Developer: Sam Barlow
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, iOS
You’re sitting in front of a computer screen. There’s a woman, in what looks like prison overalls, sitting in front of you. She’s uncomfortable, being questioned by one or two detectives, but you are never privy to what they’re saying. For all intents and purposes you are the one answering the questions, trying to piece together a murder by simply using her responses. This is what Sam Barlow’s Her Story does so tremendously well; it puts you right into the heart of the mystery – of her story.
Her Story is unlike any other game I’ve ever played, certainly on mobile. It’s a bold and brave change from what we have come to expect from the detective genre in recent years. It takes what was so good about games like L.A Noire and Heavy Rain and builds upon them by stripping away the gimmicks and just concentrating on the case at hand, which is incredibly layered and complex. What you can gather from the first few video clips, is that this woman’s husband has been murdered and she is the prime suspect. However, with everything being told from her point of view, you can never really trust what’s being said. You really have to reach for your pipe and deerstalker to solve this one.
Her Story’s main mechanic is a search engine. You watch short clips of this unidentified woman answering questions, and then type in key words to bring up clips with more juicy information in them. This means that you will inevitably end up digging out a pen and notebook to frantically write down key words that she says. You’ll often find yourself watching the same clips over and over again just to make sure you didn’t miss a vital piece of information, that incredibly important clue which will blow open the whole case.
The screen in front of you is a dated police computer. There’s no indication of who you are; you are merely logged in as “AUTH_GUEST”, which suggests that you might not be a police detective at all. The game will occasionally give you small hints and pointers as to your identity, but I won’t go into those in too much detail; it’s best to stumble upon those yourself.
The clips are filmed in live-action, featuring the very talented Viva Seifert. No shoddy game graphics here, no motion capture to be seen. Seifert offers an incredibly nuanced performance, which just gets better and better as you delve further into the game’s story and start to uncover the gory details, the truth behind the lies.
There are so many different layers and mysteries to this game: Who is this woman in front of you? What actually happened, and why? Who are you playing as, and why are they so interested in this case? The list of unanswered questions goes on and on, and it’s up to you and your powers of deduction to answer them. I kept on having Hercule Poirot’s voice in my head, “Use the little grey cells, Hastings.” And boy, did I have to use them.
Her Story offers a refreshing take on the detective genre video game: something which is utterly unique, yet also familiar. If you’ve ever watched a police procedural, you’ll recognise a lot of the same beats. But Her Story is so much more than that. It treats the player with respect, using a complex mystery to challenge your intellect and avoiding the hand-holding so many other games are guilty of. That’s what’s so refreshing about Her Story; it treats you like a ‘true detective’.