Overcoming the limitations of movies and books through digital media is a daunting task. Constantly the industry is challenged with how it can diverge from the traditional expectations that both the industry and players put upon it. Her Story goes a long way to transcend those limitations.
When I was little, I wanted to be President. Unfortunately, I live in Scotland. So as my awareness progressed there was the sad realisation that this could never be. So my attention turned for a short time to being the a secret service agent. Specifically, a secret service agent who protected the President. Then, I finally settled (after a short stint as a paranormal investigator) as a Behavioural analysis investigator. Not regular crimes you understand, the most heinous and disturbing crimes that have taken place. Your everyday Will Graham or Jason Gideon. As of writing, this never happened, but I think it did inform a lot of the choices I made to study film and train as an Actor and Director; psychologically analysing individuals, their stories, their situations. This frame of mind has always stuck with me, and at the moment I have been reading a host of true crime books whilst binge watching Criminal Minds. On the off-chance, I made a search for investigation games, hoping for something more involving or different than the CSI Games. It was here I discovered Her Story, Written and Directed by Sam Barlow. Most well-known for his work on Silent Hill Origins and Shattered Memories.
As the game starts, there’s not a great deal of contextual information. You are a faceless investigator, presented with hundreds of VHS clips from fragmented interviews of a woman. The game is solidary, meditative. The videos themselves were each individually rendered through a real video player, given them an authentic VHS aesthetic, rather than simple After Effects overlays.
The players search to uncover the answers lie within a database query system, which allows navigation through the interviews through the use of key words. The first search, “Murder” is given to you. A single breadcrumb to begin to follow. Only through the players curiosity can the pieces of the murder mystery to be put back together and indeed this methodology relies on the players voyeuristic tendencies to search more intimately into this woman’s life.
The presentation here is nothing short of slick. The immersion evoked entirely through a retro designed detailed interface of a 90’s computer desktop with a program to search and play through the hundreds of videos. Other things you’ll find on the desktop are a couple read me files, which cleverly act as the only instructions we have for the game and set the only context and a game to keep you busy through the investigation. There is the option to play with or without the CRT filter, which adds not only a screen effect but further enhances this look with office lights reflected on the screen. It’s a neat touch. As the game progresses, you’ll often catch moments of your supposed reflection, this didn’t capture my attention as much, at first, I thought it to be a jump scare, then found it vaguely inconvenient.
The core focus of the investigation and the interviews, played by lead singer Viva Seifert who is the focus of our attention plays her part with subtlety and convincing realism. At times I found her performance to be slightly fragmented, but this is the nature of fragmented interviews and the situation, which the more left unsaid, the better.
Given this attention to detail and immersion in the world, there is little music. And this is the right choice. When there are the odd piano chords, activated upon beats of discovery of a particular moment in a video, it heightens the tension and drama, rather than playing against it.
Her Story works to out the players sense of intrigue and investigation into what is going on and allows you to pave your own way through it. Ultimately, your enjoyment will come depending on how much you let this conceit pull you in. But for those who do find something in the voyeuristic, meditative and deeply psychological, this might be the game for you. Don’t expect it to offer foregone conclusions or definitive answers. That is up to you.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.