First-person horror games and virtual reality are, on paper, a match-made in pixelated heaven. Here you have a genre that is defined on its ability to thrill an audience, often crafting a deeply unsettling story peppered with enough jump-scares to keep you wide-awake from now to All Hallow’s Eve.
Not all horror titles pride themselves on shock value, of course; arguably the more enthralling experience comes from hooking the player in at a slower pace and, by effect, allowing that unrelenting tension to build — and build and build until you’re within touching distance of shutting down the console, dousing it with holy water, and diving straight beneath the bed sheets.
Here They Lie is one such title, only the end product isn’t nearly as engaging as the choice-driven story that precedes it. First thing’s first, it should be noted that Santa Monica Studios and Tangentlemen’s VR experience hails from the more psychological side of the spectrum, chronicling a relationship gone awry through vivid flashbacks and dreamy apparitions. Buckle up, because things are about to get weird.
Stare Into the Abyss, the Abyss Stares Back
Your journey begins outside a dingy tram, where a beautiful woman in yellow dress named Dana who welcomes your return. Before opening up as to why, she vanishes before your very eyes, leaving you with little option to but to shuffle onto the carriage — rather awkwardly, I may add, but more on that later — where the trip nightmare fuel begins to spill out.
What follows is a descent into madness, as you wander down the cobbled streets in search of your missing spouse. The whole ‘Alice chasing the white rabbit’ shtick is there for all to see, and while it’s harsh to deem Here They Lie as derivative, it would be better if the game presented something, you know, worth chasing.
Audio diaries are littered throughout the drab environment, and feature a series of narrators babbling on about an existential crisis or some variation of it. The actual letters, on the other hand, range from flippant social commentary to stomach-churning allegories. But the core narrative so to speak is relayed through a series of phone boxes — phone boxes that gently poke and prod you along the right path until you’re deep within the sewers of this most wretched, depressing cityscape.
It’s here that the morality system of Here They Lie begins to open up in full, presenting you with a choice between one and the other without a clear way of discerning which is right and which is wrong. That’s the point, I guess? Anyway, as you can see from the video titled “sewers,” I sided with the scrawny, blood-drenched caveman, and only realized the full ramifications of said decision as the game reached its crescendo.
There’s potential for replay value there, too, though that’ll likely depend on how much of Tangentlemen’s hellscape you can stomach — quite literally. Though much of Here They Lie is akin to, dare I say it, a walking simulator, there are moments when the game can become overwhelming. I don’t suffer from motion sickness or vertigo, praise the gods, but as an example, the trippy outer body experience in the game did trigger a minor wave of nausea. That’s a feeling that gradually became worse as the game wore on to the point where I had to power down the VR headset, go outside, and grab some air.
To its credit, upon finishing each chapter Here They Lie does hit you with a splash screen advising you to take a small break. Heed that warning, unless you’re packing a stomach of steel.
Because make no mistake, Here They Lie is a dark, nightmarish ride through a perpetually bleak landscape. One locale that proved to be a particular favorite was the warped, underworld version of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, populated with bat-shit insane humans that looked like the living 3D incarnations of characters from Hotline Miami. Environmental design is the real winner here, however, as the humanoid monsters populating the world aren’t all that inspired and, as a result, not terribly scary. Even still, Dana remains an elusive beacon of light radiating against the darkness, and manages to punctuate the dreary environments with her endearing smile and blinding sundress.
More often than not, catching a glimpse of your wayward SO triggers a flashback, allowing you to add another piece to a puzzle that, at times, is so obtuse that it’s difficult to express any sense of attachment. And that’s a feeling that I harbored about Here They Lie overall. It’s an average horror experience with surrealistic dream sequences and an admittedly cool death screen, but even VR’s ability to place you smack bang in the epicenter of Tangentlemen’s thriller isn’t enough to mask its shortcomings — the shoddy story, the uneven pacing.
With Here They Lie, I stared long and hard into the abyss, only this time it didn’t stir; instead, I was left gazing at an under-cooked horror experience that while surreal, fails to deliver a fulfilling end product. Horror games should present an exercise in nerve-shredding tension whether they’re built for virtual reality or not. Sadly, Here They Lie leans too heavily on VR as a novelty to justify a by-the-numbers entry into the genre.
Here They Lie review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.