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Her Story (PC) artwork

Her Story (PC) review


"Her Story gives players the freedom to mess things up, but its a tale that's worth hearing no matter what."


Various people have spent the last six months producing a tidal wave of positive commentary on Her Story, a piece of interactive fiction from developer Sam Barlow. I'm not usually into the genre, despite writing the occasional novel of my own. After hearing so much praise for this particular game, though, I decided I should at least give it a shot. I'm glad I did.

Her Story takes place on a simulated computer desktop, which is a convenient interface and a clever way to tie everything together and make a "game" out of the tale. As a guest to the police station facility, you have access to a series of clips that the detectives gathered while interviewing their favorite suspect in a 1994 murder. You can't watch them in order, though, thanks to a database malfunction that apparently scrambled those records. Instead, you'll try to get to the root of the mystery by watching interview chunks one small piece at a time. From there, you find additional bits by searching for whatever phrases occur to you, based on what the suspect says.

Her Story (PC) image


The genius of the game is that there's no set route you must follow in order to progress, and that freedom grants you a sense of agency that the genre often doesn't permit. This is the sort of game that you can properly experience only a single time, and how much you wind up enjoying yourself will to a certain extent come down to luck of the draw. Starting out, you as a player know nothing about the case, not even the name of the suspect or the victim. So you have to start by searching very general terms and going from there.

As you watch new clips, which might last just a few seconds or could linger on for most of a minute and a half, you'll receive helpful clues that begin to paint what winds up being a fairly complicated picture, one that is open to interpretation and healthy debate even when you view it in its entirety. I love that particular aspect of the game but I can't helpfully discuss it here because that would absolutely ruin things for you if you decide to give the game a shot like I did. Just know that you'll definitely want to pay attention at all times, because even little details that seem to have no particular consequence might wind up meaning a lot.

The clips, which looks like they were indeed filmed in the mid-90s on crummy equipment, are marked with an eyeball icon if you haven't yet seen them, which is useful when some of them come up as a result in multiple searches. Every available video features the same actress, Viva Seifert, who apparently was a keyboard player in a British rock group called Bikini Atoll before she tested her dramatic chops in Her Story. She does a commendable job here, and while some have criticized her performance as amateurish, I actually found that it made the overall plot more credible.

Her Story (PC) image


Generally, the way things go is that you type in your search term, and that brings up as many as five results. If more are available, you'll have to discover them using different terms, which makes sense because otherwise it would be too easy to luck your way into the resolution. Even if you do see that resolution in the first half-hour or so, though (as I did), there's motivation to keep going because the actual goal is to understand it all. Like some movies, Her Story tells a tale that is much more intriguing because you're viewing the pieces in a jumbled order. Your brain has to make the connections, and in this case you're also the director and not relying on someone like Guy Ritchie to provide a guided tour.

I'd say more about the story itself, which has a number of surprise twists, but it's really best if you discover them for yourself. Doing so shouldn't take long, either. I spent three hours with the game and had viewed around 95% of the scenes by the time I quit to write this review, so this is not a game that's likely to take up more of your spare time than it warrants.

Her Story (PC) image


Visually, the game is kept simple even when you're not watching a hazy clip. You can poke around a very basic desktop to find some surprises and helpful documentation, and you can change settings to reduce screen glare. When first loading the game, you can also switch between windowed or full screen mode, and selection from a variety of resolutions. I don't imagine that the game will tax most computers.

If you've been thinking that you might be interested in trying Her Story, just go ahead and do it once you have the money. The game is available on Steam for about the cost of a value meal, and it provides several inventive hours of mystery fiction if you try to discover everything. It relies exclusively on its ability to tell a good story, and the potential impact is diminished if you manage to stumble across the wrong footage early in the process, but there's a good mystery here no matter what. My bet is that you'll spend a few enjoyable hours playing it, and maybe another hour or two thinking about it (especially if you find someone who is willing to argue with you about what the clues added together to mean). Not bad for six bucks, eh?

4/5

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 30, 2015)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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