I wander through empty city streets, flinching at the terrible sounds around me. I know something is going to jump out for me soon. I just know it. Maybe it is this corner? Okay. It wasn’t. Maybe this alleyway? Nope. Onto the next part of this maze. I guess they aren’t doing another jump scare so soon after — ahh!
Indie studio Tangentlemen have made a creepy game — in collaboration with Sony Santa Monica — of walking through mazes with Here They Lie. You are an unnamed protagonist experiencing terrible things, looking for a way out of them, looking for the beautiful woman Dana who has disappeared. It is a series of levels with different themes, different ways to unnerve you or shock you.
As you journey through all of this, how does the game actually play? You walk. You jog. You open doors. You take side paths in the maze-like city of tunnels to find boxes or cabinets to open with creepy little stories or photographs that bring spoken philosophical musings that are often much brighter and hopeful than the darkness around you. You find batteries for your flashlight. You see enemies and either wait for them to pass or run from them.
It is a game that consists entirely of travel and observation.
The locations of Here They Lie are rendered mostly in fuzzy black and white, like an old photograph. The use of color is rare: the luminescent yellow of Dana’s dress during visions or the bright red of blood splashes. This is a dreary world, the monotony of seemingly unending labyrinths. The graphics are lower resolution than most PlayStation VR games, intentionally adding to that fuzzy feeling of a fading memory.
Like many first-person games in VR, this one puts you right in the middle of everything. You can easily look around at the dark world that surrounds you. You walk forward with the left analog on the Dual Shock controller, the angle changing as you move your head. You can also use the right analog for comfort turns, the screen blinking through rotations at 45-degree increments. Despite that comfort setting, the constant walking, and jogging if you hold a button, does get to you. Even an experienced VR-user may find their stomach unsettled from the simulated movement.
There is one moment in the game where Tangentlemen use this problem as a feature. Without spoiling specifics, there is a moment where you go on a hallucinogenic trip, your mind floating through the city. It is disorienting and actually makes you feel like you are tripping. So that crazy moment aside, Here They Lie uses VR is a standard way to immerse you in its creepy landscapes.
Another quick note about the discomfort. When the game reaches the checkpoints between levels, not only does it save your progress in the game, it displays a title card with a similar design as those of silent films. This card suggests you take a break from the game: something I was forced to do a few times after I felt some simulation sickness from particular moments.
These checkpoints and recommended breaks from the game happen every 30 minutes or so of the 3-to-4 hour overall experience. Although, you may want to replay sections to see the small differences from the few moral choices you make.
Just as many other horror games before it, this one uses sound well to not only put you in the environment, but to unnerve you. The sudden sound effects add to jump scares, of course. But there is also the general atmospheric sounds that help you feel the desolation of the abandoned city or the wanton savagery of the slums. Most effective is the animalistic clicking of certain enemies, heightening the tension you feel as you try to avoid them.
The wild shriek that comes when they spot you instantly puts you on edge as you spring into a run without hesitation. There is the loud breathing sounds when the protagonist has run for his life or is horrified from a terrible situation. It all envelops you and helps put you there in the game.
And Tangentlemen have created a truly disturbing world to put you in. There are empty streets that leave you uneasy, decrepit slums that make you feel filthy, hellish tunnels that fill you with dread over what is around the next corner. The rare hopeful and bright moments there simply to make everything else feel that much more loathsome. It is a journey through a multitude of underworlds.
Though it sometimes feels like it, the story isn’t about walking through hell, and is instead a different kind of journey. Frankly, the series of levels feels just like that: Disparate environments with different atmospheres that the plot never quite brings logic or coherence to. Which, admittedly would work a bit better if this were a game about insanity. But it isn’t. And, once again, without spoiling things, it doesn’t ultimately add up to a satisfying conclusion.
But despite a flawed finale, there are unique and worthwhile experiences along the way. Terrible sights and disturbing actions. There are dirty deeds you can commit, ugly situations you are thrusted into, and frantically frightening experiences. There are the aforementioned moral choices to be made, though they do not seem to make much of a difference in the long run. But ultimately, it is a walk through a dark maze searching for the light at the end of the tunnel.