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Her Story [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

Sam Barlow's latest deconstruction of narrative is a game by necessity. It expertly leaves just enough of the story and mechanics to player imagination while capitalizing on the best that the adventure-genre has to offer. It uses familiar visual vocabulary without falling into the trappings of contemporary game design. Her Story manipulates time and space as deftly as the best works in any medium and never overstays it's welcome. It is a must-play for mystery fans, adventure game fans, FMV fans, or people just looking for something fresh.

The Pros: 

+Excellently integrated interface design
+Wonderful FMV acting
+A compelling mystery
+Short and sweet

The Cons: 

-The story can be intimidating to parse
-It can be easy to get lost
-There aren't many others like it
-Silent Hill: Shattered Memories wasn't a huge success

ShogunGamer.com Rating : 
10

People of a certain age or fondness for game history are familiar with the text parser - adventure games were built around them in the early days. Being thrown into a world where all you had was a rudimentary text input interface and your imagination is what made adventure games so compelling. It could take several hours and a dozen retries before a player could calibrate themselves to what the game expected them to type - for some titles, 'use', 'use apple', 'eat', 'eat apple', 'use item', or 'eat item' meant exactly the same thing while other times they would yield wildly disparate results. This abstraction created a game within a game. All of a sudden it wasn't the content of the game that became the only mystery, so too did the interface itself.

This is where Sam Barlow's 'Her Story' shines. It embraces the metagame. It is the postmodern poster child that people will recognize if they played Barlow's previous storytelling gem, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Her Story is mystery upon mystery upon mystery and anyone willing to explore them will be handsomely rewarded.

Due to the nature of the game it's best to not go into much story detail. What I can explain is how expertly the game's narrative and mechanics blend.

Her Story

The story unfolds as you, an initially faceless avatar in the modern day, navigate a computer desktop, scanning it's hard drive for video footage from the 90s of a woman (played by Viva Seifert) being interrogated by the police regarding the disappearance of a man named Simon. There are several different interviews taken over a couple weeks but you won't be observing this footage in chronological order. The database only let's you view 5 clips at a time - usually ranging from 10-20 seconds - by searching for words that come up in the transcriptions of each interview.

Exploration, like the presentation of each video, becomes fractal. A broken mirror, each segment revealing a different angle, different information, the same face. It's beautiful and disturbingly intimate at times.

You'll find yourself logging away specific information, writing down terms (yes, on paper), remembering names to search later, piecing together what interview happened when. Each clip spins out into more and more questions, more words to search, more ideas to be connected to times and places. If you have a corkboard with red twine nearby it will certainly come in handy.

There's also refreshingly little handholding. As in, there is none. The game doesn't even care if you solve the mystery before you reach the credits.

But you will want to. So, so badly.

Viva Seifert's performance as the subject of the interrogation is wonderfully compelling. Without spoiling anything, her demeanor shifts in a wickedly off-putting, but disturbingly familiar way. She is ethereally human. Perhaps it's the scanline filters and the decidedly 90s wardrobe but she feels like she could be someone that everybody knows. She may very well be you. (and with Barlow's history of player characters... well, let's just leave it at that).

Her Story

And speaking of wardrobe, ages could be spent discussing the way Barlow and Seifert use her outfits as touchstones for storytelling and character behaviour, respectively. Once the player is familiar with the colours during the different interviews, Seifert's clothing becomes a shorthand. We know she wore this on this day, she discussed these things on that day, and she was in this mood when she discussed them. We are able to navigate this nebulous space by familiarity. It's a brilliant way of establishing a cipher that guides the player's mind in a way that is completely natural.

And that's how the whole piece feels - natural. Unfettered by any trappings of 'gameness'.

Her Story is an interface by which we explore the intimate details of a woman's life. We are voyeurs looking back at ourselves in the reflection of a monitor. A fragmented story, pieced together as we reach our hands blindly into the broken glass. It's exhibits some of the most thoughtful and well-executed refinement of early adventure game design I've ever seen and it's a must-play for fans of effective storytelling. Her Story comes with my highest possible recommendation.

Her Story is available now for Mac, PC, and iOS. It can be purchased here.