It seems that most of the games I’ve really enjoyed so far this year have all had one common trait: they embrace the fact they are games to offer a unique story-telling experience. Movies & books are fairly passive, or perhaps structured is a better word, in how they present their stories. The “proper” way to experience their story is from start to finish exactly as the writer intended. Ever caught a movie halfway through & then have no idea what’s going on for the rest of it? But gaming can shake this formula up. Because it requires the player’s active participation, developers can present a cohesive story in unique ways. Her Story is one such experience.
In Her Story, you play as basically yourself. Someone sitting at a computer, presumably in a police station, searching through broken bits of video revolving around several police interviews of a woman named Hannah in regards to a missing person, & later a murder. The plot is that you’re trying to figure out the plot.
I’ve seen Her Story described as an “interactive movie,” which is fairly accurate to how the gameplay is structured. You’re basically operating a computer to search for small video snippets from Hannah’s interviews. Although there are several interviews, they’re all broken into snippets of maybe a minute or so length, & you search for new pieces by entering keywords that Hannah says in the videos. For example, the first video I viewed gave me an idea to search for “Simon” & “murder”.
Narrative: As this is a very heavily story-based mystery game, having a compelling mystery is essential, & I’m happy to report that I felt Her Story‘s story was very well executed. The mystery, once you piece it all together, was unique & well-thought out. But what struck me as most interesting was how the player’s unraveling of the mystery is entirely dependent on their actions. The story’s structure remains the same, but how you uncover it will greatly affect its impact. You might find a key clue before another player, thus affecting the conclusions you draw about what happened. It’s hard to talk about without going into spoilers, but an example from my own playthrough was that, for the longest time, I suspected Hannah had a Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) & that this alternate personality had killed Simon. I found myself writing notes, paying attention to dates & timestamps on the videos to understand the timeline of the interviews. I’ve never done police work, but it really gave me the sense of being a detective.
There are numerous small details that go into adding to the atmosphere of the game. I know, it’s hard to imagine how a game that’s nothing but staring at a computer screen staring at an in-game computer screen can have atmosphere, but Her Story manages with its minimal presentation. Everything just felt a little… off, in a way that’s difficult to give words to. Perhaps it’s the welling sense that something very bad happened. Perhaps it’s how Hannah always comes across as unbalanced and off-kilter, even before she’s accused of anything. Even though I was just watching videos, I couldn’t help questioning myself. Who was I, & why was I sitting in what felt like a dark, dank room in some police archive? Was I even supposed to be there? Why did I care about Hannah’s story?
Overall, if you let yourself get immersed in the mystery, you’ll find it a compelling story.
Mechanics: Mechanics are minimal but work for their intended purpose. You type in keywords to search, watch videos & can even organize the videos into a sort of save bar to keep everything in order. There’s not really a lot to say in this regard. Every aspect, however simplistic, served to aid in the illusion of the world the game was creating. You even get little popup chat messages from your “coworker”.
If I had a complaint about the mechanics, it’s that the save bar feature could’ve been better. In the beginning, I was trying to organize each video based on their timestamps so that in the end I would have a cohesive timeline, but it quickly became too tedious. When you save a new video, it naturally goes to the end of your feed, but you can’t just drop it between other clips. Moving it will swap the two clips’ positions. So if you want to move a clip, you have to swap it with each sequential video up the line. I gave up after a while. While this took nothing away from the story, it was an annoyance.
Overall, simplistic mechanics that add to the purpose of the experience, but skip the save bar.
Aesthetics: As with the mechanics, the presentation of Her Story is minimal but utilitarian. From the design of the desktop to the quality of the video clips, it felt like I was using an ancient computer stuck in some dungeon of a police archive. I have to give a lot of credit to Viva Seifert, the actress playing Hannah. I thought she gave a very convincing performance. There’s a natural unnaturalness about her in the videos. Her behavior is slightly stilted, which I think anyone’s would be while being interrogated by the police.
The game also has a lot of small visual cues & attentions to detail that help immerse players in the game “world.” For example, two clips might show Hannah in the same outfit, but she has her hair up in one but down in another, giving you a clue that the second video comes later in the interview. Another small detail that caught me off guard but increased my investment in the game was when the lights would flicker on my “screen”, making “my” reflection faintly flash across the desktop. Such a small thing, but when I realized I wasn’t playing as myself but someone actually in the game’s world, it added a second mystery to solve.
Overall, the presentation is simplistic but with great attention to detail to help with immersion.
Replay Value: Low. Nothing changes in the story, so I feel no need to replay the game. However, as there is some fun to be had rewatching a mystery to with knowing eyes to see if you missed any clues, some gamers might enjoy replaying the game.
Final Score: 4
Final Word: While it certainly won’t appeal to everyone, Her Story is a solid experience & great example of story-telling through mechanics, with great attention to detail. If you’re a sucker for a good mystery or want to try something new, it’s work checking out.
Title: Her Story
Consoles: PC, Mac, iOS, Android
Rating: N/A (personal rating T)
Developer: Sam Barlow
Publisher: Sam Barlow Release Date: June 24, 2015