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Here They Lie To Be Playable Without PSVR

We enjoyed the horror game Here They Lie when we reviewed it last October, but the fact that it required PlayStation VR kept it out of reach for a lot of players. That's changing tomorrow, when the game is getting a free update that allows it to be played on traditional displays.

The update should be an automatic download for anyone who previously bought the game. New customers will get both versions, so if they decide to eventually buy a PSVR, they'll be able to play it that way as well. The update also includes customizable controls, subtitles, and a chapter-select screen.

The game's also getting a PS4 Pro patch, which includes better lighting effects.

[Source: PlayStation Blog]

 

Our Take
It's unlikely that I'm ever going to spend money on PlayStation's VR peripheral, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in its games. I'm sure that I'll be missing out on aspects of these games that don't translate well – including that elusive sense of presence – but if it's the difference between playing and not playing, I'll take it.

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Here They Lie’s Creative Director Talks Horror, Influences, And Working On Spec Ops: The Line

Cory Davis and horror go way back. Since he was a child, he’s been fascinated with the way horror can elicit emotions other genres can’t. “Horror’s a place where you can have a big influence and impact on the emotions that someone is feeling.” After being surprised by how well Davis’ most recent game, Here They Lie, managed to use the realm of VR to craft a powerful horror experience, I caught up with Davis to talk about his history with the genre, working on different kinds of horror, and some of the difficulties of creating a horror game in VR.

Of Dodgeball And F.E.A.R.
In his younger years, Davis immersed himself in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Stanley Kubrick, obsessing over their freakish monsters and unreal, twisted locations. But even at that early stage, Davis understood Lovecraft’s best scares had little to do with physical monsters; the philosophical questions those stories posed consistently inspired his creativity. “That’s where I always went when I wanted to have an experience and question something in my life. Horror was always the place that I went to.”

Along with a love of horror, Davis also had a healthy fascination with video games, but it didn’t strike Davis to combine those two interests until his plan A lost its appeal. “I was studying architecture at Texas Tech University,” says Davis. ”There was some discussion with my professors there about the viability of architecture as a profession at the time.” His professors encouraged Davis to do what he loved instead of get into architecture, so he began working on level mods for Counter-Strike and Half-Life, using inspiration from the way Kubrick films like The Shining manipulated their audience. “It’s really strange how that film is constructed, because it’s built to make you feel unsettled, even about the spaces and the architecture where it’s filmed. There’s a lot of tricks going on that play with you.”

Davis’ first big project was the Dodgeball mod for the original Half-Life, which became popular enough to port over to Valve’s Source engine for Half-Life 2 years later. The mod was good enough to get Davis’ foot in the door at Monolith, which gave him his first professional gig as a junior level designer on the Extraction Point expansion for F.E.A.R., and later as a level designer on Condemned 2: Bloodshot. These were Davis’ first chances to implement the techniques he’d absorbed over the years by watching and reading horror fiction, as well as the fundamental aspects of design he’d learned from building mods. 

Considering his background, working on horror titles came naturally to Davis. “I love the idea of inconsistent geometry, players losing their mind, things you can almost only have in a game. Watching someone else go crazy isn’t the same thing as being in a room, [then watching as] it starts to have some interesting change as you’re standing in it.”

A Different Kind Of Horror
Seeking to implement more of his surreal and darker ideas on a larger scale, Davis left Monolith in 2008 to become the creative director on Spec Ops: The Line. After wrapping up work on Condemned 2, Davis vacationed in Mexico, where he first spoke with developer Yager and publisher 2K Games about joining the project. Here, Davis’ history of working on horror games proved a useful asset. “At the start of the project, 2K had a bunch of creative directors who were really behind taking the old Spec Ops series and doing dark and gritty with it, and I was on the exact same page with them.”

Many of the initial conversations Davis had with Yager and 2K touched on horror, as well as some of the darker aspects of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the latter of which Davis counts among his favorite films of all time. 2K wanted a dark game about the atrocities of war, and to have the chance to work on a game inspired by a film he loved was a huge opportunity for Davis.

In order to work on the game, Davis and his wife had to relocate to Berlin, but the project was ambitious enough to merit the move. Although Spec Ops is bereft of ghosts, monsters, or hallways lined with blood, Davis considers it a horror game, which “drifted into a really interesting place that’s a lot harder to define than that” as Yager worked on the game over the course of several years. Much of the game emphasized the role the player takes in a video game, and many of its “horrors” have to do with the acts humans bring themselves to do (either by force or voluntarily) when the usual rules of society no longer apply. It was a horror story which drew from the more philosophical aspects of the Lovecraftian fiction Davis read as a young teenager.

Because of the game’s unique direction, 2K had a hard time trying to sell it. “There was some discussion about how to market the game after it had been in development for a while, and that’s when marketing began pushing back, trying to get it more in line with conventional shooters,” says Davis. The company even considered delaying the game to align make changes it thought might help Spec Ops sell better. Davis understood the publisher’s desire to make the game successful, but wanted to keep the game’s tone and inspiration intact. “There were strong battles towards the end of the project,” he says.

