Her Story opens with the familiar hum of an ancient desktop PC. Before you sits the window for the L.O.G.I.C. Database. You’re logged in as AUTH_GUEST and, rather ominously, a single term populates the search field: MURDER.
You click ‘Search’, and the machine slowly whirrs into life. The database is queried, a progress bar inches along, and four results appear, displaying thumbnails of a woman. You click the first and a video plays. “You think it’s murder? Clearly it’s murder,” says the woman, concern etched across her face. “What can I do to help?”
On playing further videos, it rapidly becomes clear these are tiny fragments of an entire series of interviews. Tied specifically to keywords and robbed of context, they nonetheless intrigue, and each provides potential clues you can use to search for more information. Just who is this woman? Who was murdered? And why were they murdered?
Oddly, the system’s interface is only capable of providing limited access to search results. If a keyword returns dozens of matches, you only gain access to the first five. This is of course a contrivance, forcing you to assess what you’ve discovered so far, think, delve deeper, and come up with more complex search terms. But anyone who lived through 1990s PC software will perhaps wear a wry grin, remembering that software often really was that user-hostile.
For Her Story, though, it’s a masterstroke, keeping the mystery tantalisingly out of reach. Every now and again, an idea will pop into your head, and there’ll be an almost magical breakthrough. But even when you think you know what’s going on, you’ll find new leads and avenues to explore. Down the rabbit hole doesn’t really cover it.
Beyond the screen
You can tell a game’s taken hold when it moves beyond the device, and Her Story effortlessly manages this. It eats away at your time when you’re nowhere near a screen, as you try to piece together the course of events and figure out what happened. When you’re before your laptop or iPad, you’ll be armed with a pad and pen, scribbling notes and theorising, and coming to conclusions that seem— Well, to say anything more would ruin the surprise.
Her Story, then, is a triumph. The experience in some ways echoes Simogo’s output, but through the lens of 1990s FMV, and capitalising on modern-day compulsion with online searches. Really, though, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever played before — but this atmospheric, fully engaging experience is definitely something you must play.