If you were feeling especially glib and monstrously smug, you could basically say that Her Story is essentially ‘Google the Game’. Of course, the reality of the matter is that while Her Story’s search engine interface for assorted video clips does lend itself quite neatly to such base comparisons, it’s the emergent narrative and sharp writing that really define the game as a refreshing, if not utterly gripping prospect.
Devised from the dark corners of Sam Barlow’s mind (he of the hugely underrated Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Aisle fame), Her Story whisks players back to 1994 England and sits them down in front of a scanline ravaged computer monitor with just an open search engine dialog staring back.
More than just being able to access the video archives, Her Story lets players fiddle about with other functionality on the PC too
A contemporary take on the FMV (Full Motion Video) driven titles of old, Her Story invites players to input a number of queries into the aforementioned search dialog, with the system then spitting back a number of video clips that pertain to one or more of the keywords that were originally inputted and really, that’s your lot.
That said, hold your figurative horses though, as what all of the video clips which are returned by the system have in common is that they reveal a woman who is being questioned on camera by detectives in connection with a rather serious crime, and it’s here that Her Story engages with the player so very brilliantly.
A far cry from the eye-gougingly terrible FMV adventure titles of yesteryear, such as 7th Guest and the ultra-risible grot of Night Trap, Her Story does a grand old job of enrapturing the player in a believable narrative which is astonishingly multi-layered in its writing. All of it would have all been for nought however, were it not for a superlative performance turned in by actress Viva Seifert.
In fact, being the sole thespian in the whole production, Seifert carries a gargantuan weight across her shoulders and yet she manages to make it look so effortless, displaying a commendably broad dramatic range which further cements the believability of the whole scenario. Tonally speaking, Her Story borrows elements from the likes of True Detective and Single White Female and in doing so fashions a rivetingly dark tale generously stuffed with twists and turns that are both genuinely surprising and wholly satisfying.
So while Her Story manifests on the surface as a detective mystery, there’s actually far more going on than just that. Deftly fulfilling the maxim of its moniker, the game is also a deep and complex relation of one woman’s life experiences to the viewer and as a result; the taut and deep writing deftly allows it to transcend the sleuthing tropes that most would otherwise expect. Because there is no fail state in Her Story, nor is there any real sort of traditional conclusion (aside from those player theories that the accomplished writing gives rise to), Sam Barlow’s title instead relies on selling players on the efficacy of its tale and it does so with considerable aplomb.
Actress Viva Seifert absolutely nails her role
Gameplay-wise, Her Story allows players to type anything into its search engine and in the act of doing so each player is able to approach the game’s story in a variety of different ways and at a number of different junctures (this is also something that allows the primary plot twist to function extremely effectively for a prolonged period of time). Ultimately though, it’s a testament to the robustness of the story that by effectively surrendering control of the narrative to the player that it still holds up tremendously and remains undiminished as a result.
Of course the drawback of permitting such freedom is that while the non-linear approach that Her Story facilitates allows players to open up proprietary lines of inquiry, it also enables folks to randomly and rather clumsily bomb the search dialog with terms in the hope of a decent match.
Though mechanically simple, Her Story nevertheless gestures towards something considerably more sophisticated than its basic trappings might suggest and yet, because the interaction between the player and the game is so relatively threadbare, this is clearly not a game for everybody. In spite of this, the upside to Her Story encompassing such streamlined interactions is that essentially anybody who has ever used a search engine can, by proxy, get stuck straight into the game without any sort of perquisite, making it accessible to all from the beginning.
Elsewhere, a lot of subtle work has gone into creating the look of Her Story. From an old-fashioned style computer operating system that can be interacted with (including a neat little mini game that can be found to distract from the constant video clip surfing) through to the flickering scanlines of an ageing monitor that provides the occasional reflection of its user, the immersion of the game’s scenario is ostensibly consolidated by the detailed aesthetic that surrounds it.
In the end though, once all the videos have been discovered; a task which will take a fair amount of time on its own, there really is nothing left to do. However with its budget price point in mind, it appears obvious that the developer seems keenly aware of the finite content offering that Her Story proffers.
The writing in Her Story is impeccable
Similar to how football management sims tend to receive an inordinate amount of stick for essentially being ‘Excel Spreadsheets’ from outsiders, so too might Her Story suffer a similar generalisation when the unenlightened clumsily compared the game to internet search engines. And sure enough while the ‘not a real game’ crowd will come, as they always do, teeth bared all the while smugly looking down their pointed noses at Her Story, it’s unequivocally their loss as Sam Barlow’s creation stands as one of the most refreshing experiences of the year.
HER STORY VERDICT
A bold take on the long-forgotten FMV adventure genre, Her Story might be old-fashioned and light on what some might describe as traditional gameplay, but its sophisticated narrative and entertainingly novel take on detective work both allow it to soar far beyond the zenith of its seemingly outmoded remit.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Discovering that twist (of which there are many) that effectively resets your perspective on Her Story’s narrative.
Does something truly clever with the ‘FMV Adventure’ genre.
Will not be for everyone.
Guess work can often prove effective in progressing forward.