Ninja Side-Story
While finishing up Spec Ops, Davis had a son in Berlin, and he and his wife began looking for a way to move to Los Angeles. Davis was able to get in contact with Toby Gard, one of the people behind the Tomb Raider series who was then a creative lead at Spark Unlimited. The two talked about working on a collaboration with Keiji Inafune’s studio, Comcept, on Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.

Although Yaiba was met with mixed-to-negative reaction from critics and fans alike (garnering an average Metacritic score of 47 across all platforms), Davis is glad to have worked on the game. “Yaiba was a really cool experience for me because that’s where I got back in hands-on level design,” says Davis. It allowed him to move away from the trappings of horror and work on a lighter, more action-oriented title. It also let him become more familiar with the Unreal Engine, which proved useful down the line.

Davis felt the environment during Yaiba’s development constricted his potential (and that of his team), but it provided him two very important things: examples of what not to do after he left the project, and the opportunity to meet Rich Smith and John Garcia-Shelton, who, along with Davis and Gard, eventually went on to form their current studio, Tangentlemen.

On page two, we speak to Davis about the influences and practicalities of his latest title, Here They Lie. 


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Here They Lie Review – A Surreal Nightmare

Although it sits squarely in the realm of horror, Here They Lie borrows more from narrative-driven games like Firewatch or Gone Home than Resident Evil or Silent Hill. The most intricate puzzle it employs is figuring out where to go (which is usually obvious). But it benefits from that minimalist approach, since the best parts of the game come not from what you’re doing, but from exploring a world that’s equal parts intriguing, repulsive, surreal, and grim.

Despite being an exclusive launch title for the PlayStation VR, Here They Lie isn’t too concerned with showing off the benefits of Sony’s new tech. It is not a series of gimmicky actions designed to show you what the peripheral can do. Instead of acting as a tech demo, it crafts a thoughtful, interesting world without relying on VR to do the heavy lifting. And by not leaning too heavily on the trappings of its platform, Here They Lie makes a strong case for how VR can improve the kinds of experiences we’re used to playing.

For one, VR enhances the game’s strongest asset: its visual splendor. The game is almost entirely in black and white, but the contrast between the two (and the occasional flourish of red or yellow) gives the game a strong tone. The environments are solemn, unsettling, and surreal, and the PlayStation VR headset works to make them feel that much more imposing. As you walk around a town full of claustrophobic, rundown alleys that seem to fall on top of each other, being able to look directly up and see how cluttered the skyline is makes them feel more cramped; conversely, when you find yourself beneath a slew of expansive, crisscrossing highways, the sense of depth makes me feel that much more alone.

Most of the environments are quiet and project a feeling of wistfulness, but a few of them are oppressive and garish. At one point, I stumble into a red-light district in the middle of an underground city, with all the seedy businesses and activities that entails. Its residents, who wear wolf or pig heads atop soiled tank tops and dresses, don’t seem to notice me. As I stumbled around, the limited viewing angle of the headset meant I was always looking over my shoulder, waiting for the next jump scare.

Those scares don’t come, because that’s not what Here They Lie is going for. As you approach the story’s climax, the environments clearly signal the coming of the game’s most terrifying enemies, and I had plenty of chances to run away from them. There are a few sections where you have to sneak your way around enemies you can’t kill, but if you die, you come back nearby, the enemy who killed you usually disappears, and you can forge ahead unabated.

So instead of frightening me, Here They Lie consistently left me to fester with my own unease. Instead of a horror film, its best moments channel David Lynch’s more surreal works, like Eraserhead and Rabbits – but, y’know, a little more coherent. Some of the later imagery is downright psychedelic, and I appreciated the visual variety. And, like a good Lynch film, that brooding uneasiness stuck with me for longer than a series of jump scares.

As much as I enjoyed wandering around its various locales, Here They Lie’s actual, explicit narrative isn’t as good the one its environments suggest. Throughout my journey, I followed the trail of a woman in a yellow dress, who’s introduced as a love interest. The moments you find her feel like they should be important, but the snippets she and your character act out didn’t make me feel invested in what was going on. Notes littered throughout give the story a bit more presence, but they feel like a set up for a twist that doesn’t come. I can infer some of the story from what the notes said, but I don’t think I have a good idea of what actually led me to this world.

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More interesting than the written notes are photos of flowers or train stations that trigger audio snippets, which are less connected to the story but are more in line with the tone of the environments. The dialogue in these snippets sounds more like someone is being interviewed man-on-the-street style than actors delivering lines, I but actually enjoy the looseness of the delivery, since it makes them sound more natural and adds to the surreal flavor.

While the story of what happens to the main characters is unfulfilling, the descent into the hellish world of Here They Lie is, on its own, worth taking. Its dreary, evocative environments, dark tone, and horrific imagery would stand out even outside the realm of VR games. Some of its places, acts, and monsters will stick with me for a while. It creates a strong sense of place, and while I wouldn't say VR is crucial to experience, it definitely amplifies it. I may not fully get what happened during my time with Here They Lie, but I’m more than satisfied (and a little uneasy) about what I saw along the way.

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