It’s hard to talk about Her Story without giving much of the plot away, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising considering how central to the gameplay the story is; but at it’s bare bones Her Story is about piecing together a mosaic of videos clips to recount a particularly traumatic and pivotal moment in a woman’s life, with the player deciding themselves what’s important and when the story itself ends.
You play a voyeur of sorts, given permission to view a collection of recently digitised video clips from old police interview tapes from the early 90’s, all related to a single case, and all featuring a single woman replying to the questions of an unheard, off-screen detective. The only problem is you don’t have free reign to pick and choose video clips, you have to search for them using words or phrases. This being the principle gameplay mechanic behind the game, as you start with a small selection of video clips, watching each in turn, trying to pick out key terms that the character uses, then searching those in turn to expand the number of videos you’ve seen and therefore your understanding of the story.
It really is as simple as that, the story is what you make of it. You can watch as little or as much as you like, and what you come away believing the story to be is pretty the game’s story. Though I get the sense the story was written with a definite focus and ending the fact it is cut up into so many small slithers of video footage and jumbled up leaves it feeling pretty ambiguous and very open to interpretation based on what you feel is important as the player.
I have mixed feelings about Her Story if I’m honest, in terms of design and implementation I think it’s a really great game, it’s simple, it has a very specific ‘style’ that carries across not only in the way the video clips have been made to look dated but also to the way your desktop resembles something from the Windows 3.1 era and the optional glare on your in-game monitor. It’s obvious a lot of time, effort, love and quality workmanship has been put into building the game, it does however feel a little ‘too’ simple for me at times.
The central mechanic is just watch these video clips and make up your own story, which is fair enough, personally I prefer driven narrative but I do enjoy ambiguity and player choice in games as well, so the idea of a story being exactly what you make of it, and based off how much effort you put into a game, is very interesting to me. However there’s really not much sense of achievement to watching the clips (besides you actually getting achievements for it on Steam), as aside from giving you potential terms to search for, the game doesn’t seem to progress in any real sense.
You watch clips, you search terms and sure your understanding of the story grows as you build a picture of what’s going on, but the game doesn’t really progress in any sense past that. I feel rude putting it like this given how much I did enjoy the game but at times I found myself wondering how much different it would be if buying Her Story just meant being given a folder on your hard drive with all the videos in and being told ‘there’s a story in there, go find it’ compared to what you get in the finished game. Sure the aesthetic would be missing, and that does give the game a nice sense of atmosphere, and there are also the odd little touches that the game does that really make it stand out, but the game doesn’t seem to do all that much more in terms of actual gameplay than having a folder full of videos would.
I think this would be my only real problem with the game, as I did enjoy it a lot otherwise. I just feel as though it’s a missed opportunity to take what is a genuinely really interesting and very a-typical story for a videogame, and merge it with some really compelling gameplay mechanics, perhaps akin to the FMV adventure games of yore that Her Story seems so reminiscent of.
I know this review is going to sound overly harsh, at least as I read it back to myself I get that impression, but I want to be clear that I did enjoy playing Her Story a lot and do intend to go back and keep replaying it, there’s still a lot I want to piece together myself about it’s story. I just also want to be clear that I don’t think this game is perfect, and I don’t think it’ll be for everyone.
If you’re someone who loves detective stories, who maybe enjoys creepy pastas or augmented reality games, basically anything where your own imagination and desire to explore a story is what creates the ‘fun’ in a game for you then I think you’ll really love Her Story, and get a lot of value out of it; if you’re someone who likes the game to do the imaginative work for them whilst they just enjoy the ride, probably not so much.
I will say though that I hope this game gets a sequel – or at least a spiritual successor if not a direct sequel, as I’d like to see more of this, I’d just like to see it with the player given a larger set of tools with which to explore the story with.