Sometimes reviewing indie games is tough. When that AAA title made by a thousand people disappoints you, it is easy to prattle off the flaws and not feel shame. After all, you’re describing the efforts of an entire team. But when you review a little game that is the passion project of one person or a couple of friends, who’ve spent years cooped up in a room working tirelessly to hand you their vision, it is hard to not root for that game.
When I first heard about Little Red Lie, a top-down adventure game developed and published by Will O’Neill, I had to root for that game. Originally released on Steam in 2017, and now available on PS4 and Vita, Little Red Lie mirrors the classic sprite-era RPG games I loved as a kid, only there is a twist: instead of a varied morality system, the only choice available to players is to lie. You play two different protagonists in the game: Sarah, whose family struggles to meet their financial needs, and Arthur Fox, a Jordan Belfort-type motivational speaker and make-money guy. The game is mostly conveyed through text dialogue, but every time the character tells a lie the text is emboldened in red. The effect makes a confrontational statement about the varying lies that ever person must tell in life to thrive in a capitalistic society.
My biggest criticism with Little Red Lie is in the presentation of dialogue. I don’t mind games where I’m tasked with a lot of reading, but Little Red Lie is essentially a stream of internal dialogue presented in spurts of six or seven words at a time. A clause is printed on the screen, you press X, then five more words are presented, you press X again. Imagine being given a novel with a controller attached to it, and the only way to read it is you had to mash a button every seven letters. How long would it be until that grew tiresome? Chapter 10? Chapter 2?
While others have praised the writing of Little Red Lie, I tended to feel the narrative was overwritten. In speaking of the wealthy class, the narrative says, “They want your blood. They want your babies. They want your brainwaves, or the shells of your bodies—the heat of your sexy, starving orifices.” Admittedly I’ve spent too much time sitting at poetry open mics in my life, but I found the edginess of the writing to be ham-fisted. “The destruction of mother earth turns everyone into a chimney sweep, a hooded nightmare, an asphyxiating tinker.” The temperament of Little Red Lie never really shifts from this tone, which made mashing X for more every two seconds seem laborious. Perhaps that is the point of Little Red Lie, but I don’t find that experience particularly enjoyable.
Other people really seem to enjoy Little Red Lie, and I hope my experience doesn’t deter others from giving a little game a chance. I felt like I was missing something, so I read some online reviews to see if my feelings were off base. There is a pattern of comments conceding that the game is not particularly fun, but that shouldn’t deter players from delving into an important narrative. I was amused by these comments, because my previous article generated feedback of the opposite sentiment: that I should set aside the narrative of Metal Gear Survive and focus on the fun of the game. In the spirit of being mindful about the lies we all tell, I don’t think it would be truthful of me to recommend a game I personally don’t find all-around fulfilling.
Little Red Lie is now available on PS4, Vita, IOS, Android, and Steam. This article is based on a PS4 copy provided by the publisher for that purpose.