“Do you want to hear the story? It’s a real life fairy tale.”
Her Story (Mac and iOS) is a nonlinear jigsaw puzzle set in the mid-90’s. As the player, you must find and review snippets of archival police interview footage to figure out what happened to a woman called Hannah in 1994. Those snippets are brief and jumbled together; only careful observation will allow you to uncover the whole story.
I took five pages of hand-written notes before I figured everything out. At 12:30 AM. I could not stop playing.
Even now that I’ve reached the end (there is a definite end), there’s more for me to see, so the replayability is there. This will be a difficult review to write, as I don’t want to give anything away. Here we go with my look at Her Story.
Her Story mimics the look and feel of a ’90’s CRT and operating system. There’s the curvature of the desktop and the clack of a mechanical keyboard as you type. Overhead fluorescent lights hum from the ceiling and are reflected on the monitor (a feature you can turn off, but it’s much more fun when active). Occasionally, there will be a flicker and your reflection will appear on the screen; a reminder that you’re a person in a room watching this story unfold.
Most of your time is spent looking at the software used to browse the video clips. There are some other items on the computer’s desktop and, without giving anything away, I suggest you look at them.
Occasionally a police siren will be heard as the familiar red-and-blue lights penetrate the windows and reflect off your monitor. Again, this drives home the notion that you’re sitting in a research room, somewhere inside a police station. It’s all very effective. Which leads me to the story.
First of all, don’t worry. This review is entirely spoiler-free.
Oh, the story. There are several genuine gasp-worthy moments in Her Story. There are eureka moments, too, and finding them is the real joy of this game.
The game’s main mechanic is to browse the archive by entering search terms into the software on the old PC, and then view the clips that match. You can tag clips for your future reference, and there’s even a way to “collect” clips that are of particular interest.
Seven interviews were conducted in total, and the clips are not stored in order. You learn right away that the questioner was recorded separately, and those tapes were lost to a flood. So, you can’t hear the questions, only the answers. This sounds crazy, but as you play, something amazing happens: A coherent and definite narrative unfolds.
You’ll search for a term and start watching videos, which will inspire you to search other terms and watch more videos. Names are mentioned, and you write them down. Place are mentioned, and you write them down. Soon you’re drawing lines, circling things, drawing question marks. The story unfolds, but how depends on the route you took: which “leads” you identified and the order in which you followed each one. You discover the “how,” but you revel in the “why.”
Her Story has one of the most delightful and fulfilling rabbit holes I’ve followed in a long time. As I said, there are several “Oh my goodness!” moments. I’m being very careful right now to remain vague, because to spoil any of this would be a shame.
The acting and writing
Her Story is essentially a one-woman show starring Viva Seifert. She’s an actress and one half of the band Joe Gideon and the Shark. She pulls this off brilliantly, as she is at times nervous, indignant, sad, resentful, eerie, impatient and indifferent. I’ve nothing but praise for her performance, as it carries the whole game. You’ll spend hours staring at Seifert and scrutinizing her ever word, gesture and movement. Every minute is enjoyable. Which brings me back to the story.
Her Story was written by Sam Barlow, creator of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Aisle. Before I started playing Her Story, I feared it would feature a predictable story that’s unnecessarily difficult to unravel, just to make a game of it. That’s not the case. The story goes in compelling directions right away and doesn’t let up. Barlow has done a fine job.
In the end…
As I said, there is an end. You’ll know it when you get there.
The timing of Her Story is perfect. People are used to staring at brief videos on YouTube. People are accustomed to conducing a search on a computer and viewing the results. We know how to identify keywords and tag files for future reference. In other words, you already know how to play Her Story, so you can simply concentrate on the ride. And what a ride it is.
One note: Her Story is more effective on the Mac than iOS, simply because while playing on your computer, you’re actually sitting in front of a terminal, just as you are in the game. Tapping the iPad’s/iPhone’s screen isn’t the same.
So there you have 901 spoiler-free words on Her Story. Go and play it. Just have a pencil, some paper and a few hours on hand. You’ll need them.