The Mirror Lied is a very short game that’s intriguing while it lasts, but fumbles terribly at the end. I strongly recommend the experience but don’t expect much of an ending.
The atmosphere is beautiful from the moment it starts. There’s a long intro, showing rooms that are first empty, then begin to flicker, slowly adding new things until they’re full of items. Going into the game, my initial guess was that it was taking place in a mirror world, one that wasn’t firmly there because it was only a reflection of a real place, and that probably the place would fall apart as I explored.
When the intro ends, you find yourself in the girl’s bedroom.
Exploring leads to a sense of disquiet. The only initial music is the ticking of clocks. The bathroom has a full tub of water, and interacting with the tap asks you if you want to “store tap water” in the sink – are the pipes unreliable? I’ve played another game where getting water turned out to be a big thing, so this made me nervous. I found myself turning on the lights in each room I entered simply because they were there, and maybe it was important.
When you go downstairs, you find a table with a music box, a teddy bear, and a a phone. Attempting to interact with the phone is futile – the character merely picks it up and sets it down again. The teddy bear appears to be something you can do something with, as the character picks it up, but it’s impossible to set down anywhere else but the one dark spot you picked it up from. You can open the music box to add a song to the ticking.
The phone will ring infrequently. That and the computer are the only connection to the outside world, and neither are under your control. The phone calls are one way messages, and the computer’s only initial use is to taunt you with the knowledge there’s emails you can’t access on it.
At one point, interacting with two cabinets in the dining room first produces the message “There’s nothing here.” indicating no items were found…then interacting with the second gives the message “There’s nothing here at all.” As I stepped away, they disappeared completely. As you progress, the pictures on the walls begin to vanish, leaving white canvas in their place. This all seemed to fit my first guess about what was going on.
There’s similar disquiet to the message you get when first encountering the thirsty plant: “You have nothing to give.”
The downstairs rooms themselves are subtly wrong. There’s another bathroom with another inexplicably filled tub. There’s a bedroom that seems like it’s her parents and where she says the bed is “still warm”, but examining the drawers she describes them as full not of adult clothing or her parent’s clothing but “over-sized clothing”, as if she doesn’t have any idea who it’s for. Finally, there’s what seems like a study, with an enormous inexplicable button right in front of the door that turns the lights on and off. There’s a map of the world on one wall that slowly loses pieces as the game goes on. There’s also a globe she describes as having an odd smell and a bookcase full of books that have titles but are full of blank pages. On the desk are more books, this time with even the titles themselves “smudged”. There is a vial of liquid you can take a sample of and a microscope you can use to view it…which produces first what looks like some sort of biological thing, perhaps numerous bacteria, then on second glance multicolored squiggles, on third dark, broken up lines, and on fourth nothing at all. There’s a computer, but it requires a card to access it…but when you try to leave the room, the computer tells you you’ve got mail, mail you can’t actually see.
The puzzles, such as they are, are just a matter of getting a key, and unlocking other things to get keys to unlock the next or else get find steadily odder items – first pesticide…then bullets…and then, naturally, a gun. There’s nothing like the creeping unease you see when the character you’re trying to guide safely collects more and more dangerous things.
Then there’s the basement, which contains a room with a blocked door. There’s a series of switches and the final one can’t be moved but has a note saying to wait for them at 3:26. Then you get a call saying that.
Go downstairs, and the switch is no longer stuck. You turn the heater on.
Then when you return upstairs everything is on fire.
It was only then it really hit me that there was no door out. I was trapped with no way to escape the fire. Was I dead, I wondered? The ghost of a girl who burned down her house, and that’s why I kept thinking about storing water and why the place was empty and why things had led so inevitably to the fire? Was that why things some things turned out to not even exist? I tried going downstairs in the hope I could turn things off, only for the furnace to explode and send me back up. I wandered around in a panic and finally decided to head for my room, thinking perhaps this was why I’d filled the tub with water in advance…then, in my room, I found the door to the bathroom locked, then that the door out was as well. With nothing left to do I had her lay down, wondering if that was the end of the game. Maybe that was how she’d died the first time.
But instead the hour hands of the clock turned and surprisingly, she woke again. The floor under the bed burned through and it had ended up on the ground floor. Aside from that damage, there was no other sign of what had happened. Save that, for some reason, all the standing water was now red. And the bed that seems like it’s the parents’ was now cold.
A lot of weirdness, and my favorite type of stuff that just is, leaving you baffled and unsettled. When you die in a game, you know what the stakes are, and it just reminds you you aren’t in any actual danger, so it can’t be that big of a deal. But when you don’t die, you never know what’ll happen.
There’s some more solid hints, though, and that’s where things start to sour a bit. The phone calls you get seem to be from birdy, and seem to connect to each other. After the explosion, you can get into the final room in the basement to get the card to unlock the computer, and finally see the emails. They’re telling you to kill birdy, talking first about how it’s going to be over Europe, then that it’s there and why haven’t you done anything, then finally extorting you to kill it. This would seem to connect to the disappearing map. There’s also numbers that are on the paintings, which turns out to be the date of an atomic test. This in turn means that the microscope slide is probably showing some sort of deadly pathogen. So, there’s some disastrous probably-war-connected thing going on, and you’re supposed to be stopping it but haven’t.
So, you keep watering the plant until it get tall enough, and the phone rings, with the birdy asking if we’re been drinking water like we’re supposed to and then saying it’s flying over and to come meet it. For some reason it’s covered in bugs, needing the pesticide. You climb up, an actual bird comes down overhead, you grab onto it and start to fly away…then you pull out the gun, there’s a gunshot, and next is the bird flying alone. Then it disappears too.
Okay, so what does it mean?
Uh, nothing, it seems. The person who made it has said a lot of times that it’s meant to be a matter of you getting out of it what you put in, which is why I’m annoyed at the more coherent bits of it. Those aren’t as open to interpretation as the rest. They seem to be part of an actual narrative, missing only enough pieces to actually make sense of it. The birdy/email/nuke date bit added together seem to all agree something very bad is going on, something that fits in with the disappearing map and the odd pathogen. Maybe the whole thing is about weaponized bird flu. There’s no real way I can think of to weave the other stuff I liked, like the disappearing cabinet, in with that, and ultimately I think I’d have found it more satisfying without the calls and the emails – for me to just wander around, eventually getting a gun, then finally climbing the plant and killing the bird that’s there to fly me away or maybe just committing suicide myself. There’s enough room there for me to wonder.