You have obtained a hard-drive from the National Security Agency that contains hundreds of videos of calls and recordings taken on the phones of four individuals over the course of two years. You must search through the database to figure out why the four central characters have been the subject of electronic surveillance, as well as the nature of the player-character's role in these events. However, each video you uncover only contains one side of a conversation, requiring the player to find the complementary video to fully understand the conversation.
Telling Lies is the Spiritual Successor to Sam Barlow's previous game Her Story, with a similar presentation and highly similar gameplay. It also expanded the scale - while Her Story has just under two hours worth of video to watch, Telling Lies has about 10. Additionally, Telling Lies has a diverse range of filming locations and stars a wide cast of actors, whereas Her Story was restricted to one location and only had one actor.
As a large part of this game involves figuring out what's going on and who the characters are, details as small as a character's name can damage the experience, as such there will be unmarked heavy spoilers below; read at your own risk.
This game contains examples of:
- Actor Allusion: Kerry Bishé, who played Lucy Bennett in Scrubs, plays a nurse in this game.
- Age-Gap Romance: David and Ava have at least 10 years difference in age. In one video, it is said that the FBI chose Ava because of her likeliness to be interested in an older man.
- Alone with the Psycho: Emma believed she was in this type of relationship with David after she saw him kill Paul, another man she knew, out of jealousy, even though nothing was happening between them. She married him out of fear and pretended to be the perfect wife out of fear, but by the time you spy on their personal videos, she is tired of living the lie and starts to openly defy him. The fact that he is also away on a deep cover mission for the FBI makes it easier for her.
- Anachronic Order: The game is experienced in whatever order you decide to watch the videos in.
- Big Brother Is Watching: One of the main themes in the game.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Emma, Ava and the camgirl, respectively.
- Blood Knight: David believes in stopping the bad guys by any means necessary, and even his wife Emma calls him this word for word in one of the videos.
- Cam Whore: One of the four characters works as a camgirl.
- Death Equals Redemption: Somewhat attempted by David. He commits what he believes is a Heroic Sacrifice by blowing up the bridge supporting the pipeline which, according to the Green Storm activists, is a threat to clean and drinkable water. However, none of the other main characters (including his wife, girlfriend and both his daughters) seem to retain any strong feelings for him (good or bad). They go on with their lives, completely forgetting about him.
- Deep Cover Agent: This is David's job at the FBI. In most videos he is working the Green Storm leftist group.
- Driven to Suicide: After ruining his relationships with his wife Emma, his job at the FBI after going rogue, and his new love Ava, David decides to commit suicide by turning his boat into a giant bomb to blow up the pipeline bridge that Green Storm was protesting against.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: All the characters with the exception of David, who committed suicide, and Karen, whose fate is left ambiguous, are said to live long satisfying lives.
- Everyone Loves Blondes: According to the camgirl.
- Happily Married: David and Emma's stable marriage is part of why he was chosen for this mission.
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Invoked; the camgirl says she slept with a woman to draw the interest of her viewers.
- Green-Eyed Monster: David has a really bad jealous streak with women he's in relationships with and often results in him taking violent action against the men he is jealous of.
- Going Native: David goes deep undercover to expose and destroy a far-left radical group named Green Storm, who the FBI believe is a rising threat. While there, he meets Ava and falls in love. Overtime he really starts to believe in their message and becomes the most radical of them all, resulting in him committing a terrorist act by using his boat and bombs to blow up a pipeline bridge, while he is on board.
- Heroic BSoD: David has one of these, late in the game.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: David starts the downward spiral with his wife Emma when he starts to show jealously over a doctor named Steven, who she was talking to about her mother's possible growing neurological condition. This brings back the memory of David killing a man named Paul in the past for that same reason. Things were mostly going great between them with the occasional disagreements couples have, until this happens.
- I Have Many Names: As an FBI Agent, David uses many surnames when going undercover. He explains to Camgirl that the FBI trains their Agents to use their real first name in case they run into someone they know personally. It usually won't blow their cover, because when a person know someone personally they, in most cases, call them by their first name, not their surname. Camgirl also admits she uses fake names and that's how the conversation starts. And you will eventually learn them.
- I Just Want to Be Special: Ava believed she was destine for glamour and fame as a music star, and travels to California to fulfill her dream. It doesn't work out. She gets raped by Peter, the leader of a rock band she joined, she falls in with a far-leftist group and she gets pregnant by David and becomes a single mom.
- Multiple Endings: The game has various epilogues; which one you get depends on which of the characters you focused on the most.
- Rape As Back Story: David finds out from Eric, a member of Green Storm, that Ava was raped by his friend Peter, who is the leader of a rock band Ava joined in her pursuit to become a famous singer.
- Sequel Escalation: While not a direct sequel, this game expands a lot of the ideas from Her Story, going from one character to four main characters and over 20 minor ones.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: The motto of David and everyone in the FBI.
- Spiritual Successor: To Her Story.
- The Three Faces of Eve: Ava is the Child, Emma is the Wife, the camgirl is the Seductress.
- Yandere: Rare male example. David killed a man named Paul, just because his wife Emma knew him and he was jealous, thinking she cheated on him, even though they weren't that serious of a couple at the time. Emma married him afterwards purely out of fear, which she admits in a video where she uses one of her daughter's doll houses and dolls to confess to everything while building up the courage to leave David.
- Your Cheating Heart: David cheats on his wife Emma while undercover with Ava, and also (emotionally) cheats on them both with a camgirl. As he and Emma's relationship grow increasingly strained, she cheats on him with an anesthesiologist at work.