Her Story on PC
I remember a time in the mid-1990s or so, not long after games changed medium from cartridge to CD, when full-motion video was proclaimed the “next big thing” in games. It may be a few decades late, but Her Story has made me a cautious believer in the plausibility of this format. While the 1990’s offerings fell short because designers were trying to find ways to allow players to interact with the clips, Her Story makes the clips themselves fundamentally static while allowing players to interact with the framework around them, presented as a dated police computer full of digitized archives made from interview tapes.
Playing Her Story is not like playing any other game I’ve played. Most of the game’s content is simply video to watch and form your own opinions about as they unfold. Players are given relatively free reign to search the database and review files however they’d like with simple text searches. With each search, the number of total hits is displayed, though players only get access to watch the first five. Multiple keywords can be put together to narrow results, find new information, and get to the bottom of the deepening mystery. Revolving around the murder of a glass craftsman named Simon Smith, Her Story takes time and patience to piece together, and is full of misdirection, interpretation, and plenty of apparent filler material of no real consequence.
When players first fire up Her Story, they’re presented with an ominous pre-populated search in the database: ‘murder’. From here, it’s essentially up to the player to scour the tapes, picking up pieces that can lead to new searches. Names, places, and objects can all be great ways of finding out more about a given piece of the puzzle, but aren’t going to be enough to unravel the whole tale. Through the content of the tapes, we get to know Hannah Smith, Simon’s wife and the one who reported him missing. It soon becomes apparent that the police are pursuing the widow as a possible, perhaps even probable, suspect. More and more, players can find pieces of the story that just don’t seem to add up as further tapes are dug up and observed.
What makes Her Story special isn’t just the unconventional format, though that’s clearly a piece of it. With solid acting, a curious dressing, and a compelling story, it’s everything that a police-focused drama should be. Feeling somewhere between the best of L.A. Noire‘s interrogations and the wildly popular podcast Serial, the unique narrative and consistent attention to detail is beyond simple good writing and feels more like something that blurs the line between reality and fantasy. Watching the emotion that seems to surge through Hannah as she wistfully reminisces about the past or coldly responds to suspicion cast her way makes this game feel much more human, and the elimination of the uncanny valley through using actual video is a brilliant stroke that I can’t imagine will remain entirely unique for long.
In summary, Her Story is likely worth playing if only because it is so profoundly different. When you throw in solid writing, passable acting, and the need for players to reach their own conclusions about what happened, it comes together exceptionally well. It took me some time to really feel out the game, but once I started digging more into the lives of Hannah, Simon, and the others mentioned throughout the interviews, I was hooked. Asking a mere $5.99 on Steam ($5.09 on sale as I write this), or for $4.99 on iOS or direct through the game’s website, there’s little reason not to give it a shot. I would be pretty shocked if we didn’t see this presentation copied in the near future, perhaps even by a major studio that’s willing to take some risks. For my part, I’d heartily recommend the title to anyone that’s interested in games that break the mold, and to anyone that’s looking for something that’s entirely new.