Before we get too deep into the review, it’s worth mentioning that this game much like Actual Sunlight may trigger you. While this game is less so focused on suicide than Actual Sunlight was, it still deals with heavy issues about mental illness, so if you feel this could trigger you, then perhaps it’s not the game for you. However Little Red Lie’s themes are much broader than Actual Sunlight, which might make the game more approachable. It’s definitely not a game for kids though.
Little Red Lie follows the independent stories of Sarah Stone and Arthur Fox, two very different people living in Scarborough, Toronto. Early on in the game Arthur, a financial guru and motivational speaker, tells his audience that money is the only thing that matters in life. This sets a tone for the rest of the game, in which the troubles of both characters seem to be based around money. While there is no doubt that money plays a major role, it is in many way the choices and circumstances of the characters that lead them down the path’s they go.
When I say choices, I mean the characters making the choices, not you. Much like Actual Sunlight, there is a linear story here to be told, and not branching endings. In fact the only real interaction you can do is “lie”. In conversations you are given dialogue options on what to say, but in general it appears what choice you pick makes little to no difference in what is said or happens next. The dialogue choices almost represent an inner monologue of the characters, of the things they would like to really say, but they end up lying to keep within social norms. Will O’Neill’s games are sort of a hybrid of a RPG and a visual novel. He describes it as “interactive fiction”, and in many ways that seems like a valid description. More like reading a book, where you happen to move your character around in the world until you get to the next page. It would have however been good to at least feel like your dialogue choices would get different responses, even if it didn’t change the storyline, so that the player felt somewhat more involved.
The issues the characters are dealing with can at times seem like first world problems, something that is actually taken on by one of the support characters. Still there is serious universal issues here, based within the context of Will O’Neill’s home town of Toronto. I am someone who has not so seriously toyed with the idea of moving to Canada in recent times (despite having never been there), it’s interesting to see this insiders perspective of the issues that face this place. I imagine they are common amongst many western cities.
Don’t be fooled by the look of the game, this is a very intense game. Actual Sunlight was only about 1-2 hours long. My play through of Little Red Lie was more around the 8-9 hour mark. This extra time with the characters gives you more opportunity to get invested in them and their fates. If there’s one thing Will has done well here, is to evolve the formula of Actual Sunlight with the longer length, stylization and contrasting stories.
Of course the main focus here is the writing, and this should come as no surprise as the developer is a writer. Be prepared to be reading a lot of walls of text. Despite this, even though I don’t read books myself, I still find the writing here enjoyable. Will has successfully captured the personalities of Sarah and Arthur. It’s quite an achievement in that in a political sense, they are from opposite sides of the spectrum, so despite Will wanting to make a point about wealth, it never seems like he is disrespecting Arthur’s character, instead giving him the authenticity he deserves.
So cinematic is the writing, that it’s a shame it could not be represented visually more so. There are some great cut scene static shots, however I always felt they needed some limited animation tricks like Anime uses, such as eyes blinking, idle animations, camera movements, backgrounds and lights changing. This of course would have been a budget constraint, and considering the cheap price and the fact that many visual novels would also rely on static images, I guess this is just me wishing Will gets to have a more visual representation of his writing in future games.
The only real issue I had with the game was saving. The game supposedly saves at the start of each scene, however I found myself multiple times after quitting and coming back to the game, having to play out the previous scene prior to the scene I was actually up to. Hopefully this is just a bug that can be fixed, however if there was a way to confirm where your save is up to before quitting, that would no doubt help allay any fears.
Little Red Lie is a great game, but much like it’s predecessor, it certainly isn’t for everyone. Fans of visual novels, the narrative side of RPGs or even “walking simulators” may enjoy this game. The average age of a gamer is mid 30s, so it’s great to see games evolving to tell stories like this aimed at that age group, much like Firewatch did in 2016. I say this because Little Red Lie is very much a Mid Life Crisis Simulator 2017. It’s a shame that those whom may be dealing with the mental health issues, may feel like they can not play this game, as it may or may not actually be therapeutic for them to see their story played out in this game. Still for those who do tackle Little Red Lie, they will find a deep, mature and (ironically) honest story that we don’t usually see in games. It not only has me excited for Will O’Neill’s work on the upcoming Sometimes Always Monsters, I’m also interested to see what he does next.
UPDATE: The auto-save system in the game has been updated by the developer to feature a notification telling the player it has saved, in response to my concern about the saving feature in this review.
Disclaimer: ZedKraze received a free review code for this game from WZO Games for this review.