I am sat here writing this review and my desk is a complete and utter mess. I have Post-It notes around the frame on my monitor, a notepad with a ton of scribblings in it, a mug of coffee, snacks and god knows what else.
You see I have spent the last couple of days trying to solve a case. A murder to be exact. I have footage of the interviews with the suspect and I need to go through them to find evidence that will either prove innocence or guilt. I have become infatuated with this case, I need to uncover something.
We at Gamestyle will be going into much more depth about this ‘game’ with a proper discussion about it. You can find the link at the end of the review (when ready) and don’t expect to see any spoilers here, just my thoughts about one of the most important games of this or any other year.
Many games need to introduce you to their characters so as to build back story, yet here is Her Story which throws you straight in without any setup. You boot the game and are presented with an old PC screen. There is a folder already open with some videos in it and no other instructions.
You play a video, then the next and the next until you have watched all the short clips available there and then. That’s it, you aren’t given direction on what to do next, yet somehow you just know. You remember a word from the interview and then search based on that word. It provides you with more video from interviews and all of a sudden it dawns on you. Just watching isn’t going to help here.
Me, I went and grabbed a notepad and a pen and started listening to the videos making notes of names, places, things that sound important so I can go and then search for them, opening up more of the story and going deeper and deeper into what happened.
Before I know it, I am in full on detective mode. All I needed to do was find a suit, unbutton the shirt a bit, not shave for three days, sit in the dark and I could well be doing a cosplay.
You spend your time with one person, yet you don’t actually do that, you aren’t interacting with her, you are just watching. Yet you feel closer to the story of this woman than you will 99% of other games. Even deeper still, she talks about others, people you never see, yet you feel close to them, you want to know more. You are losing yourself to this amazing story.
Now this is actual video content, using an actual actress, so I fully expect a range of emotions to show better than characters who are CGI, but hey, I lived through Wing Commander and the likes, so FMV isn’t always the answer.
For a game that actually has very little to do, in terms of interaction with the interface, there is so much to do. I have watched clips numerous times to soak it in, I have lost myself to this woman, this potential murderer and have fallen into her spell as she speaks.
I have had videos playing repeatedly as I go through my own hand-written notes. All that is missing is Sam Barlow sending out actual physical evidence for us to examine in real life as we consume the information on these tapes.
I’ve heard that phrase before! This name is new, does this match up with what she said earlier? You find yourself second guessing yourself, trying to piece everything together. To what end though? There have been no goals set out, I haven’t been told I need to solve the case. I mean do I? Surely that’s the point, but how? What do I do when I think I have enough information, there doesn’t seem to be an option.
Is this just a story? Is that it? Is there no point? But then why does that matter? This is an amazingly indepth experience that it doesn’t matter what the end game is. It really doesn’t.
Once again we are seeing an example of what proper mature gaming can be. I touched on Never Alone in 2014 and why that was an important game, but this eclipses that for me. It removes many of the trappings of traditional gaming and delivers yet another way to maturely deliver a story, to make you think about things and immerse you in a world like no other, because there is no ‘world’ here of which to speak.
It is you, you and this woman. You, this woman, her videos and a ton of handwritten notes. Sam Barlow has proven himself in the past to be an excellent writer, but with Her Story he has completely outdone himself and set the bar as high as it has ever been.