Her Story is a narrative game by Sam Barlow, writer of such games as Silent Hill: Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. It puts you in the shoes of a faceless detective searching through old police interviews trying to piece together what happened to murder victim, Simon Smith. The game has you listening to the interviews of the victim’s wife, Hannah Smith and discovering more about the story as you go on.

If you were expecting complicated gameplay or frantic action,  prepare to be disappointed. The game focuses on delivering a well-written narrative with a simple gameplay hook that pulls you further and further into the story.

The game tasks you with searching through old interview clips and listening to Hannah Smith, played by Viva Seifert,  to gather information about the story. The information comes in the form of a keyword which you can then type into a search bar to find more clips that make reference to it. For example if Hannah says that she “used to love going to Brighton” you can then use the word Brighton as a search term to find more. This is a relatively simple gameplay mechanic, but one that never ceased to hold my attention.

Hannah and Eve

Everything feels genuine from the static to the subtitles.

Because the gameplay consists of little more than typing into a search bar, the immediate impression I got from Her Story was that I would play the game for an hour at most and then forget it happened. I started playing and before I knew it I had sunk two hours of time into the game.

The game becomes nothing short of fascinating as you soon discover more and more information from various interview clips. In fact there is so much context to the plot as a whole, I found myself having to grab a pen and paper to make a note of what I had learned, what I was searching for and how the story added up. It was a surreal experience to be placed in the shoes of a detective and come out connecting the dots on paper. All I was missing was a half smoked cigarette and a loose tie around my neck.

I’m inclined to think this was Sam Barlow’s intention. The sheer wealth of information is very difficult to keep hold of once you start going deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. The amount of story you have to work with demands you to take notes as the story is given to you in small chunks for you to piece together as you play.

Not only does Her Story pull you in with its engaging narrative, but the layout of the display goes the extra mile to make you feel like you’re working late at the office and you know you’re about to crack the case. Just because my hair was a mess and I had bags under my eyes in real life, didn’t stop me from feeling that in the game too.

Screenshot01

Here’s what you’ll be looking at for half the game.

You’ll be greeted by an old Windows 95-style monitor complete with a reflective screen , the glare from office lighting, and the feeling of a curved monitor staring back at you. The sound couples well with the 1990s visual aesthetic too, going so far as to simulate the sound of mouse clicks and fingers clacking keyboards. Not to mention the sound of flickering bulbs and closing doors in the background. Even the tapes’ subtitles are shown in yellow instead of white, reminiscing old recorded police interviews in Britain at that time. Though there is also the option to turn these effects off if they become too much of a distraction.

As absorbing as the story and atmosphere is, I sometimes wished there was more to do than watch clips and write down the results. There was a minigame and a few other things to click during the game but only for atmosphere’s sake. I felt like there could have been greater opportunity to use the desktop layout in a way that demanded me using a computer differently, perhaps surfing the web for a reference instead of keeping to the interview clips or maybe including a dedicated notes icon to jot down the information.

The game’s enormous attention to detail really draws you into the story. The plot is what really invested me and will invest most players. Going from tape to tape, discovering new information and leaping from the murder of an innocent man, to possible affairs, to separated twins. The narrative of Her Story constantly throws curveballs to the point where your airtight theories unravel again and again. This persistent anticipation was primary the draw for me. Sam Barlow’s talent for narrative is matched only by his talent to keep the player invested in his work and this game certainly invested me.

  • Nothing wrong or dated about yellow subtitles. They are quite common. Very slightly orange Yellow with black contrast stands out best. Maybe games don’t use yellow, but if they are trying to be cinematic they probably should.

    I feel like no one mentions the timing of this game off the back of the Serial podcast. It seems like it had to be made as a response to that podcast (if not a way to capitalized off of the interest in.)