Her Story PC Review
If you have ever tried searching Google for an item you don’t already know the name of, you’ll know it is quite a difficult task. Hours are not enough. It can sometimes take days and weeks trawling the depths to find secrets hidden away in seemingly invisible corners of the Internet. Only then do you find out a silly toy you had when you were four has a equally silly name. With enough weird searches, the info can be tracked down, and as weird as it sounds it always feels like a small accomplishment when you find it.
Her Story is a game that gave me similar feelings, as it simply asks players to use their own wits to acquire knowledge that is loosely hidden away. The game does not use any artificial means to hold you back and make your task harder. It only wants players to listen and be attentive. Whilst you could label Her Story a puzzle game of sorts, it is more a basic wordsearch than a crossword, but there’s nothing wrong with tackling a good old wordsearch every now and then.
For a game where the core premise is weaving your way through a uniquely told tale, Her Story initially offers very few details to sink your teeth into. Sitting down to start the game for the first time, players know little about who they are, and less about where they’ve found themselves. Your silent, and as yet totally anonymous protagonist seem to be in an office of sorts. The view is tightly limited to a old computer, a computer that seems to be running a bastardised version of Windows 93 – made to look even worse than you remember it. Parts of the outside world are reflected in the antiquated 4:3 CRT monitor. Audio is limited to the humming of florescent lights, the shuffles of some feet, and maybe some murmurs of voices far in the distance.
Equally vague, Her Story never directly calls out what it wants players to do in their new surroundings, but based on the limited options at hand, you are prodded in a certain direction. It does not take long to determine you must use this computer to search video archives for information on a incident from the past. Why you must do this is a secret that is held onto a lot longer. It would seem the case you’re interested in revolves around an as yet unnamed woman. You get to know this woman very well, as she is the star of all the clips you will watch to unravel the game’s cleverly told story, clips that date back to 1994. It is also notable that you’re not the first person to dig through these videos, as everything she has said is already cataloged and archived. Because of this, all words she’s uttered are searchable in chronological order via the database presented before you.
Gameplay begins with the word “Murder” already entered in the search field. Searching the phrase presents four videos to start sleuthing, and an idea of the direction the story is heading in. In the first video clips the woman shifts from shocked to defensive, and then quickly asking for a lawyer with a coy smile. The clips are only a few seconds each, with only around a week between all (four based on the included timestamps). From that point, there are no limitations as to how the database can be searched to unravel an apparent mystery.
From the original four clips, the standout for me was the woman asking for a lawyer, so I searched that. I could have searched for anything I wanted though – rabbits, gingers, cabbages – but I chose lawyer. I typed it in, which gave me flashbacks to Scribblenauts, and searched. The results were processed, and she had apparently mentioned the word lawyer in 3 other clips – alongside the one I had already viewed. I watched, and quickly noticed she was a bit more aggressive in these clips, but there was not much new info to see. Then I remembered she mentioned a person’s name – so it seemed obvious to delve into that.
That seemed to be the right course of action, as I was now greeted by a large selection of new clips. All occurred on the same day, within a 15 minute timeframe. These had tons of new information. Enough for me to grab a notebook and pen and start scribbling wildly (words found from my first 5 minutes of gameplay). A few more searches pass, and I now have a pen stuck in my mouth, one hand on a keyboard, and the other jumping between my mouse and notes. I watched even more clips – adding words to my little notebook. I went from filling a whole page (a few more minutes down the line), to quickly moving onto a new one… and then another… and another. I was not even sure if I should be doing this, but it seemed the right way to approach the game. This is coming from a person that thought the “notes” sections in old gaming manuals were a waste of space, so this game must be doing something right!
In Her Story, you are not asking any questions of the person you see on screen, nor are you hearing the questions asked. Instead, you are receiving a small set of answers for questions previously posed. It’s a weird, unique system, but it is one that works well. It works as the game does not just coldly deliver the facts you need to reach the end of your undefined quest. The woman is a compelling enough character in her own right to rise above the lowly detail spouting robot she could have been. With her both leading and misleading you as you go, you stumble across info in your own time, embarking on tangents if and when you want to.
The game takes non-linear progression to the extreme, putting all choice in the hands of players. Because of the innate non-linearity of the storytelling, you do not get the rush of a big reveal when the game comes to a close. There are times you know the effect of something long before you’ve learned the cause. Instead of building to a final climactic scene, the game instead leaves players with a continual eerie feeling as they go. That feeling is one sticks around for hours, maybe days, as you digest the details unearthed. Is this a better way to step away from a game? I don’t have the answer for that, but there is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, and in the current gaming climate, where people have grown to expect finality, it is unique enough to be interesting simply because it is a clean break from the norm.
The one limiting side effect of this type of progression is that the story is not hugely deep. It couldn’t be, as a story with multiple offshoots, twists and tangents would be just too mind boggling to be consumed in such a fashion. That’s not to say you will understand everything seen when you choose to step away from the game. There will still be much left to debate when you finally log off from both your virtual and real life monitors.
Her Story is a unique game for a multitude of reasons, although for me chief amongst these is that it’s a game that gets FMV right, and does its job with enough guile and grace to get invested in the content portrayed.
The enjoyment of such a game relies solely on the believability of the person at its core – who in this case is the actress Viva Seifert. Other than a bunch of made up computer programs, she is the only access point into the small, intimate world the game has created. Even though the actress plays the role of an unreliable narrator, she does a spectacular job. Alongside the exemplary acting is well written dialogue, dialogue a real person might actually say, not just senseless nonsensical babble the star of an indie video game might use.
Logging off, and stepping away, I felt I had experienced a fantastic, totally unique narrative piece. I enjoyed every second of my time with the game, but what’s truly heartbreaking is I can never have those moments for the first time ever again. Her Story is a one time experience that somehow treads the fine line of feeling voyeuristic but also eerily intimate. Ultimately, above all else, the game comes across as feeling wholly authentic – and that is a word you can attribute to only a small handful of games released in this day and age.