lies has to tell, but I found the answers I was looking for. I think I’m good with letting the rest of those videos stay buried in a search engine.