For those of you that have been following the website or who know me personally, you will know that I am a huge survival horror fan, and when VR was first announced I remember thinking how it would enhance the survival horror experience. So it should come as no surprise that the one game I was eager to check out when PlayStation VR (PSVR) finally dropped was Here They Lie, after all Sony Santa Monica (who are no development slouch) co-developed the title with The Tangentlemen. Sadly, the culmination of all the excitement was destined to end in disappointment, with Here They Lie delivering a fairly meagre experience which fails to convince me that the future of the survival horror genre is on VR and not a traditional couch-console setup.
In Here They Lie you play as an unnamed protagonist, who appears to be struggling with the breakup with his former partner Dana (well that’s my take on it), and as such has seemingly lost his marbles. Your task is to navigate the maze that is the physical manifestation of his anguish and find your way out of the rabbit hole, and hopefully come out of the other side with some solace.
Almost immediately you’ll notice the game’s visuals are not its strongest point, with most of the textures looking like something you’d see in a PS2 title. The game makes use of a mostly neutral colour palette (blacks, greys, whites) with what seems like a grainy filter, and this dreary and desolate tone helps masks the ordinary visuals. Most of the areas are aptly designed, none more so than the eerily desolate urban setting of the game’s first city.
All alone in the big city
The gameplay is fairly stock-standard for a first-person psychological survival horror: you’ll be weaponless (with your only defence being simply to run), there will be a handful of hide-and-seek stealth sections and your flashlight’s battery needs constant replacing (but given the myriad of batteries available, running out won’t be an issue). There are no puzzles to be solved or other challenges to overcome, it’s simply navigate your way through a whole host of areas to find a way out of your psychosis.
Another disappointing facet is that the AI barely throws up a challenge. Navigating the areas where they lurk is relatively trouble-free, and while there are some moments of trepidation, sadly they are few and far between, with most of the tension caused by their harrowing cries and the apposite soundtrack. Possibly the game’s best horror moment occurs at the beginning of the game, where you are in a moving train and slipping in and out of your perceived reality. It is a shame that the developers didn’t build on this because although it wasn’t laden with jump scares, it showcased the potential for survival horror that VR is brimming with.
The game’s opening scene promises so much
Don’t feed them after midnight
As you descend further into the labyrinth of your character’s mind, your only real sense of understanding of the situation (and the story) is through brief flashbacks of conversations with Dana. The delivery of the story tries to be eclectic, with other sources such as telephone calls and notes (which you can barely read due to the blurriness) trying to add to the narrative and mystery. However, all these do is convolute the story such that it falls short of its attempts at surrealism, and upon trying to sell this tone it often borders on absurdity. This extends to the game’s environments, as about halfway through the game you emerge in what appears to be some form of red light district, where people with animal heads are behaving provocatively. Although it’s not entirely incongruous with the rest of the game, it’s more like a salacious take on Graeme Base’s The Eleventh Hour than true surrealist horror.
The developers have added some cool VR effects such as bending hallways that are quite trippy to experience. The VR aspect makes for a pretty immersive experience (it really is cool to be able analyse your surroundings by turning your head), but the one (and fairly significant) negative for the game’s visuals is that the blurry resolution is fairly motion sickness inducing. Because of this I was forced to take frequent breaks, and even though I built up a tolerance as the game wore on, it still made playing the game a little off-putting. One boon the developers have included is in the controls; instead of relying on your head to do all the turning (which can sometimes be a catalyst for motion sickness), a simple left or right flick of the left thumbstick will rotate your view in that direction.
Peep show for the boys
Choose your animality
Motion sickness issues aside,even the most ardent horror fans will find the 4-5 hours it takes to complete Here They Lie a largely lacklustre affair. I know gamers bemoan the lack of innovation in game series these days, but when Here They Lie utilises the traditional horror paradigm it actually works quite well and creates an engaging experience, especially in VR. Sadly these moments are seldom found and more often than not it tries too hard to create an outlandish psycho-psychedelic tone that ends up detracting from the overall experience. While there are some promising signs, my first horror experience in VR was ultimately a disappointment.
Reviewed on PlayStation VR