Her Story (PC) Review

By Jordan Hurst 14.09.2015

Review for Her Story on PC

Sam Barlow is earning a reputation as one of the foremost experimental storytellers in gaming. As the trailer and description for Her Story state, Barlow is most famous for the early art game Aisle, and for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, a remake best known for a twist ending that reinvents the entire plot of the game it's based on. It's likely though, that from now on, Her Story will be considered his magnum opus. It's not just the most engaging narrative of Barlow's career, it's also the most unexpected genre throwback since Capcom went full retro with Mega Man 9. No genre is as stigmatised as the FMV game, but Her Story capitalises on those low expectations and delivers a shocking, intimate riddle of a final product.

A major cause of death for FMV games was that they looked, sounded, and felt dated almost immediately after they released. Her Story, like many great titles, embraces its limitations, and this one in particular, so its premise involves scouring the archives of an ancient computer for VHS clips from 1994. This effectively disguises any artistic shortcomings of the developer, so the ugly interface and minimal production don't feel ugly or minimal, instead feeling appropriate. Importantly, the interface's unsightliness is purely stylistic; it's perfectly functional and straightforward for gameplay purposes.

Screenshot for Her Story on PC

Said gameplay is essentially a search engine - players enter keywords, and the most obtuse database programme in history returns clips of a woman's seven police interviews over the course of two weeks. Only the first five clips containing each keyword are shown, however, so in order to delve deeper into the collection, wannabe detectives must identify and pursue potential leads from the woman's testimony. With the exception of a pointless block of scenes involving a lie detector, this setup works remarkably well. Finding crucial snippets of information, or even just suspicious words that lead to crucial snippets of information, is highly gratifying, and the mystery itself is fascinating.

That the plot would be worth hearing even without the "anachronic order" gimmick may be the key to its success. What begins as a simple investigation into a man's murder develops into a sprawling biography involving relatable characters, captivating symbolism, and a veritable landslide of potential red herrings. Her Story is nothing like a standard detective romp. Rather than a definitive solution, the "ending" is manually triggered whenever gamers want (after a certain point), concluding with an implicit multiple choice question that will ensure much discussion and head-scratching long after the programme is closed. It's a perfect example of how to do "open to interpretation" well: offer a set of cohesive, equally likely explanations, but refuse to declare any one of them correct or real.

Screenshot for Her Story on PC

Of course, the inability to just view all the interviews in one unbroken shot is still a huge part of the experience. The woman's subtle contradictions and associations wouldn't have nearly as much impact if they weren't viewed back-to-back - a progression that joining scenes via keywords enables. Additionally, the tightly interlaced gameplay and dialogue force players to commit to the investigative story in order to advance the gameplay, and vice versa. If the setup has a significant flaw, it's that it is obvious how many hoops needed to be jumped through in order to make it possible. The illogical database structure, the poorly explained lack of interviewer dialogue, and the script that's sometimes been clearly contorted to include searchable vocabulary can all potentially break the viewer's suspension of disbelief.

Screenshot for Her Story on PC

Fortunately, the visible star of the show, Viva Seifert, makes spectacular use of the material. A role like this requires broad range and nuance, and she displays both consistently. Her performance carries nearly the entire emotional weight of the story and makes it easy to dismiss the occasionally blunt writing. Any remaining atmospheric slack is picked up by the excellent audio design. The ambient sounds of the player character's environment and the computer they are working at effectively paint the scene with only minimal visual aid, while the soundtrack's reverberating bass and piano melodies set an enigmatic tone that lingers for the whole running time.

Screenshot for Her Story on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The genius of Her Story is right in its title: every detail and feature of its existence, from the presentation, to the script, to the symbolism of the built-in Reversi mini-game, is included in service to its female lead's story. The end result is probably the most holistic narrative-driven game since The Stanley Parable. If the FMV genre is destined for a renaissance, this game would be a fantastic example for developers to follow.

Developer

Sam Barlow

Publisher

Sam Barlow

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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