- This review has been kept as spoiler free as possible and was written after playing the game on an iPhone and a Mac.
Her Story, the latest game by Sam Barlow (the writer behind the cult hit Silent Hill: Shattered Memories) is an FMV game with a level of depth rarely seen in the medium. It’s best described as a non-linear murder mystery, where you piece together what has happened by searching through a database of old police interview tapes. The gameplay consists solely of sifting through this database and slowly putting together the sequence of events that have unfolded. That basic description, however, only touches the surface of what Her Story really is.
It’s a murder mystery in its most intriguing form. Much like Twin Peaks or Gone Girl it offers enough in each of its sections to leave you wanting more. An example of this is seen as soon as you boot up the game. The database already has a word typed in to the search bar and through this you will find several clues to continue your investigation. The catch is you have to pick your words carefully, as the age of the database means it can only display the first five results. It’s up to you to figure out the best word combinations to narrow down the searches so you can see everything.
Although you may want to write notes down the game allows you to place them on the video files themselves. The only issue I found with this was that if you are trying to be quick, so you don’t forget, you can miss important nuggets of information whilst playing on your iPhone, as the keyboard fills up most of the screen. This issue, however, doesn’t present itself on the Steam version of the game.
Your understanding of the murder and what occurred in the build up to it, and the fallout after, are all found at your own pace. Depending on how quickly you connect certain dots the credit sequence may present itself in your first hour of playing. This doesn’t mean you’ve completed the game though, just obtained enough to have a basic understanding of a small section of the overall narrative.
You can place videos you think are of importance on to a separate timeline, meaning you can reference them without having to search for the term that found it again. Due to the sheer number of videos available, to see this is a vital tool to utilise, it is annoyingly clunky though. I could find no way to delete a video from the timeline, if I had accidentally placed one in there, and the only way to wipe it is starting the game again. Due to the game only having a one save slot this is rather frustrating.
Just when you think you’ve figured something out, Her Story throws a curveball at your theory. Just when you think nothing else will shock you you’ll hear something that leaves your mouth agape. The layers that are within the game are plenty and what may seem like a simple experience at first quickly reveals itself to be anything but.
The writing in the game is superb and so too is the delivery, for the most part, it’s on par with it. There are moments that seem a bit jarring, but most of these moments can probably be considered intentional. Viva Seifert brings a fascinating character to life and keeps her performance realistic, which makes the reveals much more impactful. It was a bold move to make an FMV game, but it’s a choice that paid off thanks to the tightness of the collaboration.
The video appears to be shot on VHS stock, which helps add to the believability of the content. Not only is this but it a vital factor of the world building. The user interface of the computer feels extremely nineties and this helps make the limitations of the database search function understandable. It’s not just that which helps timestamp what you’re witnessing though. The costume design and cultural references scream the period and certain documents found on the computer help you understand why it is all dated as such.
Another thing that needs to be praised is how the users can interact with the videos. The scrubbing feels natural whether on phone or computer. On the phone you will find yourself guiding your finger backwards and forwards with ease and on your computer it will be as natural as trying to find the right point in a YouTube video.
The keyboard also works well, although as previously mentioned the fact it fills most of the screen on iPhone is an annoyance. It does incorporate predictive text on the phone though, which is handy for those out there that are not good spellers or just clumsy typers. This is not something I spotted on the Steam version of the game, but typing on a normal keyboard feels much more natural. The Steam version also comes with achievements, which encourages you to keep playing the game after the first credit roll (although I doubt you’ll need much more encouragement).
There’s so much to talk about with Her Story, but it is better that you witness it yourself. It’s accessible regardless of the platform you are playing it on or your experience as a gamer. The non-linear narrative works thanks to a strong script and performance from the lead actress.
If you’re a fan of the crime genre, whether it’s in videogame, television, film or book form, this is definitely a game for you. It’s easy to pick up but difficult to put down and will leave you wanting to discuss and analyse it even when you’re not playing. That is the sign of a good mystery and is why Her Story is likely to become an important footnote in videogame history.
+ Well acted
+ Well directed/written
+ Unique concept
+ Intriguing story
+ Easy to pick up
- Sequence timeline could be better
- Only one save file
- No cross save
- Game only has one orientation on iPhone
- iPhone version keyboard ruins aesthetic