Subway into madness
The PlayStation VR is still just a babe. Released on the 13th of October, the VR has performed successfully in both sales and critical review, and it’s replete with a large amount of available games. The best part? On the bright horizon, the PlayStation VR holds even bigger and better titles for owners to enjoy. Here They Lie was my first full foray into the land of virtual reality, and its immersion left me breathless.
A psychological horror game from publisher Santa Monica Studios and developer Tangentleman, Here They Lie puts you in the literal shoes of Buddy. As you say goodbye to a lovely woman dressed in bright golds, you enter a subway train, its shiny grays reflecting the light of the station around you. As the door shut and the woman vanishes from sight, your vision darkens; when you regain visibility, the train has shifted into a rusty, run-down machine. You make your way through the various carts, greeted with a few frights and a fiery adversary. And when the ash has settled, you re-awaken in another subway station. Here your game begins.
The narrative in Here They Lie is tangled, and the game never quite gives you concrete or concise directions on where to go. This isn’t entirely negative, as the sense of confusion, I think, is intentional and leads to further the immersion. Remember, this is a psychological horror game, so an unclear narrative outright and a sense of confusion and/or uneasiness certainly compliments the experience – regardless of whether it was intended. And this works for most of the short length of play, right up until the very end. Unfortunately, what semblance of a story falls apart in its penultimate chapter, ruining the overall narrative and any sense of uneasiness or horror.
Perhaps the most significant contributor to the horror aspect of Here They Lie, however, was the VR. Set to gorgeous scenery and nearly photo-realistic set pieces and locations, Here They Lie conveys a colorless, dystopian world. The haunting blacks and grays of the subway, the charred crevices of the city, and the blood and neon lights of Here They Lies ‘red light district’ put together one of the most atmospheric settings I’ve ever experienced in a game. Yes, part of my obsession with Here They Lie (and the VR in general) is its capability of full immersion into a game world; however, developers must still be able to craft a believable and real world.
Included in the immersion factor is the great sound within Here They Lie. The PlayStation VR includes a headphone jack that allows for 360-degree directional sound. In other words, I could hear the creepy pig-headed men from whichever direction they lurked and attempt to avoid their eyes (I believe if an enemy locked eye contact, you would ‘lose’, though I never was caught). Any horror game worth its salt requires the necessary sound-enhanced ambiance, and with the VR, Here They Lie delivers on that front.
Here They Lie is difficult to parse together as review. It is a wonderful showcase of the capabilities of the early stages of the PlayStation VR; what the PS4/VR combination can do, at this moment, outshines PC VR gaming – if only because the PC VR market is flooded with indie products (which isn’t a terrible thing, mind you). As a technical piece, Here They Lie succeeds, and it uses its innovative control schema (you use the left joystick to move and your head to choose the direction) to perfection. Believing in the horrific around your character is vital for a horror game to succeed – at the minimum, to have a chance at frightening the gamer with more than cheap jump scares – and the PlayStation VR allows this to happen. The immersion factor breathes life into an otherwise mediocre game. In fact, Here They Lie exposed me to some of my most memorable sequences in a recent horror game, including a scene that involved a massive number of hangings and whether to deal with a bully or the town freak.
But it is these choices, along with the final hour of the game, that tear apart the seams of believability. What choices you make along your journey in Here They Lie don’t matter outside of a few changes in dialogue. The only choice that does matter, then, is the final one; once you get there, you’ll see what I mean. This is such an unfortunate negative, too, because these decision set-pieces were my favorites in the game.
In looking back on Here They Lie, however, a few days out from my initial enthrallment, I can judge with more clarity and less bias. Yes, I still love the aesthetics, sound, and idea of the game, and its opening chapters set the tone for a potential thriller. The unfolding of the narrative, as well as its half-hearted attempts at capturing the psychological aspect of horror, dull the overall experience to damaging levels. In fact, for me, the biggest saving grace of Here They Lie is within its PlayStation VR exclusivity. Without the impressive full immersion of the experience, Here They Lie would be buried in its final resting place before it had a chance to thrive.
With all of this said, I would still recommend Here They Lie as an experiment in VR. If you’re a fan of the surreal and creepy, Here They Lie offers both in heaps. And if you’re able to cast aside the paltry narrative to enjoy the world you’re exploring, then you can almost forget that you must push ahead to finish the game. Where Here They Lie thrives is in its ability to craft highly detailed visuals and immaculate settings (the office in the first subway is proof enough) while providing just enough in terms of intrigue to keep you plugging away past its plot. Filled with enough memorable sequences to be worthy of your $20, and perhaps one of the nicest looking games on the VR to date, Here They Lie is an ample look at the potential the PlayStation VR has to offer.