Telling Lies in the test: sex, lies and video clips

Author: Manuel Fritsch
Date: 2019-09-05 16:07:00
With Her Story, Sam Barlow achieved a surprise success in 2015. The spiritual successor Telling Lies consistently and convincingly continues the idea of an interactive real film adventure, but also retains a few small quirks.

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that we are all constantly watched by cameras. Under certain circumstances, every laptop and every smartphone are potential surveillance cameras, and if there is any suspicion, security authorities can record conversations.

But what if such a secret database with hundreds of private video calls leaked to the public? Is it legitimate or morally justifiable as a whistleblower and journalist to break into the most intimate private sphere of people in order to uncover the truth?


A simple search mask is available on a virtual desktop for this purpose. If we enter terms like »love« or »drugs«, they will spit out up to five videos in which these words appear. The recordings cover the two-year private conversations of FBI agent David, who is embroiled in a scandal that we as investigative journalists want to expose.

At the beginning it is not at all clear to us what exactly we are looking for. Unlike in Her Story, in which we only browse through the police statements of one person, David's story is much more complex. Telling Lies encompasses several interwoven narrative strands with different people who we have to bring together.

To make matters worse, the videos only ever show one side of the conversation. In order to fully understand a conversation, it is therefore necessary to find out who David is actually talking to. The great attraction is to discover the right keywords, which then lead us to the other side of the dialogue.

It becomes almost uncomfortable when we come across very intimate moments in our research. Because of course not all videos have something to do with David's job as an FBI agent. Is it really relevant that we overhear him and his wife questioning their marriage or pondering about their love life?

Many familiar and touching scenes can also be found, such as reading a bedtime story from her favorite book to his daughter. With the right search terms, however, we can also find revealing conversations that show the main character with an erotic webcam beauty in a sex chat and come across his briefings with superiors.


With every search term and every new video found, the huge patchwork quilt becomes less holey. After about two to three hours we slowly understand how David's mission came to an end and how it changed him and the people around him. The actual narrative is not what the story experiment carries and what makes it so remarkable.

Telling Lies works so well because Sam Barlow is more about the characters' relationship and how they deal with loyalty, love and of course the truth. He puts the characters, their feelings and their thoughts at the center of our research.

The framework story provides exactly that: a framework. He is the reason this particular group of people meet and their paths cross. Only a few clips show direct action.

We spend most of the time watching people argue, explain their love to each other, threaten and forgive, sing, flirt and heatedly arguing, or just watch each other fall asleep . How real people live in (long-distance) relationships when no one is supposed to be watching.


That this highly voyeuristic experience works so well is mainly due to the authentic acting of the great ensemble. The professional actors, some of whom are known from TV series like Westworld or 24 , bring the well-written dialogues across with an extremely strong intimacy.

Thankfully, Barlow refrains from giving the characters dialects. All speakers can be clearly understood and thanks to the good German subtitles and the completely translated interface, the adventure can be played even without knowledge of English.


Unfortunately, Telling Lies has also inherited a few weaknesses from the previous game. While the somewhat cumbersome operation of the Her Story database can still be explained in terms of content with the outdated database software from the 80s, these inadequacies are much more noticeable here. The story takes place between 2017 and 2018, and the way we interact with videos has changed fundamentally since YouTube & Netflix at least.

In the fictitious database, on the other hand, there are none of the usual and well-known video tools. We can indeed fast forward and rewind with the mouse button pressed, but only very, very slowly. There is also no way to drag the playhead to a specific point or jump directly to the beginning of a video. If we find a video about a word that the protagonist says at the end of a seven-minute monologue, we have to manually rewind the entire video. It's frustrating!

It is also advisable to take notes in the classic way with pen and paper. The integrated tools (notepad app, tags and bookmark feature) are similarly rudimentary and are not really useful in this form.

Despite these small flaws, Barlow's second game in the series is a fascinating and highly recommended experience. The attraction of really finding all the videos and understanding the smallest details of the parallel storylines in their entirety is again highly motivating in this unusual narrative form. For a third part, which is hopefully being planned, we would like to see a new user guide.