Perceptual richness, a defining feature of episodic memory, emerges from the reliving of multimodal sensory experiences. Although the importance of the medial temporal lobe (MTL) to episodic memory retrieval is well documented, the features that determine its engagement are not well characterized. The current study assessed the relationship between MTL function and episodic memory's perceptual richness. We designed a laboratory memory task meant to capture the complexity of memory for life episodes, while manipulating memory's perceptual content. Participants encoded laboratory episodes with rich (film clips) and impoverished (written narratives) perceptual content that were matched for other characteristics such as personal significance, emotionality and story content. At retrieval, participants were probed to describe the stories' perceptual features and storyline. Participants also recalled autobiographical memories (AMs) in a comparison condition. We compared the performance of patients with unilateral medial temporal lobe epilepsy (mTLE) and healthy controls to assess how damage to the MTL affects retrieval in these conditions. We observed an overall decrease in detail count in the mTLE group, along with a disproportionate deficit in perceptual details that was most acute in the AM and the perceptually enriched film clip conditions. Our results suggest that the impaired sense of reliving the past that accompanies MTL insult is mediated by a paucity of perceptual episodic memory details. We also introduce a new protocol that successfully mimics naturalistic memories while benefiting from the experimental control provided by using laboratory stimuli. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.