“All these stories we’ve been telling each other. They’re just that…stories.”
That’s the opening line that greets you in Her Story and by the end it’ll likely give you a little shiver.
Her Story is effectively “Search Engine: The Game” where you poke around various video clips from a mid-90s murder investigation. It leaves you to play investigator as you slowly piece together information about the case, watching various interview recordings with a woman called Hannah.
What makes Her Story work though, and not simply devolve into a bland movie game, is the way that the information comes about organically. Type in “husband” and you’ll receive all the clips where she said the word husband, type in “murder” and you’ll, naturally, get a whole different bunch of hits. The game sets you up as detective and does little else for you. Soon, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have a little notepad and be rabidly scribbling down some person’s name as Hannah makes some off-hand comment about some guy called Doug.
Much like Gone Home, Her Story works as a sort of non-horror horror game. Technically, it’s not setting out to scare you, but the set-up, and the threat of simply not knowing what happened, begins to get under your skin. It’s a strange comparison, but Her Story is the opposite of Five Nights At Freddy’s. Both games involve recorded footage, but, whereas …Freddy’s is all surface level; all about the jump scare and little else, Her Story works on the other angle, gnawing away at you slowly but surely.
It’s perhaps appropriate, considering the fact that the game’s director, Sam Barlow, previously worked on both UK-based Silent Hill games, those being Silent Hill Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. There’s a creepy, unsettling mood that sits around Her Story, you’re sat at a monitor, the flicker of halogen lights casting a reflection on the screen, with a mid-90s user interface staring back at you.
Trawling through old footage, you can’t help but feel like some kind of intruder. You shouldn’t be watching this, but you can’t help it. It’s surprising just how easy the game sucks you in, dangling the next clue or search engine topic in front of you and having you chase the breadcrumbs.
It’s the way that breadcrumb trail works though, that makes the entire game so impressive. There’s no one way through the database full of recordings and the order in which you watch them is likely to colour your opinion by the end. This isn’t just a simple whodunit but also a whoisit. Without strolling into spoiler territory, there’s more questions to be answered than simply “is she or isn’t she guilty”, and it’s all set up with a disarmingly simple game mechanic of inputting words into a search engine.
The influences are clear to see. The aforementioned Silent Hill connection can be felt but there’s also the connection to various thriller movies to boot. David Fincher in particular hangs over the entire game, from the bleak bare bones interface to the matter-of-fact idea of simply looking through police interview tapes. Gone Girl in particular seems like a pretty big inspiration for the story.
The best part about Her Story is that, once you’ve installed it, you could simply watch all the clips in chronological order by delving into the game’s files. By doing so however, you’d be robbing yourself of one hell of an experience. It’d be like inputting a cheat code. It’s the bits of information you don’t discover, the clues you don’t pick up on that shape the game’s story just as much as those that you find.
It’s far from perfect. The acting by Viva Seifert can come across a little artificial, which may or may not be intentional, making the whole thing even more intriguing. The ending and lack of concrete answers won’t be to everyone’s tastes either. This isn’t a game where you’ll come away with a wholesome satisfied story but one where you’re still piecing together your thoughts hours after you’ve shut off the game.
The other day I was sat playing another game, some RPG, and in the middle of a bunch of random battles, my thoughts were still mulling over everything I’d seen and heard in Her Story. They’re just that…stories, but by god were they satisfying.