Her Story Review (PC)
Sam Barlow, known for writing and developing Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, has returned with the unique investigation title, Her Story, and it's unlike anything I've ever encountered in all my years of gaming. Her Story takes us back to the '90s, where full motion video was a niche technique used in helping games come to life. Barlow has put together a well-written, true-crime-style detective game where you must revisit the past and investigate an old missing persons case from 1994.
The means of learning about this case and sleuthing through the evidence is where Her Story shines, as observation, note-taking and creativity are your biggest contributions in helping its narrative unfold.
Barlow has authentically replicated a 20-year-old police department computer interface (Windows 95 RIP) to help solve a missing persons case. There are a few Read Me files and a small mini-game on the desktop to enjoy, but you'll primarily be utilizing the LOGIC database to investigate this case. You'll have to sift through an entire video archive filled with 250+ short clips spanning seven long interviews of the British wife of the victim, played by actress/musician Viva Seifert (of Joe Gideon and the Shark fame). After Simon Smith went missing in 1994, his wife, Hannah Smith, was interrogated by police seven times. It's up to you to watch as many clips from these interviews as you can and determine what really happened. The clips have been categorized by keywords and search terms. Surprisingly enough, Her Story is as much a Google-oriented game as it is a detective one, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, that is where your creativity must come into play.
Using the LOGIC database requires you to input keywords and search terms in order to see corresponding clips from Hannah's testimony. Typing in phrases, such as "murder" or "missing," will result in a maximum of four video clips displayed in your results. Obviously, there are more than four videos in the archives pertaining to these topics, but the database gives you the most direct and relevant choices. This is where your observation and search engine navigation skills become a factor. You have to keep coming up with more and more keywords to keep unraveling the story, which is much more complicated than you would think.
Watching Hannah's testimony of her husband's disappearance is captivating, and she provides very human responses that felt quite natural, based on her circumstances. She evoked the expected anger, reluctance, confusion, sadness and nostalgia while telling the stories of her and her husband, fully aware of the notion that the detectives consider her a suspect. Many hours later, I still felt those emotions throughout her videos, but seen in a different light now that I understood more of her backstory and the reasons behind them. Keywords such as "parents," "watch" and "alibi" lead into elaborate and long segments where I kept taking notes and was scrambling to find more information.
I spent hours just watching videos related to names, dates and locations, trying to find the one "aha!" moment that would solve the case and determine what happened to Simon. For the longest time, that moment never came. Instead, I was drawn deeper into Barlow's narrative. The best part is, you can attach and save your own tags to every video in the archive, in case you want to specifically go back to them later on in your spelunking (I used it as a rudimentary filing system). The ability to add your own mini-notes/tags to the videos is a godsend. Since it's supposed to be the '90s, there's no real way to save or mark videos you might want to watch later on. The video files do have a small icon on them to signify whether or not you have seen that particular video already, but that's about it.
I'm not going to start listing some of the spoilerific keywords I used in my investigation, but I'll just say that Barlow's database kept things fresh. I never felt bored or stumped during my six or so hours playing Her Story; I was simply compelled. You can spend loads of time listening to Hannah talk about her and her husband — I must have spend an hour alone just trying to investigate their parents, only to find a red herring. Seifert's range of acting and poker face kept me second guessing her. I had to rely on my notepad, which is only based on what she previously said in other interviews, to determine the legitimacy of what she was saying in the other clips I was watching. Her Story's police computer has a database checker that lets you keep track of how many videos you watched and how many more remain. The more progress I made through the checker, the more questions I had. By the time some major plot points were revealed, I had to go back and rewatch some of the earlier clips in my research, where simple, almost inconspicuous lines of dialogue from Hannah were given a brand new meaning based on my findings.
Just as CSI and True Detective tell some of the most amazing crime drama tales on television, Sam Barlow has created something special that tells an equally powerful story but through a different, effective and engaging medium that is unlike any game on the market. While there's no high tech crime scene investigation equipment from Condemned, interrogation techniques of L.A. Noire, or Batman: Arkham Knight's detective mode, Her Story lets you investigate an intricate crime your own way, preferably with a pen and a pad by your side (good luck otherwise). This game lets you be the gumshoe as opposed to simply letting you control one onscreen.
Some players will likely have a gripe with Her Story's format or even have the audacity to claim that it's not a game. I assure you, it is as engaging as any AAA, blockbuster title I've encountered... as long as you're willing to observe, think and research. Her Story's '90s aesthetic makes me feel nostalgic, and hearing the old computer boot up noises and seeing my silhouette rendered on the screen were nice touches. This Google Video-esque crime game isn't for the impatient or for those with short attention spans, but it rewards those who are willing to engage with its purposely-limited but complex delivery system.
This review was based on a digital code of Her Story provided by the publisher for PC.