Review – Her Story: What Lies Beneath
A few weeks ago, I purchased a Humble Bundle pack for a few different narrative based games, and Her Story was among them. I had noticed the title when it was released late last year, and it seemed just different enough to peak my interest. None of this could prepare me, however, for my experience once I finally dove in.
Her Story is a game riddled with clues. You start the game as an unknown character with guest access to what appears to be an old Linux computer. On it’s database are a series of full motion video (FMV) scenes that have survived regarding a case of a young woman and the death of her husband. It is surmised that age has corrupted many of the files, so all you get are fragmented scenes that were recovered to search and seek the truth with.
One thing I learned growing up about FMV games is that in most cases, they are bad. It’s dated technology from the rise of the CD era, but for all the attempts to utilize it, most of the results were buggy and unplayable. Her Story, however, applies this approach with great care. It doesn’t try to overwhelm you with overbearing concepts. It just tries to give you a story.
The whole game consists of two elements, entering keywords into the database, and watching FMV interviews with the woman that last anywhere from ten seconds to nearly two minutes. I found myself watching some clips over and over, listening to her words, deciphering her personality, and looking for clues to let me go forward. As I went I started taking pen and paper notes (something I hadn’t done in years) for keywords and likely story scenarios. Each time I pulled the thread on a keyword, however, I often found many more to go through, some which took me deeper into the story, and some which lead to complete dead ends.
The woman’s acting is spot on. Never in the footage do you hear the voices of the detectives questioning her. All you hear are her answers, and you have to figure out the questions yourself. In some scenes (all of which are time-stamped), she is somber and serious, in others she comes off as more flirtatious and playful.
Her interviews were inviting. As I watched and took notes, sometimes I genuinely felt sorry for her, and at other times actually liked her. The game even goes a step further at times by showing the ambiance of police sirens going off in the background, sometimes with the red and blue lights peering through the station window, revealing, for just a moment, a profile of the character searching for answers. The game also features a screen glare from overhead office lights. These can be turned off, but I don’t recommend it, as doing so takes you away from the overall experience.
What I enjoyed most about this game is that with each piece of evidence you discover, your mind starts putting together the how’s and why’s on your own. I found that the more I went in, the more I wanted to see. I found myself drawn to the story, of wanting to see it come together, and to find the truth about this woman and what happened to her husband. None of it could prepare me, however, for that moment when the final scene was discovered and it all came together. Even then, the game can’t help but provide another grand reveal, as the character researching the footage and reason is also identified, which brings her story to a very satisfying conclusion.
Many would say that the biggest flaw with Her Story is the length. If you find yourself hooked, as I did, then you might finish the game in about three hours. Even so, there are many scenes I’m sure I didn’t find, but I want to. The game’s price tag, however, reflects this pretty well. Even if it were more, I’ve spent more money for movies that didn’t give me near the satisfaction.
Overall, I can’t recommend this game enough. For all its simplicity, the game is deep. It has more intrigue than most TV mysteries, but doesn’t overwhelm you with jargon. Instead, it puts you on the path to learn the truth, and moreover, to find it at your own pace.