We rarely get games on the PS4 or Vita which try and portray serious, realistic topics. We may get the odd game here or there which has a ‘life lesson’ in it which tries to deliver a topic with a lesson thrown in. However, they are usually presented in a way that has you actively looking in order to find it due to developers ‘playing it safe’ and not wanting to get into too much detail with real-life events and situations. In comes Will O’Neill, based on his previous game, Actual Sunlight, he isn’t one of those developers. He is very open about certain subjects and is willing to portray situations like depression, rape and addiction through his games. The tagline for this game is “a contemporary adventure game about debt, family, and the truth about honesty” – Let’s find out if that statement is entirely correct or if it is a little red lie about exactly what we are about to experience…
The reason behind the game being called ‘Little Red Lie‘ is because the game is full of the lies we tell ourselves throughout our lives in order to get through it, also the lies we say to others to hide the way we feel so we don’t hurt peoples feelings or feel like a burden. As you read through the dialogue, certain words or sentences will appear in red, these are the lies which our protagonists are saying/feeling yet it doesn’t always tally up to what they say in response. Interactions range from our female protagonist telling her parents she still has a job, to our male protagonist telling everyone he meets how he is pleased to meet them (he really isn’t). There is a lot of red text throughout the story which goes to show just how many lies we use throughout the day in order to both obtain what we want and to conceal information.
The game takes place in Toronto and has you following two protagonists as they go through their own separate and unconnected stories with the underlying issue of wealth and perception. Sarah Stone is a woman in her 30’s who has lost her job yet continues to lie to her family about it as she doesn’t want to lay her troubles on them. Both of her parents are getting old, her mother is terminally ill and Sarah believes that once her mother goes, her father will follow soon after. Her sister lives in the basement and is currently suffering from depression, refusing to come out unless it’s to grab some food at night or pick up the many online orders she is purchasing using her parent’s money. Within the first 15 minutes, we learn that the parents are running out of money and can’t afford both the mothers and the sisters medication on top of all the spending that her sister is doing. Sarah’s father has a word with her and counts on her to help financially as they still believe she has a decent job, they are unaware she is in debt herself due to no longer having a steady income.
The second protagonist is an almost polar opposite of Sarah, Arthur Fox, a wealthy businessman who is never short for cash, is used to getting what he wants and never has an issue getting people to do what he says. His main role in life is writing and promoting self-help books and seminars, although using the lie indicator we can clearly see that he doesn’t care about anyone but himself and constantly mocks those he believes are ‘lower’ than him. He loves to throw around money as he believes ‘money is the only important thing’ in life – using it as a means to get out of any trouble he finds himself in throughout life. Also, if you don’t have any money then it is your fault and you deserve it. Throughout my experience as playing as Arthur you learn he can be pretty racist and sexist, one example was he doesn’t see his female boss as someone of importance as she is overweight and in her 30’s – he deems her boss to be his boss as he can’t fathom a woman being in charge of what he says and does. The most interesting thing about Arthur is that you find out what he is thinking and feeling through his inner-monologue and he knows he is a terrible person yet he carries on acting the way he does.
Both of our characters lie to pretty much everyone they encounter, even themselves as you interact with various objects around you. It feels like the game is pushing you to feel sympathetic for Sarah and despise for Arthur based on their characteristics but at times I found both to be very interesting personalities and I can see parts of myself in both of them. Sarah tends to lie to protect herself and others from the pain she is feeling and the burdens in her life, yet Arthur lies to sell products, sleep with women and cover up illegal activities. It’s amazing when you step back and take a moment to take in everything that is being said, just how much people lie. Not only in the game, but a lot of the dialogue hit close to home so much that I was practically naming situations where I had said or heard people answer in the same way. It really does give you something to think about.
