Being a detective is hard work.
Her Story beautifully accomplishes what every adventure game sets out to do: make the player alternately feel like a genius and an idiot.
While they are glamorized in film, the reality is that detectives spend countless hours drinking cold coffee on stakeouts and pouring through information, looking for a single clue. It can be mind-numbing, time-consuming work. That’s why it’s all the more impressive that Her Story has turned this tedium into a thoroughly engaging and entertaining experience!
Her Story is a tale that unfolds through archival interview footage. In 1994, Hannah Smith was taken into police custody to discuss the disappearance of her husband, Simon. Your job is to review several months’ worth of interviews, following Hannah’s story as it shifts and changes, which in turn hints that there is much more to her husband’s disappearance than meets the eye.
To view all 271 video clips, you must use an obsolete program called the “L.O.G.I.C. Database.” By typing in keywords, you can search for video clips that match your inquiry. The problem is that the antiquated program can only show the first five clips that contain the keyword, in chronological order. To go deeper, you must use more specific keywords, derived from what Hannah says in each video clip. By painstakingly combing through every video file, you will discover what really happened in 1994, along with the reasons why.
Her Story feels wonderfully authentic in every sense. From the Windows 95-esque OS to the glare on the old-style monitor to the grainy quality of the digitally scanned VHS interviews, everything beautifully sells the central conceit of the game. Even the “DB Checker” showing you how many clips remain unfound looks like a hard drive defragging program. You really do feel like you’re hacking your way through video files on a 30-year-old computer.
The other reason everything works is because of the performance from Viva Seifert, the actor playing Hannah Smith. Many FMV games feature performances that could generously be considered cringeworthy, with melodramatic and poorly delivered dialogue. Not so with Her Story! Seifert’s performance is so natural that you’d swear you were watching a genuine police interview from the mid-90s. As you progress through the clips, her subtle shifts in body language and attitude hint at a bigger truth that you’re not seeing. When viewed in short snippets, the performance is impressive. When viewed in chronological order, it’s nothing less than an acting tour de force.
The music in the game is appropriately minimalistic, as genuine police interviews are unlikely to be scored. Quiet piano music drifts in and out while you watch clips, subtly deepening the impact of emotional moments without feeling out of place or intrusive.
My only major issue with Her Story is that tracking down the last few video clips kills the pacing of the game. Even after you’ve worked out what happened in ’94, you still need to find the tiny connecting pieces of footage where Hannah only says a single word. Eventually, I was typing in random search terms, hoping to find a lead on the last bits of footage. It’s incredibly frustrating that you can’t “complete” the game until you see these random clips (although this might not be a problem for gamers who couldn’t care less about getting 100% completion).
I also encountered a few hiccups when playing the game on my PC. It took my Steam version over a minute to boot up, and I experienced a few crashes while playing. I am surprised that, even a few years after release, these bugs haven’t been worked out yet. Perhaps the developer wanted to authentically replicate what it felt like to play a game on a Pentium Pro back in 1995, but I doubt it.
Her Story beautifully accomplishes what every adventure game sets out to do: make the player alternately feel like a genius and an idiot. It can be teeth-grindingly frustrating when you can’t track down a three-second piece of footage, but you’ll feel like a pro detective when you finally hit upon the right combination of keywords. The intentionally dated presentation means that audiences will be enjoying the game for decades without it feeling passé. If you are on the hunt for a traditional adventure game, you may want to look elsewhere. But if you want one of the best live-action performances in video game history, a fabulous presentation, and an intriguing mystery to unravel, Her Story deserves your time!