Tuesday, January 16, 2018

REVIEW: Her Story (game)

Her Story is a mystery FMV (full motion video) game. I picked it up in a Humble Bundle.


I try to keep my game reviews focused on games that have simple gameplay but are story-rich. Her Story is definitely that - it's all about the story. Gameplay is limited to keyword searching and watching videos, and that's it (well, except for the Mirror game, but that's more of an extra).

You play as someone who's been given access to an old desktop computer from 1994. There are a couple text files that give you information on how to search and work with the police database, the database itself, and a simple game. Your job is to search the database and watch various video clips. They haven't been organized in any way. If you wish, you can assign tags to them or save them for quick re-watching.

The catch, when it comes to adding tags, is that searches only show you the first five retrieved results. If you add certain tags too many times, searching those tags becomes nearly useless. Of all the tags I chose to add, only one turned out to be useful - I used it whenever I came across video clips that felt particularly important but that I didn't know enough about to fully understand. Which I know is a pretty useless way to describe the tag, but I don't want to give too much away.

I recommend playing the game with a piece of paper and something to write with on hand. Each video clip will give you ideas about new keywords to try. Write them down as they come up and go through them one by one. (Librarian FYI - This is also a useful thing to keep in mind when performing searches in real life!) There's a little eye icon that makes it easy to tell whether you've seen a particular clip before or not.

The basic story (no spoilers): Back in 1994 the police recorded several interviews with a woman who claimed that her husband was missing. As the investigation progressed, it became clear that he had probably been murdered. The game gives you no guidance as to what you're trying to accomplish, so it appears that your goal is to figure out the full story: whether the woman murdered her husband or not.

One of the nice things about the game is that you have all the time in the world. Although you'll be pinged partway through and asked whether you're finished and have seen everything you need to see, there's no set time limit. You're done when you decide you're done. I tried to play until I'd seen all the video clips but ended up giving up partway through. This turned out to be a good thing, however, because the game then included its next big revelation and gave players a code that would allow them to see fifteen results at a time instead of just five. I eventually tracked down the last few video clips that way. I also finally figured out that punctuation could narrow down my searches - this helped me find a series of very brief video clips that weren't useful for much besides helping me say I'd found them all.

The story is weird, more than a little disturbing, and difficult to believe. I've seen a couple theories, both that things happened exactly as was described in the final interview and that the main character had actually invented much of what had happened. I generally went with the "the last interview is entirely true" interpretation, although there were things that didn't quite seem to work. I still have questions about the main character's drink preferences, and what she meant by what I think was her last line in her final interview.

All in all, this was a gripping story that I finished almost all in one go. I kept thinking up new keywords and didn't want to quit until I'd tried them all and figured out what really happened. I wish that there had been some kind of epilogue explaining what happened after the interviews, but for the most part I felt that the experience was satisfying.

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