While the mystery and intrigue can only be obtained during the first play-through, Her Story makes use of a simplistic concept combined with FMV to create a personal and rich atmosphere.
+ Intriguing Story – No replay value
+ Brilliant acting – No official end game state
+ Interesting concept
Platform(s) available: PC, iOS
Platform reviewed: PC
Games with a focus on full-motion video (FMV) tend to be looked at rather sceptically, as they have been intrinsically linked with cringe-inducing games from the 80s and 90s. However, this history of FMV did not scare away Silent Hill: Shattered Memories creator, Sam Barlow as he utilised the concept in Her Story, and successfully created realism and atmosphere in this non-linear crime story.
In Her Story, the player must traverse a police database showing a woman (played by Viva Seifert) being interviewed about her missing husband. It is not just a case of sitting and watching the full interviews, the player can only watch clips that relate to words they type into a search engine. Upon opening the game, ‘MURDER’ has already been typed, which brings up four videos, from three different interviews. These clips immediately grab the player’s attention as the woman goes from offering to help with the case, to being accused of murder. After that, the player can type in any words they want and watch the correlated videos, in an attempt to piece together the truth.
Her Story is set in 1994, and thus the player must deal with the limitations of a 90s computer, for example, only the first five entries of a queried word are available to view. In the beginning of the game, this restriction is not a problem as most words lead to new clips and the player can sit back and absorb the information. It doesn’t take long to see the mystery occurring in the story, which heightens the desire to have everything pieced together. It is possible to save videos of particular interest and write notes on them, which becomes an invaluable way of obtaining words to search for. Another useful feature is the Database Checker, taunting players with how many clips they have yet to find. However, there is a lull in gameplay as unseen videos become rare, leading to the player typing random words in the hope of discovering something useful. After playing for around two hours, I had got the idea of what had happened, but was determined to fill the gaps in the story. In three more hours, I had successfully filled the database.
There is no particular narrative path that needs to be followed. The clips can be viewed in any order and no certain video is the one that holds all the answers. This mechanic results in creating a unique experience for every player, as their choice of what to search for shapes how they personally experience the story. Every word and movement can be interpreted differently, due to Viva Seifert’s acting abilities. Does a choice of wording hint at something deeper? Why did she smile in one instance, but look sad or angry in another? The player ends up forming a deep connection with the character the more they learn about and observe her. She feels so real and human that it can even come across as too personal and intrusive at times.
There is no real end state to Her Story, even for those that spend the time to fill in the database. Lack of a clear outcome can be frustrating for those looking to gain all the details of what happened. However, the game is drawing upon one of life’s big frustrations, that we can never have all the answers. Every day, people must draw biased opinions based on the knowledge that they have about others, and how it relates to them personally. (Imagine discovering that your favourite musician is deaf. This knowledge would completely change your opinion of them.) In the same way, the game constantly feeds the player with information that may change their perspective on the character and her situation. Her Story is driven by the curiosity to continue, and everything is framed by the player’s personal opinion and prejudice. If all the details were revealed, the game may lose much of its interpretative meaning.
Given the nature of the game, Her Story has little to no replay value. It is possible to wipe the system and start afresh, but that does not delete the game from memory. The game purposefully makes use of awkward mechanics, forcing players to traverse a database with limitations, to find the answers that they are seeking. During a first playthrough, this mechanic is hugely rewarding, with the satisfaction of working things out or discovering a video that confirms earlier suspicions. Future playthroughs lose this impact, as players cannot re-investigate the story and there is no reason to shift through the large database.
In many ways there is not much to Her Story, and it is difficult to decide whether it is really ‘a game’. The interviews could have made for an impactful short film, but connection to the characters and story might have been lost if all the information was immediately available. The player becomes invested in their role as detective investigator which drives a need for answers and gives richness and depth that would not be possible from any other medium.
This review is based off a review copy of Her Story provided by Sam Barlow.
This review was originally part of the GamersFTW site, the servers of which have been taken down. It now appears on GabsTannerReviews out of respect for the developers/publishers that gave me a copy to review.