Independent and alternative video game coverage

Review: Her Story

(Image by Sam Barlow)

(Image by Sam Barlow)

Her Story pushes the boundaries of storytelling with a simple game mechanic and a visual style that’s a relic of the past.

Developer: Sam Barlow

Publisher: Sam Barlow

Platforms: PC [reviewed], Mac, iOS

Release Date: June 24, 2015

Current MSRP: $5.99

A British woman’s husband goes missing. You try to find the answers through a series of police interviews conducted with the woman.

Her Story unfolds through full motion video (FMV) scenes, like the old ’90s games on the Panasonic 3DO and Sega CD. There’s a real person playing the role of the main character instead of an animated figure. Unlike those past games though, the videos in Her Story aren’t cheesy or horribly acted but work perfectly for the story.

The clips take place between several days in the summer of 1994, with the woman coming in for seven different interviews. She talks to the police in an interview room, telling them details about her life, her husband and what possibly could have happened to him. The footage is all stored inside a searchable police database.

Her Story was independently developed by Sam Barlow, who was the leader designer and writer on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009) for the Nintendo Wii while at Climax Studios.

The woman in Her Story is played by Viva Seifert, a multi-talented performer who is a former Olympic-level rhythmic gymnast and now a musician in the two-piece band “Joe Gideon and the Shark” with her brother.

The game is played by typing keywords into a search bar on an old ’90s computer. Searching for terms brings up VHS-like videos of the woman talking to the police from the database.

Watch Me

The woman’s husband is gone. You try to piece together the puzzle with each video to crack the case. For example, searching for the terms “husband,” “family” or “murder” in the database will bring up videos where the woman mentions those words during her talk. Up to five videos can appear under a search. Terms that return more than five results will need a narrower search or a better word to watch the rest of the videos.

The woman is the narrator of the story. All you have to go on is what she reveals.

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

The menu in the game is easy to navigate and find videos. (Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

Most of the clips are short, with many being only several seconds to half a minute long. There are some that occasionally go longer than a minute. There are a few hundred videos to discover. The clips will be found and played out of order, on different days and times.

You can search for longer phrases, word combinations or exact sentences to try for a better match. Each clip has a date and timestamp of when she talked. A yellow eyeball on the video means it’s an all-new clip. You can rewind, fast-forward and pause a clip when watching it. The game also stores all your search terms, which can help when going back to connect later videos.

The home menu interface is mostly barren, getting the feel of an old Windows desktop. The game even replicates the sound of typing on old keyboards as you search for words. The dullness and glare on the screen of the CRT computer monitor is another authentic touch but can also be turned off for a more clean and modern look.

A database tracker on the home menu keeps record of all the videos found in the archive. It shows green for clips you’ve watched, and yellow for the last video you viewed. While you can’t watch all the videos in chronological order, this helps connect the timeline when viewing a new line of clips. If you think a video is important or want to remember it for later, any clip can be saved for future viewing in a user session on the database menu.

To help piece together footage, tags and full descriptions can be added to each video. When returning a search, each thumbnail is the woman sitting in similar positions with the same hairstyles and outfits, so it’s extremely helpful to remember clips with your own details and group them together in a personalized way. These customized tags and descriptions will also come up when using the search bar.

With so many clips inside the database, it takes a lot of thought to weave them all together.

Make Connections

Going deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole into the game’s story is incredible. A single word or phrase from one video can connect to another in a completely different clip, unveiling a whole new set of details from another day and time. Going off on different tangents searching for the smoking gun is engrossing. The more you learn, the more you question your own reasoning.

To track all the game’s details, you’d need your own detective wall. Don’t be surprised if you create scribbles of clues, connections and odd things that don’t add up. The game casts a large web of truth and lies. Even the brief clips that last only several seconds are intriguing and captivating, in large part because of Seifert’s performance. She’s fantastic in the role.

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

The game’s superb writing and conversational dialogue also make each video feel worthwhile, like something important could be in that scene. You can gauge what the police are asking based on her responses, which shows just how good both the writing and Seifert’s performance are since she’s essentially having conversations with herself throughout the entire game. The clips aren’t even in order but that doesn’t matter to the understanding and enjoyment of the story.

You can’t easily cheat the game’s mechanic. Since a search term only returns five videos, looking up basic words will yield too many results. Listening to the way the woman talks and how she emphasizes certain words or phrases is part of the challenge. You have to actually analyze the woman’s story and think about her responses to find the next interview clip.

Going back to old clips that were first watched when you started the game, naive and still learning about the people involved is remarkable. You recognize familiar words, mannerisms and facial expressions that don’t seem right, which makes you trace back your earlier searches for more hints.

Almost everyone is familiar with Google searches and looking up things on the Internet. It’s all easily accessible, which puts the focus on Seifert’s performance and unveiling the story.

Fact or Fiction

I don’t want to spoil the game in any way with what search terms wield what results or anything about the woman’s history and her husband. Even giving simple things like names and places would damper it. There are some nice twists and shocking revelations to discover.

Each person will uncover the game’s details in their own unique way, which is one of the special aspects about Her Story. Searching for certain words leads to different paths, one that not everyone will exactly follow. It’s possible to find the truth early on by using certain search terms but even then this doesn’t ruin the game. You still need to learn more about the people involved and what led to the husband’s disappearance.

Her Story has no game over and no time limits. After finding about half of the clips in the database, you can end the game and see the credits. You can continue to find as many clips until you’re comfortable with finishing the game. Towards the end it does get difficult to obtain all the videos once the database has been mostly filled. If you end the game too early though you will miss a lot of the finer details between the main plot points.

The game is so absorbing that it does feel like you’re actually in a dingy storage room, with a light flickering in the background into the old computer monitor, humming sounds vibrating as you watch these interviews from 20 years ago.

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

(Image by Tim Bowman/Quarter Disorder)

Through the many videos you learn about the woman’s past and the relationship with her husband. Even if the clips aren’t in chronological order and broken up across many search terms it still returns a cohesive storyline. This is another impressive and remarkable aspect of the game considering the amount of videos, with the length of each being so short too.

Her Story is a high drama affair, taking the best of crime and detective cinema and infusing it with player input and choice. Seifert does an outstanding job in her performance. Considering she’s basically the entire game and talking across so many short and unorganized clips, her acting is crucial to how the story comes across. Without her believability Her Story would fall apart, sinking right into the category of a nostalgic joke like so many other FMV games. Seifert portrays a lot of range and character, fitting the role near perfectly.

I ended the game in a little over four hours, with more than 75 percent of the database unlocked. Even after watching so many scenes I still had questions. I don’t know what to quite make of the game’s story, which is a good thing. What’s exactly the truth and what really happened is still simmering in my head. There’s plenty to think about long after the game is over.

The way Her Story is written and unfolds is absolutely incredible. Your theories will constantly change over the few hours of play the more videos you watch and attempt to tie together. Her Story is one of the most interesting and innovative games I’ve played in a long time.

Final Thoughts

Her Story is a special game, much different than anything else out there. You won’t be able to stop playing until you find the truth. The game’s unconventional storytelling, accessible mechanics and fantastic acting make it a must-play experience.

Positives

  • Unique ways to discover the story
  • Great performance from Viva Seifert
  • Simple but engaging game mechanic
  • Excellent writing
  • Drawing your own conclusions

Negatives

  • Some videos can be difficult to find

 Her Story was purchased for $4.99 on PC for this review. 11/13 Achievements were obtained. The game was completed in just over four hours.

Advertisements