The game has three main formats to it. The first is the main game, the pixilated character moving around and interacting with objects and characters. In this format, you can see what your character thinks about various highlighted items around them as they continue to lie to themselves and others and talk to other people in the story. The second format you will encounter is the inner-monologue which is a pitch black screen with white (and red) text which appears as you read it. These sections, especially in Arthurs story, either offer some nice comic relief or delve deeper into the pain and misery that Sarah is feeling as everything becomes too much for her. Finally, you have an artistic, still pixel image with a bit of text at the bottom. These are used very rarely and are there to highlight details in the story. If I could ask for anything then it would be for more of the latter format as it looked really good but there just wasn’t enough scenes which contained that much detail.
Something that kinda bugged me at first, but I sort of understand now, is the choices you get during conversations. Sometimes, while you talk to other characters, you get multiple red answers which look like they will alter the story or the dialogue, but they don’t. I then realised the text is in brackets, which in terms of this game means it is their thoughts. So you are basically listening to the questions being asked, picking the thought which you feel is the closest to what you are thinking and then seeing how the protagonist reacts and actually replies to the other characters. This game isn’t a Telltale game, don’t expect multiple playthroughs for different answers or paths – it is basically letting you choose what response you agree with and see how that thought or emotion actually comes out in order to cover up information or persuade others.
We are introduced to a narrator, of sorts, about halfway through and then again towards the end of the game. She breaks the fourth wall quite a bit and has some important things to tell you but I don’t want to spoil any of it for you so I won’t go into it in too much detail. I can tell you that once you see her at the end of the game you finally get given an actual dialogue choice which matters. Depending on your answers to her and how you feel (you should always pick what answers you feel you agree with and not the ones you think are ‘correct’) it will change what you see in the preceding scene. I chose an ending which gave me a trophy but it didn’t feel like it had ended the way it should so I replayed the game again today and chose the other ending instead.
The game itself was quite long, it took me just over six hours to get from beginning to end. To me, that feels like it was a bit too long for a narrative-driven title with very little interaction other than moving from one point to the next; however, this isn’t really a ‘game’ as such, it is more like an experience or an interactive novel. Actual Sunlight’s main criticism was it’s length as it was a very short game, Will O’Neill has taken that on board and delivered two three-hour stories which both go a lot deeper and more in-depth than many of the big Visual Novels out there – only this time it’s told through the top-down pixel format rather than pictures.
I have clearly missed out a lot of information but I have done that on purpose. The game is a narrative experience which you should experience on your own. As you play through the game each alternating scene will take you between Sarah and Arthur as they struggle with their own personal issues and situations as well as issues relating to money, social life and health. This isn’t a light game and it does get pretty dark and will most likely sink in more with people who have experienced addiction, depression or the death of a loved one first hand. I feel all the topics are delivered in a tasteful way, as per the situation at hand and protagonist in use.
Little Red Lie won’t be for everyone and it does demand a lot of patience and emotional contributions from yourself in order to fully experience what it has to offer. However, if you enjoy narrative-based experiences and are willing to invest the time required and thoughtfully read and reply to the narrative presented, then you’ll find a game which will have you questioning things for many days. The game throws a few curveballs and it does have it’s comic relief moments around the dark, gritty heavy moments – so don’t think it’s going to be a game about preaching what is right and wrong and who is good or bad, because it doesn’t, it leaves that up to you to decide. As a bonus, if you’re willing to put in double the time then you actually get both the Vita AND the PS4 versions with the same order via Cross-buy as well – both with separate 100% trophy lists (no platinum).
**Code kindly supplied by the developer**
Little Red Lie£9.29
- Great narrative with a lot of things to think about
- Will isn't scared to tackle subjects which are usually ignored
- The ending is a nice touch (no spoilers)
- You get both the PS Vita and PS4 version upon purchase
- Game seems a little long (6 hours) with little interaction
- I wished there were more full screen images like the car shot above
- Your choices in the dialogue don't change the narrative. I understand why, but it would have been nice if some did
- The games replayability factor isn't very high if you do everything on your first playthrough