Platforms PSVR
Developer Tangentlemen
Publisher Tangentlemen
Release Date October 13, 2016

Here They Lie is a first-person explorer with a distinct horror flavouring. It’s not really a game whose plot I can summarise easily. Not for fear of spoilers, but rather because I don’t really have the first clue what was actually going on while I played it. You start out in a train station, a woman in a yellow dress talks to you for a bit and then you begin what I can only describe as a descent into hell.

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The abstract and confusing nature of Here They Lie’s plot isn’t a detriment to the experience at all. Mostly. Here They Lie is fuelled by surreal imagery, everything that works in the game is tied into this abstraction. While this makes the story lightweight and easily forgettable, it also gives the game itself an almost dreamlike quality. Imagine one of your more surreal nightmares and you’re probably close to imagining the experience of playing Here They Lie.

This unreality is best summed up by describing the games death mechanic. It’s a fairly generous system. When death finds you the game will usually drop you off right before you died, meaning no arduous trek to reclaim your progress. First, however, you wake up to a blood red sun rising out of the ground. As you walk towards it the corridor actually forms in front of you, eventually creating a door at the end of it. Walk through the door and you’ll exit close to wherever you died.

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It’s a surreal experience and something that really needs to be seen to be believed, which is a pretty great way of describing the game itself. The world it builds for itself is constructed from familiar parts but is assembled in a way that seems just “off” enough to make you feel uneasy, even when you’re absolutely sure there is no danger around you. The (limited) audio that acts as your companion throughout your journey feeds into this feeling that something is every so slightly wrong, but you’re rarely able to put your finger on why.

Except when ghostly figures block your path unexpectedly or monsters try to eat your face off. Yes, Here They Lie has jump scares. It has a lot of jump scares. Maybe it’s just the very nature of gaming in virtual reality – whenever anything unexpected happens or appears right in your face, it’s actually appearing right in your face. Which is always startling, regardless of its nature.

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But the frequency with which Here They Lie relies on these jump scares in its latter stages quickly becomes an annoyance, especially following on from an opening 30 minutes that does such a great job of building tension and dread while relying on such cheap tactics sparsely. The overuse of these scares kills the games atmosphere. You stop looking around at the alien geometries and twisted world that Here They Lie creates and start simply looking out for the next thing that will pop out at you.

Though that might be for the best, because Here They Lie is a difficult game to look at for any length of time. The game is oversaturated, blurry and robbed of all colour, save for a couple of instances where the game is trying to draw your attention towards something. Everything around you being in grayscale makes it difficult to distinguish objects and characters from the backgrounds as they start to bleed into each other.

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Everything has a very rough, jaggy appearance. This is compounded by Here They Lie’s crippling problem with its textures constantly popping in and out. The more I looked around the game, the more I’d see textures and even objects themselves blink in and out of existence. Immersion is a critically important component in Here They Lie and the games wonky aesthetics and dull graphics constantly eject you from the experience.

And that’s to say nothing about how physically uncomfortable the game was to play. I’m not 100% sure what was causing it, but Here They Lie is the only VR game I’ve played so far to give me motion sickness. I imagine it came from some combination of the graphics and the games controls, which were akin to trying to walk underwater. Movement is incredibly slow-paced, as is looking around.

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There are two ways of steering your character in Here They Lie,  with the right analogue stick and by turning your head, both of which seem to be at odds with each other. Flicking the right analogue stick will turn your character, but rather than doing so in a smooth manner your vision will blink right or left. While I’ve seen this used well in other VR experiences (most notably the Resident Evil 7 demo), Here They Lie’s head turning devolves into a mess because it’s never clear which direction you’re actually facing.

The idea is solid – you’ll walk in whatever direction you’re actually facing and you can use this blink ability to readjust your vision. This basically exists so that you don’t have to keep your head turned at an angle all the time. But Here They Lie has a third mechanic, and one that I believe precipitated my motion sickness. It will slowly turn the camera back to its starting position, putting the camera and your view constantly in motion unless you’re looking directly ahead at all times. This causes you to have no idea which direction “forward” is and almost made me lose my lunch after 30 minutes of continuous play.

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Some of these settings can be changed in the game, but these are Here They Lie’s default settings. It’s probably that you’ll play this way too because the game has a problem with explaining anything about itself. You’re never directed to a settings menu and you’re never told what the controls actually are, or how to play the game. While this isn’t a major problem, the game doesn’t require much from you other than walking and looking at stuff, there are moments when it needs to explain itself. I had no idea I had a flashlight for much of the games running time.

Gameplay here is incredibly rudimentary. As I said, it’s mostly just walking into jump scares or through the drab world, but there are a few, scant moments where you’ll need to do a little bit more. Stealth sections fare the worst – there are no actual stealth mechanics built into the game. There’s no crouching, no slower movement, no running and no hiding. You’ve simply got to keep walking and hope that you don’t get spotted by the roving enemies.

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Thankfully that’s not an issue. These enemies have some of the dumbest and least aware AI I’ve come across in a long while. After making a wrong turn during one of these sections I walked right up behind one of them, flashlight activated, and then simply turned around and walked away with zero repercussions. Their design isn’t exactly terror-inspiring either, as with everything else in the game not wearing a yellow dress, they kind of fade into the background.


Summary

Here They Lie is a game with a few solid ideas that feels poorly executed. The surreal and dreamlike nature of its world and aesthetic is pretty cool, and the game starts out quite strong, but eventually the core experience gives way to boredom and frustration.  In the end this is a game that has a lot of initial promise that is quickly undone by an overreliance on jump scares and minimal player interaction. The default controls feel jarring and unresponsive, with the way the camera works causing quite a bit of physical discomfort if played for any length of time, and the whole game feels lifeless – from the grayscale graphics to the dull story and awful voice acting.

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