Life in London is fine. Between the Tube, my job, and the lively nights out, there isn’t too much time left for gaming, which is why I end up falling behind with my list of games. But sometimes, probably when Jupiter aligns with Mars, I find some time to make a dent in that backlog. As I’m not the only one on the Vexoid team to game this way, we’ll be keeping you posted in Diaries of a Backlogged Gamer!
This one just makes sense. I’m a sucker for a visual novel, I’m really into my crime dramas, and I use search engines. A lot. Her Story, a title which incorporates all three of those things, and where you can pretty much forget about diverse gameplay and set out to discover the truth behind a killing, therefore, was a no brainer.
Quick overview: you’re on an old police computer, tasked with watching old archival footage of a woman being interviewed, in order to discover what actually happened. That’s pretty much it, though, as the player is asked to search for keywords, and watch the short clips that come up as a result, piecing together the 271-clip big picture. It’s basically one big Google search.
The game is very short, no more than 2-3 hours (if that), and wastes no time in getting started. You’re greeted with the first search already made for you: the keyword is ‘MURDER’, and the four results make clear what exactly is happening. The woman in the interview footage, Hannah, is accused of the murder of her husband, Simon, and you need to piece together what happens between the initial video, where Hannah is shocked to hear of her husband’s death, and the final video, where Hannah very calmly asks for a lawyer.
With a game like Her Story, it’s impossible to really go into too much detail without ruining the story. What I can say, however, is that the videos are very creatively made, with Viva Seifert, the actor in the footage, putting in a stellar performance. Hannah is a very believable character, one who effectively portrays sadness, shock, and sweetness, among other emotions.
Unless I’m going crazy, it felt like the results of certain keywords were aimed directly at you, the player, rather than the unseen interrogator. An example; there would naturally be a temptation to enquire about Hannah and Simon’s sex life when you suspect that the murder was the result of a domestic incident. The first result when you search for ‘sex’ has Hannah ask her interrogator, and seemingly, you, about whether you’re really going to ask her about her sex life when her husband has just died. Oops.
Another example quite late on in the game has Hannah initially pour cold water over your train of thought when you type in a particular keyword – a keyword which is vital to the story’s climax. “Are you out of your mind?”, she asks. Of course, persist with this line of thinking, and you find out that you might be onto something.
The above example makes Hannah sound like she’s lying, which could be construed as a spoiler, I suppose, but she is literally the only character in these tapes, and both positive and negative exchanges can only be expected.
The story itself is quite complex, but surprisingly accessible. A murder mystery involving a husband and wife will probably result in most players asking the same questions at the start, but it’s good to know that the obvious theories that players will think of – Simon likes the barmaid at their local pub, for example – are shot down pretty quickly, and the story takes a strange and unusual twist.
Like many visual novels, Her Story suffers from linearity, as there is only one outcome. But this is a simple game with a simple gameplay mechanic, with a simple ending; you’re just there to take the ride. The game therefore rewards you for paying attention during a game that can seem quite routine at times; keep a look out for inconsistencies in what Hannah says, or things that look a little different than you saw in a different clip, as those observations can lead to you discovering the truth.
If I have one gripe with Her Story, it’s that the keyword search mechanic can be quite cheap when trying to 100% the game. The game provides you with a ‘Database Checker’, a grid of 271 squares, which gradually fill as you watch more and more clips, and the game is 100% complete when you have found all the clips, though it is possible for you to beat the game without collecting all of the clips. If you’re a perfectionist, though, you may struggle to find all of the clips, as they require keywords that you might not have thought of; for example, four clips consist of Hannah just saying the word “yes” – that’s it – and they can only be found by searching for “yes” with inverted commas; a search of the keyword yes will not find these videos.
Ultimately, I hope that I’ve been able to sell Her Story. It’s a game that I can’t really freely discuss here (especially that strange ending), and it’s a game that inevitably won’t be for everyone. Plenty of visual novels get passed by even when the gameplay mechanic is more engaging; for a game to be built around a sort Windows 95 version of YouTube will probably not attract everyone.
But for the gamers like me, the ones who love a good tale and appreciate a little bit of innovation, Her Story is worth checking out, particularly with a sequel supposedly on its way.