By: Kyle Grubb
Sometimes you play a video game that really stretches the definition of a video game. Or a game at all, really. Her Story is one of those games. Video games, typically, function on the foundation of, well, gameplay. Her Story’s gameplay, if you can call it that, technically involves typing words into a box, hitting search, and then watching videos that appear. But Her Story gives this game all about watching videos a narrative thread and inherent mystery that’ll give cause for any player to grab their closest notebook and jot down note and theory one after another until finding themselves at their own personal conclusion to the story of one woman and the truth of one mysterious event. Her Story may not be the easiest thing to call a video game, but it most definitely is an experience.
And it’s a pretty fascinating one.
In many ways, it’s difficult to describe what makes Her Story special without spoiling the story. At its core, Her Story tells the story of a woman who is being interviewed by detectives about the disappearance and then death of her husband. Over the course of these multiple interviews, you see the woman’s responses to unheard questions. Slowly, you can use these answers to piece together the truth behind the event. Of course, once you think you understand the truth, there may be even more going on behind the scenes.
Of course, watching all of these videos back to back would really just make Her Story a glorified movie. To add some player input, the twist is in the delivery: players are sat at an old computer and access the videos from the police database through a search system. Any word entered through the search system searches the videos for any utterance of said word by the woman. Thus, players are left combing through the videos and paying attention to key words that may turn up even more videos that uncover even more of the story. To make this whole affair more complicated, though, is that the player only has guest privileges into the database, and can only see the first 5 results from each term. This prevents the player from searching for a commonly used word and riding that term all the way through the story.
Both through my play-through and my girlfriend’s, I found myself impressed by how well the story is paced and presented. You’d think that the game would be highly varied in how its story is presented, based on the fact that there would appear to be little control in the order players experience the content. Instead, the writing is presented so tightly that key terms are revealed in just such a way that a player tends to follow a general controlled pace from one reveal to the next. While there is definitely fluctuation in the order the videos are watched, I noticed that the game seems to be divided into various sections, with each having wide variance of viewing order in the middle but all leading back to key videos that are watched in a fairly specific order.
Needless to say, key to the success of the game is the performance of its only performer. Viva Seifert plays the woman, and her performance is varied and interesting, showing many different sides to her character throughout the approximate four hours it’ll take to experience the majority of the game. To say too much about the various facets to her performance would potentially spoil key elements of the narrative, but suffice to say that I never tired of her one-woman performance throughout the game.
That’s not to say that the game is without flaws. In fact, in my opinion, it has a fairly big one: it ends with a whimper, and not a bang. The game has no decisive conclusion, and instead it essentially ends when the player decides that it’s seen enough. There’s no conclusive answer to a huge question the game poses, which is fine, but by the end, the game turns into an increasingly frustrating search for the last couple of missing videos. I did manage to 100% the game, but the quest to get all of the videos kills all of the momentum the game had been building throughout. It’s a problem that wouldn’t have been easily rectified with the way the game is presented, but that doesn’t change the fact that some of the last parts of the story you’ll end up seeing are inconsequential filler scenes.
Despite it’s whimperish ending, Her Story is still a unique experience that I would absolutely recommend. Its writing is solid, its central performance is great, and its pacing, somehow, is pretty fantastic despite how open to player input it is. More than that, though, it’s the kind of game that definitely leaves you thinking. Every person that ends the game probably walks away with their own interpretation of events, and there’s definitely enough throughout the game to support at least two very different ways to interpret the events that are described. Get a friend or two to play through, and you’ll all be sure to have a fun conversation afterwards. And that’s the sign of a good experience, in my mind. Her Story may not have any replay-ability, very little actual gameplay, and an almost non-existent ending, but it does make you think. It’s hard to discredit a game for doing that.