Back in the mid-90s, when games consoles such as Sega’s ill-fated Mega CD roamed the planet, videogames utilising full-motion video were briefly all the rage. In retrospect it was usually a case of developers putting the technology to use because they could rather than because they should. Titles like Night Trap (with “over one-and-a-half hours of real video” as the selling point went) proved underwhelming once the novelty had worn off and such games soon found themselves in ‘worst ever’ lists.
Such a fate is unlikely to befall Her Story. Written by Sam Barlow, whose credits include Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Her Story is almost entirely a game about watching short film clips of a woman being interviewed by police over the death of her husband. The premise is that you are sifting through these snippets of film using a 90s desktop computer complete with authentically reproduced software.
Effectively you have to search these archives using keywords that bring up relevant interview logs. All the dialogue has been sub-titled so you can type in any word and, if it’s uttered by suspect Hannah (played effectively by Viva Siefert) then you can watch the clip or clips and make digital notes along the way. The more film you unearth, the more you will learn about the bizarre plot and so the more promising ‘leads’ you will have for further searches.
The chronology of the unfolding story therefore depends on what you decide to search for. This is perhaps Her Story’s greatest selling point in that the likelihood of two people running a similar investigation is negligible. However, the story remains the same from whatever angle you come at it and the game does do some gentle nudging along the way. Type in a broad search of, say, the murdered victim and you’ll hit some sixty or so videos but the game only allows you to watch the first five. Further refined searches will be needed to open the rest and that will depend on how well you’ve been listening to the previous testimonies.
It’s impossible to talk any more about the story without massive spoilers. However, what Her Story does do is effectively make you feel like you’re really ‘working a case’. Playing this on our laptop, pacing the floor to try and work out the next step, feverishly typing in what we hope will be the next key word; The Skinny can attest to at least fleetingly feeling like a hard-boiled private detective.
Her Story’s impressive use of a game design presumed long dead and its narrative freedom are more than enough to paper over some minor cracks. The plot, if we’ve successfully managed to piece it all together from the muddled 200-plus clips, is perhaps a tad too hard to swallow given the real-world presentation. We’ll also try to overlook the clip where Hannah seems to have been asked by police investigating her husband’s murder to take along her guitar for a sing-song.
Like The Blair Witch Project, Her Story seems likely to foster a wave of imitators, such is its relative technical ease. However, writer Sam Barlow has certainly set the bar high with his reimagining of what a full-motion video game can be. Whatever it ushers in, Her Story is changing perceptions of what a game can be in the here and now. Case closed.