Here They Lie is a first person psychological horror from first-time developer Tangentlemen and brought to you by publisher SIE Santa Monica. Developed exclusively for the PS4 and designed primarily with VR compatibility, this stylistic experimental horror will throw you into the depths of the human mind and have you constantly question the reality around you. Whilst I did get the game on launch for my PSVR, this review will be based almost entirely on the normal PS4 version that has recently been made available through a patch.The reason will be included down below in a specific 'VR' section, with that said, let's continue.
You can purchase Here They Lie on the Playstation Store for £15.99/$19.99
Strangely, this is a horror game with very little horror in it. At least not in the traditional sense. Here They Lie focuses on its surreal storytelling and stylistic design in order to convey a sense of uneasiness and creepiness in its atmosphere. The intentional direction in the narrative is the utmost important part of the experience, and for the most part, succeeds as intended.
The clarity and effectiveness of the plot will more than likely be down to the complexity and patience of the player. For myself, and I believe the majority of others, the story was a convoluted, nonsensical mess. Now, I am not a stupid person and I understand that the developers wanted to create a vague plot with a heavy amount of themes and theories. But, I was completely dumbfounded for most of the time in what was going on, and whether deliberate or not, by the end of the game I was utterly confused and just laughed at the credits. It left me underwhelmed and unsatisfied with the conclusion to this seemingly important plot. My understanding was that it was about the breakdown between a couple and the phycological aftermath this grief had caused, with the basic goal being to escape from the past (and the city itself).
One Reddit post later, and all my theories had been thrown down an equally bottomless chasm the game rests upon. The game divides levels with cutscenes that attempt to piece the overarching plot together, as well as various phone calls you receive whilst venturing. This simply did not give me enough to go on, when Here They Lie relies on traditional direct storytelling it fails. From beginning to end, I had no more or less knowledge of why I was chasing this woman? Or if this was real or not? If this was the intention, then well done, you succeeded. There's nothing wrong with leaving some questions unsolved, but don't rest the entire purpose of the narrative on uncertainty. There are also additional story segments scattered as collectables throughout each level. Either in readable text or audio pieces from various individuals. The text is poetry and often disturbing, using the silence of reading and taking in the words effectively, all whilst knowing the nightmarish world still lurks behind you.The audio diaries, however, are more of the nonsense.The voice acting is terrible and the dialogue is too pretentious for its own good. It was as if they asked people off the street to speak utter gibberish into the microphone.
Make no mistake, though – you have never experienced a world like this before. The visual storytelling produced by the artists and designers here is compelling and immersive more than most games.The incredible sense of sickness, isolation and madness oozes from every environment you explore. Imagery is so important when you wish to convey a sense of madness or psychological turmoil, which is why Alice in Wonderland is such a masterful portrayal of mentality.Here They Lie does truly deserve high praise for accomplishing this throughout. The design philosophy is translated far better in the level design, creating streets that twist and turn like mazes, subways that re-shift and orientate as you walk down them, and highways that spiral and twist above you. The scale is sometimes awe-inspiring, which makes me wish I could've played this in VR (I'll get to that later), but I still appreciate the effort by the team. They have made an immersive nightmare that feels plagued with illness – in the best possible way.
As you can see, Tangentlemen has a marvellous talent for unique imagery and environmental design. However, when it comes down to gameplay they, unfortunately, fail miserably. The game plays much more akin to a walking simulator (a rising genre I am most fond of in fact) than a stealth-driven horror. Overall it feels more akin to Everybody's Gone to the Rapture than Outlast. The only actual gameplay here is walking, picking up collectables and using a flashlight – very basic stuff here. It's a shame every single one of these seemingly insignificant tasks is a chore.
Movement is split into walking and running. I would describe walking as slower than crawling and running much like when someone tries to walk quickly, whilst not attracting suspicion. Clearly, this is a decision to help ease the VR experience, but as a normal game the basic movement here is inexcusably slow and makes exploration of this often fascinating world, a tedious waste of time. Combined with the pointless untrackable collectables and you have many occasions of walking down a tunnel, grabbing a disappointing audio diary and then returning; taking roughly 5 minutes. There are also no jump buttons and rarely any contextual traversal of the level, so there are zero shortcuts to be used.
By far the most baffling system in place here (and pretty much the only one) is the flashlight. For many, a flashlight seems to be the most rudimentary mechanic. Here They Lie somehow manages to mess it up.As you explore, you find cabinets with batteries in them. But strangely there is no way of knowing how many you have at any given moment, so by the end of the game, I could've had 1 or 100. Also, there is no indication of battery life. On most occasions, my torch would die when I turned it on, and it always seemed that the time before each reload varied wildly.
Finally: the actual enemy encounters. The stealth here is some of the laziest It's ever seen. With no sneaking, no indication of the enemies viewing distance and no way to escape once seen – you will quickly become frustrated and probably give up. There is a section early on where you have to navigate a sewer system whilst avoiding these animalistic creatures. They screech all the time whether seen or not and walk in completely random directions.Running will result in death. Staying still will also result in death. So, you have to be patient and have a small slice of luck on your side. When seen, they will run at you and grab you, then your character will lock in place and then get hit again to trigger a janky death animation. Not fun at all. There are a couple of these sections and each encounter feels forced and results in you more and eager to quit.
As I mentioned extensively above the visual design here is fantastic.The visual style of the game is black and white, highlighting the importance of colour when necessary.(blood, fire etc) It fits well with the intended tone and never feels disorientating when navigating dark areas. The fidelity of the game isn't brilliant but this is an indie developer that prioritises distinctive imagery over high-resolution textures
Disappointingly there is very few actual sound in the game. Most of the game will be silent, with very little ambient sound as a replacement. The voice acting is terrible and thankfully most of it is optional within the collectables and the enemy noise are fine – if also very repetitive. The civilisation in the city though is well done, even if it is just simple grunts. It seems to work really well here, even if it sounds like recordings taken from an old Lego game. Music is also absent, only really showing up at the credits, surprising me as I suddenly remembered that video games can have soundtracks. All in all, a very underwhelming spectrum of sound throughout, and particularly bad voice acting within the audio diaries.
It's worth mentioning my very brief experience with VR. If you weren't aware, Here They Lie was released as an exclusive launch title for PSVR back in October, After seeing some trailers and eager to fill out my small catalogue, I picked up the game a couple of weeks after. My experience with VR and motion sickness had been very good. Having played Batman, Until Dawn, Job Simulator and the full 9 hours of Resident Evil 7 – I've had no discomfort other than sweat. But I could not stomach more than 20 minutes of Here They Lie in virtual reality. I just couldn't play it, I felt really awful. After some brief research, It seems others are also experiencing this. Ultimately, this will be down to the individual and is hard to state it as a fact. But I would strongly recommend avoiding playing in VR, even if you really want to. It made this already sickly world, actually sickening to explore – in a very bad way.
|+ Unique imagery and atmosphere||– Nonsensical story & dialogue|
|+ Merging of world & level design||– Underdeveloped gameplay|
|+ Some impressive moments||– Frustrating stealth|
|– Unplayable VR mode|