This is very much an experiment with voyeurism. Why do we become fixated upon people we have no emotional connection with and whose actions have no bearing whatsoever on our everyday lives? That same infatuation is even more puzzling when the scenario is entirely fiction and trapped behind a screen. Her Story echoes the questions asked by people who are often left outside looking in and even in a year which is packed to the brim with blockbusters, Her Story is likely to end up on numerous award lists – and rightly so.
It’s a difficult game to describe since, in terms of gameplay at least, there really isn’t a whole lot of player input. The complex storytelling is locked behind an archaic search engine, not unlike something seen during the early Y2K era. Almost three hundred short video clips are hidden away for you to discover with little or no direction given to you. This kind of freedom might be unsettling to many as it requires you to devote serious thought and effort into what you should search for next. Is that name important? Why did she go to Glasgow? Why does tap out a code with her fingers? It would be unfair to say much more because this is an investigation which should be led by you and only you. Needless to say, you’re going to end up asking a lot of questions within the first few minutes until you get a better understanding of what’s going on.
Two mysteries are obvious from the beginning – who is the lady in question and who is sitting at the keyboard? Her husband is missing, that much is obvious, but the rest of Her Story deals with quite serious subject matter. It handles adult topics in a very mature manner, largely thanks to Viva Seifert’s performance as the leading lady. For someone who is perhaps better known for her achievements as a professional gymnast and musician, her acting here is startling and her childhood tales will have you questioning everything you had previously thought about what might have happened to Simon.
Videos are tagged by dialogue transcripts so typing in ‘murder’ will give you the first five videos where the word is mentioned. The remaining videos can be seen by making that search term more specific, therein lies the challenge. It’s pretty much the only game mechanic on offer here so it’s a major relief that it’s so addictive. Some videos are innocent, dealing with coffee preferences, while others are quite sinister and perplexing. Concentration is of the utmost importance here because missing something will potentially result in a missing sequence of videos. Thankfully however the software is advanced enough to let you check your progress through a visual database bank (green blocks are viewed, red are yet to be discovered). Aim to be persistent and you’ll even cross paths with some surprises beyond the video resources.
Beyond the main database of video entries there’s little else on your virtual desktop. You’ll find a clock, some text files and an interesting little mini-game hidden in a trash can. As you progress through the story you’ll be inclined to make links to these seemingly innocuous details, especially when you pick up on some of the themes and key words running through the plot. Sam Barlow, the man behind Her Story (whose initials may, or may not be important) has put serious thought into all of this. Intriguing details are scattered throughout the story and similar care and attention has been placed on the ghostly atmosphere. Aged keyboard presses and mouse clicks resonate somewhere in the background alongside repeated loops of ambient music. The screen has a glare effect with the reflection of whoever might sitting there. Once you dig a little deeper, that same reflection will tease as you try to catch a glimpse of the voyeuristic soul who can’t look away. It’s all very authentic and those who have a passion for investigation and crime solving in any medium will appreciate the sensation of being dragged deep into this labyrinth of truth and lies.
It should be said that Her Story isn’t for everyone. The drawcard here is the story and if we’re being honest, video game storylines generally sit somewhere between banal and mildly entertaining. They serve a purpose but they rarely engage to the same extent as cinema with the exception of a few: The Last of Us, Metal Gear, BioShock, The Witcher. The problem with two of those titles is that they require a lot of background knowledge to become fully engrossed in, whereas Her Story’s only requirement is a functioning brain and a few hours of your time. Assuming you have those, missing out on this experience is lunacy. If you are even remotely interested by what’s mentioned on this page, do yourself a favour and spend a few measly dollars on the most interesting game of the year so far.
Gripping story | Atmospheric presentation | Ambiguous ending
Occasionally frustrating to make progress| Ambiguous ending