Tag Archives: mobile games

Game Review: Her Story

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.

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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”.


2893760-herstory-2Narrative: 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.

Score: 5


unnamedMechanics: 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.

Score: 3


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.

Score: 4


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.

Score: 3


Breakdown

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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.

–  GamerDame

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

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Filed under 4, Indie, Mobile, PC, Reviews

Sara is Missing & I’m in a Creepypasta

With the craziness of my schedule over the holidays on top of interviewing for a potential new job, I’ve had neither the time nor attention span to focus on new games this month.  However, I recently saw a short indie horror game popping up in my video feed from various Youtubers, & after seeing the premise I knew I had to check it out for myself.

Sara is Missing (or S.I.M.) was created by Monsoon Lab for the 2016 Halloween Game Jam, which are essentially challenges to create games on a fixed time limit.  In it, you play as yourself, having found a random cellphone.  The only immediate clue as to the identity of the broken phone’s owner is the image of a woman and her cat on the wallpaper.  Upon trying to recover the phone’s memory, the phone’s supposedly helpful AI/personal assistant program IRIS (which a clever gamer would recognize as SIRI backwards) enlists your help in tracking down the missing Sara.  To this end, you find yourself on a voyeuristic journey through a stranger’s text messages, emails & gallery to uncover potentially the last moments of her life.

What drew me to this title was the almost augmented reality aspect of it.  Although it’s still just a program on your phone, it acts as if you’re using your own phone.  I love the rise in incorporating the modes of entertainment into the experience rather than just being vehicles.  My initial impression upon seeing S.I.M. was that it reminded me a lot of the recent horror movie Unfriended, which I adored.  It works similar to that movie, actually, with the player as the protagonist flipping through various software & files, trying to connect the disparate pieces of Sara’s life together to find her.

The game also has more than a passing vibe of the Creepypasta variety.  Finding a random phone presumably in the middle of the woods… cursed videos… Red Rooms & the deep web… In fact, I recognized some of the video clips spliced together specifically from Creepypastas, including Marble Hornets & Tomino’s Hell.

The game’s fairly short, depending on how in-depth you search through Sara’s phone, so it’s hard to give a full review.  Rather, I wanted to touch briefly on the positives & negatives.  On the positive side, the technology is well-integrated into the app.  Although I believe it’s also available for play on a PC, I played it on my Android, which I recommend for the most immersive experience.  It felt like I was really using someone else’s phone, to the point it startled me when my own phone got email notifications.  The IRIS seemed a bit weird, but I’m assuming it’s based on how SIRI works, & as I just mentioned I use Android so I can’t speak to how it imitates that.  Maybe SIRI is creepily self-aware.

Monsoon Lab did a good job of really establishing Sara’s character through just what we see on her phone.  Although most of what’s available isn’t related directly to solving the mystery, it helps flesh out the character, adding to the eerie blurring between the app & reality.  It made me think about what’s on my own phone & what that would say to someone who found it.  The overarching narrative is interesting, if a bit cliché to anyone familiar with Creepypastas, & they did a good job ramping up the tension toward the end when you have to decide whether or not to pass on the cursed video to save these strangers all the while someone keeps sending you pictures of them bound.  It does an excellent job of eliciting your own natural reactions.

But for all those good points, I was left feeling a little disappointed.  Not because the game is bad, but because it could’ve been better.  Granted, this was made on limited time, & I don’t even know if it’s considered finished at this point.  There are a lot of ways I can see S.I.M. improving.  I’d like to see more of a build-up for the mystery.  It only really takes reading one text message to figure out what happened & kicking off the climax.  I’d love to see a slower reveal, where you have to really piece different messages, pictures & emails together.  I’d also like the different “endings” to actually feel different.

But as I said before, I don’t know if the devs plan to flesh this out more.  I hope they do.  The very end definitely hints that there’s more to come.  Hopefully with all this positive press, they’ll be able to expand & make something truly remarkable.

I’m holding off on giving an actual score, so consider this a very strong recommendation to try this game.  It’s fun, short & free (or pay as you want on PC).  I will definitely be keeping my eye out for future updates.

– GamerDame

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Filed under Demos, First Impressions