Mystery fans should come into this game with realistic expectations. While it does offer an interesting story, the last chapter has been unceremoniously ripped from its binding. There are moments where you will feel like a true detective, leaning into the screen upon discovering a vital clue. However, there’s more heartache than joy after you’ve ‘discovered’ yet another clip of her asking for another coffee. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it does make you wish they had done more with it and worked out some of its problems.
WHAT WE LIKED
º Exploring a mystery through small shuffled video clips.
º A creative interface that’ll bring you back to the 90’s.
º Superb acting and audio work helps this drama unfold.
WHAT WE DISLIKED º Searching for random clips feels like work.
º This mystery is told through only one person.
º There really isn’t much in terms of a conclusion.
Her Story is certain to be mentioned in those “What Is A Game” discussions everyone seems to be having right now. It doesn’t have a character running around on screen; doesn’t feature platforming or switch-based puzzles. There’s nothing more to this game than staring into an old CRT monitor, and watching police interrogate a woman. Who is this woman, and what is her crime? That is the mystery you’re trying to unravel in Her Story.
From the preview of the game, I was expecting a much more linear experience. Full interrogation videos at your disposal, mountains of case files and the role of an overly caffeinated police chief trying to crack that elusive case. Well, it’s kinda like that, only not nearly as easy. Whereas having all the video at your disposal would be filling in the missing pieces, this game is more of an unfinished puzzle in a box.
You play an unidentified character who’s been given access to a police station’s computer by a mysterious person. You’re free to search their ‘L.O.G.I.C. Database’ for any of the videos relating to a particular case you’re interested in. The first word in the search bar is ‘Murder’, to which would’ve most likely been the first word I searched. Any clip that features the word will then be displayed to you, and you’re left following strings that branch out from these short chunks of video.
Every clip you’ll see is without any kind of setup, and this causes you to pay close attention to what is being said. For example, you click on some random clip, and it pulls up a video of our unknown woman sitting in front of two coffee cups. She’s wearing a colorful shirt, with her hair pulled back, pain in her face, she says “No. No one has been in the last few weeks. We had a plumber come in. Three, four weeks ago. Someone Simon knew from The Rock.”
What does this clip mean? Who’s Simon? Did something happen in their home? Is the plumber somehow involved? In what crime? What’s The Rock?
Without hearing the lead-in question from the detective on the case, you are left to assume what the question may have been. You’re left to research these answers like a detective would, following up any string of evidence there could be. You quickly move your mouse up to the search bar, and you want to go searching words like “plumber” or “rock”, but you’ll quickly realize that you’re going to need to write this all down.
Before you know it, you’ll have a handwritten page of psychopathic scribbling with random ‘clues’ vaguely connected by lines; notes that no one could ever decipher.
If this sounds interesting to you, you’re probably going to get some real enjoyment out of this. There are a few moments of emotional wrenching, where you’ll pull back in your chair with an overly confused and bewildered look on your face. When you do start piecing everything together, the story will open itself up to you for a little while, but then your leads will go cold. Time to hit some random words you’ve heard, see if maybe you can find another trail you missed. If this doesn’t sound interesting to you, you should probably move on to another game, because that is it.
The interface is actually very impressive for how simple it is. Since you’re looking through an old computer, the screen is filled with scan lines and fluorescent lights behind your character. This may make it difficult to look at the screen, but it adds some real weight to making you feel like someone using outdated tech. There’s even added in keyboard clacking of what sounds like a Commodore 64. The interface is very Windows 3.1, complete with a clock, and a little mini game called Mirror Tiles.
Mirrors are prevalent in the game’s narrative, and even though it’s sometimes an overly simple motif, it fits in so well that you’ll forgive this hackneyed bit of symbolism. Most should be charmed at how a police siren will flash somewhere to the right of your character, giving you a brief flash of your reflection onto the monitor. These themes are done so well, and supported by a lot of clever writing in this game; something that may get overlooked due to you getting it in out of order bite-sized chunks. If you’re someone who likes subtextual tones in your stories, you’ll find this mystery doesn’t disappoint.
The game’s audio is top notch, offering a small assortment of tranquil and contemplative songs. A lot of them kick in right after a rather engaging clip that reveals something important, helping to emphasize the impact. The low hum of the lights behind you are constantly whirring, helping to build the illusion that you’re in some quiet corner of the police station. Simply put, this minimalist approach to the audio is spectacular.
Unfortunately, there are a fair amount of missteps in the game. While I personally found this game to offer a unique experience you don’t see in a lot of games, I also sometimes found it to be a bit of chore. Not knowing who your character is provides little incentive to stick with it, and only after finding a ton of clues can you piece together your connection. So after a while, you may start to feel like you’re digging through the worst Vine feed you’ve ever seen.
Some clips are hidden in the obscurity of a short three-second segment that is comprised of a “no” answer, or with her responding with “What about us?” These useless clips are not only hard to find but thoroughly unsatisfying when you do. So, if you’re someone looking for a completionist rating on this game, you’ll either pull your hair out looking for all of them, or you’ll use an exploit that’s so obvious you’ll be surprised it got past the developer.
Other small complaints; I also would’ve loved to see some of the case files, or at least have a notepad in the terminal to keep track of everything. There’s a tagging system when it comes to the videos, but you’ll be jumping around so much for any information that the tag system just becomes useless. there’s also a session bar that allows you to ‘favorite’ clips, but again, you’ll rarely return to previously viewed clips.
There also isn’t a conclusion. Sure, you will figure out a large section of the backstory to whoever this is on screen, but there’s no confession- no verifying that your theory is correct. It’s just the testimony of a woman, and your hypothetical pieces that may or may not complete the whole puzzle. While some may like this, I prefer to know if I was on the right track or not. You don’t really get to leave the experience on a high note, but more like a bad club; you kinda just leave when you’re done with it.
The actress does a great job with her role and provides a fantastic range. Her performance feels believable, and I always felt like I was watching real evidence from a crime. I did feel like it was lacking something, and perhaps it would’ve been more captivating to hear the story from a couple of different characters. However, considering the themes of the story, perhaps the developer Sam Barlow really wanted to keep it central to her. I hope he makes another one because I still love the idea behind this game, but I do feel the execution isn’t quite right.
Some of you are going to roll your eyes and say that these kinds of games aren’t really games- and in some ways, I agree with you. This is more an interactive film, like Memento, where you’re only given small bits of information at a time. But being the one who’s clicking the videos, and exploring the database, it does provide a challenge and agency that only a video game can provide. Is it fun? I wouldn’t stick my neck out that far- but I will say it’s an intriguing experiment that works in some ways, and fails in others. Personally, I’m glad I experienced it, but I likely won’t return to this game in the future.