Publisher: Sam Barlow
Developer: Sam Barlow
Genre: Interactive movie
Release Dates: 24 June 2015 (EU & NA)
Her Story is a unique game that's pretty complicated to fully explain without looking at video footage of it in action, but due to its limited run time and heavy focus on story anything that you might show could be considered a spoiler, so it's a hard job to recommend this game on its premise alone, but just because it's such a unique experience I'll try my best to peek your interest without stripping you of the main surprise, which is the story. The reason Her Story is such a different game is because it's barely a game at all, as a matter of fact most people described it as an interactive movie, but I feel like that's also an inaccurate description of what this game is. There's about 2 hours of video footage, but it's not a movie that you're watching from the beginning to the end, instead that content is sliced into smaller videos, some only a few seconds long, while others spanning a few minutes. Using a search engine built into the game you can look up words or small phrases and based on subtitles the game will return all videos that contain those words, regardless of length. Because of this each player will uncover videos in a different order, but regardless of what that order is you will still reach that one moment when you figure out what the catch of the story is and depending on which video you watch first that impact may differ, but the plot twist is what you are here for and regardless of the video that clicks for you, the realization of what you're looking at will still be a surprise no matter what.
As for the premise of the game all you need to know is that you are investigating the murder of Simon Smith by looking at interviews with his wife Hannah starting with the moment after his disappearance all the way to the point when his body was found. As those videos are dated it is up to you to put the events in order and figure out the mystery of what happened based on the footage you're watching and even though some videos are just small talk with the interviewer, some of them provide valuable information about what happened, so paying attention to what Hannah is saying in each scene is important not only to get an idea of what happened to Simon, but also to pick your words carefully for the next search to maximize the results of finding more useful footage. Even though plenty of characters are mentioned, you are only looking at Hannah's interviews, so you must deduce each character's role in the story and the murder based on what she says about each one of them. If you like police or investigation type games, Her Story will most likely satisfy you from a plot perspective as there is one major plot twist somewhere at the middle point depending on when you figure it out and then another big one at the end, which I honestly didn't see coming at all.
From a gameplay perspective the search engine mechanic makes up most of the game, as the whole point is accessing the entire video database by searching for the right words, so you have to listen to anything Hannah says in one video and then take some keywords out of what she said in order to look up them and get more context on that topic, whether it's an event, character name or a more general word like "murder". To prevent you from exploiting the system by searching for common words, each search inquiry only returns 5 results even if there are more videos containing that word, but the game is structured in such a way that looking up any specific thing that Hannah mentioned will usually point you to another video that will repeat the cycle. Figuring out which words to search for isn't hard either, as you can quite easily work out what you should be looking for next if you pay attention to the interviews. Once you've seen around 75% of the footage you can choose to either continue or end the game which will reveal the final plot twist, but even if you know what the plot twist is without watching everything, there are some interesting and sometimes even funny conversations hidden inside more hard to find videos, so watching everything is highly encouraged if you want to get the full picture.
Even though you are on a computer at all times, aside from searching for the next set of videos there isn't a lot to do, there are only a few notepads left on the desktop with some basic instructions about the game and a minigame called Mirror Game which you can play for as long as you like, but aside from that the main story is all there is, however considering the type of game this is, it doesn't really require anything else in order to achieve what it sets out to do, as the plot twists in the story do that all by themselves. Her Story isn't much of a game, but it's an amazing and certainly unique experience that you should definitely try out if you like mystery and investigation simply because the conclusion here will probably surprise you no matter what.
Since the game takes place in 1994, all the video footage was made to look like it came out of that era, so you have CRT display lines that were common in footage from that period and also a low resolution effect to the videos, on top of the fact that you are looking at a CRT monitor at all times, but all of that is done for the sake of immersion and it never bothered me one bit because visuals aren't the main focus of the game here. The PC interface is also made to resemble Windows 95, but despite that the UI theme has a 90s police appeal more than a common UI from 1994.
One of the main reasons the story has such a big impact is because of Viva Seifert who plays the role of Hannah and her exceptional acting skills, and even thought I'd like to expand on that phrase more, it would be impossible for me to do so without going into spoiler territory, so you're just gonna have to trust me on this one. There are some tunes integrated into some videos, but it's not the soundtrack of the game that you're hearing, but instead Hannah singing and playing the guitar. On the topic of audio effects all there is to talk about is the PC interface, which is basic, but considering it's made to resemble the early version of Windows, it is justified.
It takes around 3 hours to complete the entire game and there's only one ending so replayablity is not a feature here; aside from that the only thing that could be counted as an extra is the Mirror Game which gets boring after 3 rounds in the base case scenario, but considering the main focus on the story and the experience as a whole here, extras aren't really necessary.
If you are looking for something unique with a great plot twist and don't mind the almost non-existant gameplay, Her Story might be something for you, especially if mystery and investigation are also topics of interest to you. Since the game is only 3 hours long you can finish this easily in one session, so the next time you're searching for a movie to spend the night with, consider Her Story as a viable option because after all, it is just an out of order movie with a great story and shocking plot twists.