Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Game Review - 'Her Story'

Her Story is a game that has the feel of an experiment. Created by Sam Barlow (who is, perhaps, best known for his work on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories), Her Story plays out almost like an interactive film - making good use of full-motion video, and an impressive performance from its star, as it tells its story.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, at first, you begin the game to find that you have been given access to an archive of video clips taken from seven different interviews conducted as part of a murder investigation in 1994. These clips are all short (often under a minute in length), and seem to be very disorganised. Thankfully, though, by using a wonderfully archaic 1990s style interface, and the transcripts attached to each clip, you can begin to sort through these clips by searching for relevant terms. 'Murder', for example, is the term that has been entered for you when you start - and, by watching the four associated clips, you can begin to identify other relevant terms to search for as you begin to dig deeper. In doing so, you will being to uncover the story of a woman (played by Viva Seifert) who may, or may not, have murdered her husband.

Her Story isn't a game that you can 'win', in the usual sense. It might even be fair to question the degree to which it actually counts as a 'game', at all. In the end, it is more of an interactive experience that you are free to invest as much time and energy into as you feel that it warrants. A play-through of Her Story will, basically, last for as long as you want it to - and, whether you uncover all of the pieces of the puzzle, or not, will depend entirely on how invested you are in doing so.

At a certain point in the experience, you will receive a message asking if you are done with the archive - at any point after that, responding with a 'yes' will bring the game to a close, and cause the credits to roll. At that point, the only real reason to keep going is to satisfy yourself that you have seen everything that you want to see, and that you are satisfied that you have come to understand what actually happened back in 1994. And, that's really all there is to it.

With that in mind, it's actually legitimately impressive to see how immersive an experience it actually is. There is a genuinely fascinating mystery at the heart of Her Story - one which, while seemingly fairly ordinary at the start, will soon begin to head in a strange, and occasionally disturbing, direction.

There is obviously quite a bit more going on here than a simple murder - but, of course, any hints I give about what that might be would only serve to spoil the experience for anyone who might be interested, and who hasn't already played through Her Story for themselves. So, for that reason, I'm going to have to keep my mouth shut about any of that. I'll just say that it's definitely a mystery worth investigating. At the same time, though, it's also worth pointing out that, depending on how diligent you are in your own investigation, it is also entirely possible to end the game with a completely different interpretation of what happened to what other players may have.

Being a game entirely dependent on a series of video clips, it would be easy to imagine all of the ways in which this game could have failed to deliver. Full-motion video in games is, after all, mostly an embarrassing relic of the late 1990s that is mostly remembered for stilted game-play and awful performances. Thankfully, though, that isn't the case here. The interface that the player will be interacting with as they sort through these video clips is simple and old-fashioned, sure - but, it is that way by design, and there is something oddly endearing about they way that it looks and feels. Also, the script written by Sam Barlow and the performance given by Viva Seifert are both equally impressive - each contributing to drawing the player in to this strange mystery. While Sam Barlow is responsible for writing and direction, though, (and, his work in that regard is definitely impressive) it would probably be fair to say that much of the credit for the success of Her Story should be given to its sole star. Thanks to Viva Seifert's performance, there is never a moment that comes across as false - something which is, obviously, extremely important in a game like this.

As an experiment in story-telling and game design, Her Story would have to be thought of as a success. It obviously isn't a game that is going to appeal to everyone, though. The lack of direction, and absence of anything resembling a clearly defined end-point, may be off-putting for some - but, if you find yourself intrigued by the idea of a story that you have to uncover for yourself, then Her Story is definitely worth a look.

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