Movie games have a bad name among older gamers. The disasters of the past – such as the infamous Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties – gave the false impression of choice, with horrible linear narratives, lo-res video and cheap production values. Her Story is an entirely different sort of ‘video’ game. It’s one that fixes some tools of those older games, while bending others into weapons for its intriguing, unreliable narrative.
Notably, the game doesn’t improve on the style of those old games. Indeed, it has a deliberately archaic look because of its premise. You’re someone looking through the police video archives for details of a murder that took place in 1994. All of the clips feature interviews with one woman – Hannah, the victim’s wife. The system you’re using is so ancient, damaged and badly organised that the only way to see the too-short clips is by searching. And the engine only returns the first five results.
Hence what could have been a linear TV drama, where the viewer sits back and has the revelations fed to him, turns into a puzzle game, where you enter keywords, watch a video and learn more keywords from it, understanding more of the story as you go. The crafting of your experience, so that the first interviews you see shape your expectations, means your theories can be confounded over and over. Search for “murder” and you’ll find almost nothing. Search for “dreadful” and you get an excellent impromptu guitar session. Search for “Hannah”, and you’ll get just the first five clips, and not the later, more revealing videos. It’s superbly smart.
The game is bolstered substantially by its single acting talent, Viva Seifert. She’s the only person who appears on screen throughout the entire game and, though her acting style is definitely classical, it’s highly effective, especially given the deliberately primitive medium. Her elegant, minimal expressiveness is almost convincing, especially when mingled with the grotty screen overlay, clacking keyboard and primitive OS you’re using.
You face some questions immediately. Where did her husband go? Was she involved? How can a plot be compelling with just one, unreliable character? The rabbit holes you’re taken down as you search, however, fill in all of the characters and events of her world, in a believably dull fashion, and throw out moments of charm and unease equally well.
As a game, however, it doesn’t entirely work. Attempting to scrape together the last 25-50 per cent of the video clips, once you think you’ve figured out the plot, is rather difficult. A design decision in the PC version, meanwhile, has the result that you may never figure out how to actually end the game. Once you do formally ‘end’ the game, the developer gives you two cheat codes, which should help you find every last clip. But the fact the developer has to do that shows the limits of the structure.
Her Story is a unique experiment. Part one-woman theatre, part search engine, part murder mystery, and a small part game, it enthralls for much of the experience. Play it quickly, play it slowly, but do play it. Then tell us whodunnit.
- 4GB RAM
- 1GB graphics card.