I’m going to try something new this time. Instead of going for a more polished, cohesive piece, I’m going to follow some of the authors I’ve been reading recently like Brendan Keogh and Susan Sontag (who I’m guessing inspired Keogh on this) and make a “Notes on ___” piece instead. This fits my ADD better anyways.
Also, while I try to avoid spoilers in this piece, this is a mystery game. The fun of the game is going in blind and having to piece everything together. Please, please, please buy this game. It’s only $5 and can be played through in 3-4 hours anyways.
Also-also, I didn’t want to spend time explaining the premise of the game, since I couldn’t do it justice, so you might want to go watch a trailer or something to get a general idea if you haven’t played it.
1. Her Story is easily the most interesting game I’ve played this year. Not the best, at least I don’t think so, but certainly the most interesting. It does something completely, 100% different from anything I’ve ever seen, and I had no idea what to expect. I have never played a game where I spend most of my time clicking around a lovingly-recreated Windows 95 homage to search through a database of video files to figure out a murder. That uniqueness alone warrants attention. How it utilizes that attention is where the game really shines.
2. I beat Her Story in four hours, and I don’t think I want to replay it. Sure, I can go back and try to find *all* of the video files, but replaying the game start-to-finish might only be interesting once. It is a game that is so damn good at making you figure stuff out, but once you’ve figured it out, it’s no longer as interesting. You already know the answers. That doesn’t make it bad, though. I don’t replay most games. I mean, hey, if you can create an amazing experience that just can’t be replayed much, go for it, because it’s an amazing and unique experience. It is not afraid to sacrifice the greatness of its ideas just so it can brag about replayability.
3. I played Her Story with friends, and I really liked that. We were bouncing plot ideas off each other, freaking out at each plot twist, and discussing new words to search of threads to follow. I loved that communal experience. It was a great game to sit down with a few friends for an evening and just power through. That said, I can see the appeal of playing it alone, feeling more like that woman staring bleary-eyed into her computer screen late in the evening. Maybe the game can be played in two different ways, and that is completely okay.
4. I guess the only complaint I have right now is that I wanted more, and that is a great complaint to have. A few more things to poke around the interface with would have been nice, sure, but I want a 3D modeled room. Maybe that would clash with the game’s style, but I want to feel like I am standing in a dark, detective room, walking around and picking pieces of physical evidence, staring out the window into the rainy streets…yeah, more content costs money, but the ending would have been so much more impactful if we could see our character walk outside into the street and see the shape of the mysterious figure that granted them access to the police system.
5. People talk about non-linear storytelling, but holy shit, is this legit, non-linear storytelling. I don’t even know if I was following paths the developer had set up, or just randomly flailing around. If I was moving down designed paths, then DAMN this developer is a genius, but since I’m pretty sure I wasn’t, then I seriously have to commend him for writing a story that is that modular and mysterious, where every line can be read a million different ways depending on where you are and what you’ve figured out so far. This is probably the most interesting part of the game for me, that this story was created in the order I found it, and that it was made to be experienced that way.
6. You could probably beat Her Story in a few minutes, if you knew what to look for. Once you get that message saying you could leave, there was no gameplay incentive for you to say. And I love that. I’m sick of narrative explorations being contextualized as cold, impersonal game systems. Instead, the developer created some systems and let you explore them. I wasn’t there because of some finely-tuned compulsion loop, I was there because I wanted to learn more. Strip away the cold, explicit systems and you can let the player just be there because they want to be. And damn, did I want to be there.
7. I started playing Her Story around 9:30, and I didn’t stop playing until 1:30. I *needed* to figure out what was going on, and just exploring, being there, was so freaking engaging. I wasn’t trying to get to the end or anything, the core gameplay was fascinating enough. Yeah, on the surface level, I’m just typing words into a search engine, but the fun of figuring out which words to type and the narrative context of investigating police records makes those relatively mundane actions so freaking cool. I didn’t even have time to geek out about the genius of the design, I was just so engrossed in the game’s plot that I didn’t want to think about anything else.
8. The uncertainty that follows every part of that game is brilliant, even more so because the developer didn’t build it right in like you could to a linear plot. Uncertainty is baked into every fragment of the story, because you experience them as fragments. I loved finding something that made me have to rethink everything I had thought of before, to mess up my timeline and start over. I was paranoid, as a good detective story should have me be.
7. Also, I had to take physical notes! I had a text file opened on my computer with a shaky chronology, notes of characters, lists of things to search for next, and a day-by-day breakdown of each interview complete with theories about the important details of each day. It helped me draw connections as I eventually pieced it together, and made me feel like an actual detective! Having the game spill out of the TV and onto my lap was a fascinating experience. It made it feel more personal.
8. So, my mom, dad, professors, and non-gaming friends could all probably play this game. It is accessible as hell, and requires no previous experience in games, but it still demands a *lot* from the player, easily more than your average AAA shooter/action game. You need to engage and think to get something out of it, but you don’t need to have years of experience moving characters in 3D environments. The challenge comes from plot-based problem solving, not skillful digital combat.
9. I still don’t have the answers for all of my questions about the game world, and I love that. There are still things that I am confused about, that don’t make sense, and I think that is perfect. I don’t want to know all the answers. Let’s keep some intrigue!
10. You know, the *feel* of this game reminds me a lot of some of the plays I saw back in high school, like Twelve Angry (Wo)Men, where the plot was always shifting as new details were uncovered. I think this is the first time I’ve *really* experienced that in a game before, getting to be one of those characters on stage. And, this is such a common genre outside of gaming! You would think that someone would have done this before! Someone probably has, somewhere in the FMV adventure games that I’ve never gotten around to playing. But I just love the idea that a tone of media that I loved so much in other mediums is finally being captured in games.
11. I *really* hope this game makes some waves. I want to see more titles like this, titles about digging through information, piecing stories together, and being a goddamned detective! Hey, indie community, can you make this your new DayZ or something?
12. Overall, Her Story just felt cohesive, like everything worked. After game after game after game of having to do boring stuff on my way to the interesting bits, it is so damn refreshing to have a game where I am doing exactly what I want, all the time. And what amazes me about it is that this wasn’t done in some tightly-scripted, cinematic-styled game, it was done in one of the most non-linear games I have ever played. Condensing the experience of a game into a brilliantly designed four hours is commendable in its own right, but the fact that a single developer managed to do this makes me even more excited to be alive and playing games during what is arguably one of the most interesting times in the medium’s history. Her Story makes me excited for the future, because it is a game I never would have imagined, but fell in love with anyways.