Her Story – What We Think:
Her Story is the newest game from British developer Sam Barlow, and it bears his hallmark in several ways. Like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, it deals with ambiguity and deep-seated psychological trauma. Like Aisle, his 1999 cult interactive fiction piece, it explores new methods of telling a story. In this case, the game utilizes classic, ’90s-style full motion video (FMV) to tell a story in fragments—hundreds of film snippets of a single character’s dialogue.
Cold Case Style
Her Story’s premise is that you have been given access to an old police computer containing footage from a series of police interviews with a single suspect. Unfortunately, the interviews have already been cut up into short clips, none of them longer than a minute or two, but they’ve all been transcribed and tagged with key words, so as you reveal more of the story, you can search the entire database.
The case in question is an old one, a murder case from the ’90s, and Her Story does a wonderful job evoking the computers of that era, going so far as to create an entire user interface as seen through a somewhat beat-up CRT monitor. In addition to the film clip database, there are Readme files and even a knock-off Othello game (though you have to rescue it from the computer’s Rubbish Bin).
While these little touches add a ton of realism, Her Story isn’t a detective game in the classic sense. You’re not given all the pieces and asked to solve a crime; you have no evidence, no case files, not even interviews with other suspects or associates. It’s not even clear why you’re digging into these old videos in the first place, or even whether the murder in question is a cold case or one that’s already been closed.
That matters little, though, because the story itself is fascinating, starting with a typical “missing persons” report before progressing into a murder investigation and then revealing itself to be more complex and psychologically fascinating than you initially could have guessed. A great deal of credit is due Viva Seifert, who plays the main character and who, almost unbelievably, has no prior acting experience (she does at least have a performance background, having competed in rhythmic gymnastics in the Olympics and playing keyboards in the bands Bikini Atoll and Joe Gideon and the Shark).
Because there’s no clear “victory” other than piecing the story together from disparate interview clips, Her Story won’t appeal to everyone, especially purists of more straightforward, narrative-driven adventure or detective games (don’t expect to finish the game by getting a commendation from the chief of police). But this game is more compelling for that, for the effort it puts you through to reassemble pieces of dialogue into a narrative whole and see the entire thing unfold.
Whether it’s better to classify Her Story as an unconventional game or an even more unconventional film, the one clear thing is that Barlow has created something haunting and memorable. Her Story is an achievement on multiple levels, from its fragmented storytelling method to the twisted, tragic nature of the story itself.
Watch the trailer for Her Story below: