There’s clearly a Star Trek Voyager fan at FMV Interactive. Their first game, Vegas Tales, was hosted by Lt. Tuvok himself, Tim Russ. With their second game, Truth, they have headed further into the USS Voyager and found Ensign Harry Kim, otherwise known as Garrett Wang. Perhaps we’ll get Janeway herself in the next one.
Vegas Tales had a high-concept plot for its FMV shenanigans, and Truth is no different. This time out, we’re the audience of a new TV game show. Six contestants are hoping to win one-million dollars. To have a chance, they each have to answer questions, selected by you – the audience – and they have to answer them while connected to a lie detector. By hearing the unfettered truth, you will then have enough information to vote one off each round, Big Brother-stylee, until only one person remains. That one person will become one-million dollars richer.
Garrett Wang is the one in the host’s chair. He introduces the concept and the contestants, before presenting the smorgasbord of questions that you can ask. You need to ask five to each contestant per round, so – quick maths – that means thirty questions in the first round, twenty-five in the second and so on.
The questions are written to skirt on the personal. There’s stuff like “what’s your most controversial opinion?’, ‘who would you bring to a desert island?’ and ‘what’s your most embarrassing moment?’, and each character reacts in unsurprisingly varied ways.
The six contestants are reasonably motley. There’s Joe, a jock who’s failed to grow up since high-school; Alexis, a vapid instagram model; Sam, a nerd; Autumn a new-age hippy; Claire, a homeless woman; and Lilith, a goth who likes nothing more than watching people suffer. Truth has cherry-picked a wide variety of people so that there’s always someone that you should connect or violently disconnect with.
Now, it’s been enlightening playing Truth so soon after The Isle Tide Hotel, another FMV adventure that was released recently. The latter is produced by Wales Interactive, who are arguably the maestros of full-motion video. They have been pushing further into other genres while polishing their craft, and it’s become a treat to play their titles whenever they launch.
Truth can’t compare. It’s beaten so roundly in every single category that it’s almost painful to play. If you’ve recently experienced a Wales Interactive game, playing Truth might give you quality-whiplash.
Take the characters. Even writing them, they immediately feel overly familiar. They’re outright stereotypes – dangerously so in some cases. Now, you might think that the stereotypes would get subverted: the instagram model would reveal a hidden intelligence and self-awareness, and the jock’s bravado would crumble to reveal some sensitivity. But nah. Truth isn’t interested in that. They are all exactly as they first seem.
It doesn’t take much to imagine a different, better version of Truth. If the questions were unlocked over the course of the game show, then you could see a progression to the characters, perhaps some twists. But all the questions are available from the start, and no new ones are shuffled in. It means zero possibility of character development, and plenty of opportunities to be overwhelmed with the sheer number of dialogue choices on offer.
The exception to the typecasting, at least in our view, were Sam and Lilith. Through the sheer personality of their actors, they somehow became more than one-dimensional. Sam is a geek who generates an eyeroll or two (a sequence where he nitpicks Voyager only to get shut down by Garrett is the definition of cringe), but he puts so much authenticity and passion into his fandom that he’s hard to dislike. Lilith, meanwhile, is just a campy Elvira, saying the most ridiculous things to generate a reaction. We could guess some of her answers before she says them (you can probably anticipate her response to the ‘trolley problem’ yourselves), but the actor is clearly enjoying the chance to be vampish.
But there’s a running theme of ‘expecting more than Truth gives you’. We imagined that, on occasion, the contestant would lie. The lie detector would kick in, revealing something about the character through their evasion and what they’re trying to hide. But no, everyone tells the truth, all the time. We expected some twist, that the game show had some alternative rounds, some twists on the format. But no, it’s the same five questions from the same menu. And we expected the characters to develop in some form, yet they stay on target throughout.
If Truth was camp, funny, surprising or intriguing, then it would have some leeway. We certainly expected some campness thanks to the lie detector seemingly being a telephone cord wrapped around them. But each response is entirely predictable, something you could have jotted onto a napkin based on their stereotype and the obvious baiting of the question. The writing just doesn’t have the spark or wit to make trudging through up to thirty questions per round – ugh, thirty! – anything more than a slog. It’s like being at the worst party in the world. Everyone’s oversharing and you’ve got no connection to any of them.
Garrett Wang looks entirely uncomfortable, clearly regurgitating the same questions five different ways. The only enjoyment he gets is from some commercial breaks, when the camera cuts to him advertising placebos or replicating the Sesame Street intro. They’re a bit ham-fisted, but his eyes light up. You can tell this was the stuff he was happier doing.
By the end, we were defeated. We’d been subjected to nearly a hundred answers to a hundred questions, all plucked from a spreadsheet. Our 500G tormented us: to get the rest, we’d need to play it five more times, unlocking everyone else’s ending. We couldn’t think of anything worse. And if that wasn’t ‘no’ enough, the majority of Truth turned out to be unskippable. We’d have to sit through the whole thing again.
We’re in a second golden age of FMV adventures, with studios like Wales Interactive and Flavourworks making some absolute crackers. One of the joys of being in a golden age is that you don’t have to put up with substandard alternatives. Truth is most definitely that.