VR gaming, by its very design, encourages you to look beyond what is in front of you, to soak in your 360-degree surroundings. Tangentlemen’s Here They Lie provokes similar degrees of neck craning, though the compulsion to look back is mainly motivated out of survival and terror. The game’s misty towns more than echo Silent Hill; ripples of Konami’s psychological horror series can be felt in this game’s unabashed symbolism and themes on the fallibility of man. These attributes combine to qualify Here They Lie as a notable and occasionally frightening title in what is a packed PlayStation VR launch lineup.
Here They Lie wastes little time in preparing you for emotional whiplash. It begins in an idyllic, almost dreamlike setting, with a heartfelt goodbye at a train station with woman named Dana. That endearing scene is followed by a tense, stressful subway ride, surrounded by a dark presence–and punctuated by the screeching metal-on-metal sound of wheels grinding on the track. Here They Lie is a mystery in the sense that your travels lead you to clues on who you are and the backstory of your imperfect relationship with Dana. It’s also an unorthodox investigation in that very few of the interactable objects offer clear evidence on the meaning of your trek. Both the game’s predominantly linear path and apparitions of Dana–with her lovely smile and vibrant sundress–guide you toward some of the answers.
From this initial ethereal scene to the game’s many darker moments, you’re never short of metaphors and imagery to try and make sense of. The clarity of the messages range from blunt to abstract–there’s a lot to parse when you’re witnessing a couple fornicating on a television while wearing horse heads, after all. Two interludes in particular have the scenic vibe of a Yes album cover come to life. Scenes of charred human remains and a visit to an urban wasteland in a desert setting even call to mind co-director Cory Davis’ prior work on Spec Ops: The Line, another game steeped in symbolism and themes of morality.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a constant itch to try to figure out the point of everything. Does the appearance of a lone ferris wheel supported by two tiny rock islands in a vast sea represent the remoteness of a life of leisure? Is a 100-foot-tall burning man in a suit representative of the oppressive, soul-crushing life of a salaryman? You press forward in the hopes that the last few chapters will connect the dots. Thankfully, the endgame payoff is substantial and satisfying, one that’s tied to the choices you make on your journey as well as a final decision you must confront at the end. Not all the images are explained, but given the high degree of imagination on display, it’s easy to admire the game’s less-threatening surroundings without the urge to find meaning at all times.
Here They Lie offers very little in way of instructions–which, unsurprisingly, results in a trial-and-error loop on how to deal with the game’s homicidal creatures. You’ll lose lives when trying to deduce whether you should retreat or rush past these gaunt beasts. This would normally be a point of frustration, but even the Game Over screen–with its blood-red sun and mysterious men that appear in growing numbers with every death–is just as visually enthralling as any of the game’s notable scenes.
Tangentlemen’s artists and level designers are worthy of commendation for crafting surroundings that create the illusion of being more labyrinthine than they really are. One area specifically calls to mind the alluring density of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City and other urban areas with loose (or nonexistent) zoning laws. Its vacant, decrepit alleys are as dreadful as they are inviting. Choosing where to go first at a four-way intersection can be intimidating, but these settings often provide subtle visual hints on which routes are dead ends. The game’s skeletal, deer-headed hostiles–which you can’t kill, by the way–often guide you to the main route just by virtue of being lethal obstacles.
Heightening the suspense are the game’s thoughtful, event-triggered camera tricks. Here They Lie takes advantage of one’s natural tendencies to focus on what’s directly in front. Tangentlemen laid numerous scares designed for maximum impact when you’re forced to turn around–whether you’ve reached the end of a road or a room with only one exit. It’s an anxiety-laden thrill reacting to every unexpected sound. You’re regularly tormented with the liquid audio of gurgling, unnerving clicking noises. It’s a sense of dread reminiscent of encountering the Infected in The Last of Us.
Here They Lie is an otherworldly addition to PlayStation VR, a platform that isn’t bereft of on-foot exploratory experiences. Assuming that its myriad noises don’t distract and provoke you, it’s easy to take in your surroundings, particularly by looking up and down. This is a controller-based PSVR game, and while it’s playable when sitting down, it’s best experienced while standing. It’s an unsettling sensation to feel weak in the knees or even vertigo when peering down and through the gaps of an unstable fire escape. The same goes for the simple act of leaning over a balcony and looking into a bottomless pit.
Here They Lie pulls you in by appealing to your curiosities of what’s around the corner–but you’re also motivated to stick to the main path, because a part of you just wants to get the hell out of this urban nightmare. As a dark, well-crafted psychological journey in VR, the game captures the distinct duality of being a curious observer–and, conversely, a participant who simply wants to survive and escape. Its enigmatic visuals, choice-driven narrative, and provocations on morality are the driving forces that warrant multiple playthroughs, and all of those aforementioned elements combine to make Here They Lie one of the standout offerings among the PSVR’s launch lineup.