Little Red Lie review for PS Vita, PS4

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS4, PC
Publisher: WZO Games
Developer: WZO Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

I have a sneaking suspicion that if Will O’Neill, the man behind Little Red Lie, ever met me, he would hate me. Not because I’m not a fan of his games (though between what I’m about to write and my review of Actual Sunlight, that certainly wouldn’t help my case) and not because I think he probably hates humanity in general (though that also wouldn’t help my case), but because, after playing Little Red Lie and Actual Sunlight, I get the sense that we have diametrically opposed ways of looking at the world.

In most other games, this would be a tangential observation, but when it comes to Little Red Lie, it’s central to whether you enjoy the game. As someone who’s generally fairly optimistic — maybe even idealistic — I tend to view the world through a positive lens. I think people, given the chance, can do good things and can be trusted. I think that, on the whole, the world is getting better, even if there’s the occasional high profile setback. I recognize that I’m speaking from a certain set of privileges that I currently possess — but at the same time, I grew up living beneath the poverty line, and I’ve always felt that it’s better to have hope than to wallow or despair.

Needless to say, this isn’t a view that Little Red Lie shares. It calls itself ?(a) contemporary adventure game about debt, family, and the truth about honesty,” but this undersells the bleakness within significantly. It’s dark. It’s angry. It’s self-loathing. It’s nihilistic. It’s built on the premise that everyone lies, all the time, and it uses this as a foundation for critiquing all of modern-day capitalism.

Needless to say, literally none of it resonated with me.

I mean, I get where some of it is coming from. The game is built around two characters, Sarah Stone and Arthur Fox, who both come from Toronto but who lead very different lives. The former is a 38-year-old woman with crippling debt who’s been forced to move back in with her parents in order to stay afloat, while the latter is a hugely successful Baby Boomer motivational speaker who borrows more than a few traits from one of the city’s more famous former residents/mayors. As you play through the game — which, really, is more akin to a visual novel where you click X to advance the dialogue than anything else — you discover how depression, debt, and other realities of everyday life divide the generations (as O’Neill has explained elsewhere, the contrast is meant to illustrate the stark reality faced by millenials), yet also force everyone to become complicit in what the world has become.

On the one hand, I get that, for some people, the thought of blowing everything up is kind of appealing. On the other hand, though…I don’t. Get the appeal, that is. Even though I’m the same age as Sarah Stone — even from the same Toronto suburb (hello, Scarborough!) — her story just never resonates with me. Her narrative is built around wallowing in self-pity, and about building lies on top of lies rather than just saying she needs help. At a certain point, you just wish you could reach into your screen and shake her, and get her to see the world beyond herself.

As for Arthur Fox…okay, I’ll grant O’Neill that there’s some truth to what he has to say here. The current occupant of the White House shows that there really are no bounds to where you can get being a rich jerk. But that’s a truth that’s existed throughout history, under all forms of economic and political systems that have ever been tried. It’s just one of those things that you can either rage against, or shrug your shoulders at and move on with your life, and whichever one you choose, the other will seem almost incomprehensible.

Not that I find Little Red Lie incomprehensible. As I said earlier, I get where it’s coming from — I just don’t agree with any of it.

At the same time, it feels wrong to say a game failed just because you disagree with its basic philosophical premise. Little Red Lie may not play out the way I’d like — and I’ll be honest, I’d have loved to see O’Neill create a game like the one its trailer suggests (if only because that would involve him working with others, as was the case with the exceptional Planet of the Eyes, where he showed that his misanthropy works best when tempered by other people) — but, fundamentally, it would be wrong to suggest that Will O’Neill doesn’t lay his vision out totally clearly, and in a way that, if I agreed with it, would probably seem riveting. It’s not my thing, but if you read about my optimism and scoffed, it may well be yours.

WZO Games provided us with a Little Red Lie PS Vita code for review purposes.

Grade: C-