He said, she said, FBT said.
They say there’s three sides to every story; yours, theirs and the truth. But in Her Story, the truth is dependent on what you discover.
Set sometime after 1994, our character is seated at a computer and given access to recordings related to the death of a Simon Smith. All the recordings appear to be police interviews of Hannah Smith, Simon’s concerned wife. It’s up to you, by searching the video database via keywords and phrases, to piece together who murdered Simon.
The 90s setting is so well done for saying we’re only ever seeing Hannah in interview rooms. Her hair, make-up and clothes are pure nineties, as is the interface and Windows 95-like PC screen, down to a minesweeper-style game and those text-based viral emails we all used to send on for luck. This is great fun. I mean, this is serious, there’s been a murdah!
It took me forever to get around to playing Her Story. I wasn’t really up for watching videos of someone talking. It seems too experimental, too much like arty hipster anti-gaming for me. And at first, it seemed I was right. It’s like watching rehearsals for The Bill.
But as I half-listened, I suddenly caught an inconsistency in her story. I typed it in and got more clips, where I picked up other asides and comments. Before I knew it, I was actually making real notes on a real notepad like a real cop. Snippets, remarks, references became gold I was mining for, anything that just didn’t quite chime and I was on it, building my case.
Out of nowhere I’ve become Inspect Frost as I dig into Hannah’s background. You can search any word, but only five videos can be displayed so if you get more results, you need to refine – much like the days of Alta Vista and AOL, you need to know what you’re after. There’s no auto-complete, no ‘did you mean’. I make a connection, type them and see what I get. Sometimes it’s relevant to my line of enquiry, other times it throws up something new. I’m typing in ‘Simon’ and ‘Barmaid’ and getting into the nitty gritty. Hannah totally did it.
Or did Hannah do it? Just as I think I’m about to close the case, I pick up on something – and my whole theory is blown apart. I find refs to a Ouija board and a clip where Hannah taps on the desk like she’s sending a message, then seems to respond to it. Oh…
This is a surprisingly gripping game. It did seem daunting at first, I just couldn’t be arsed with typing in murder, murderer, murdah, but I become obsessed, dwelling over her every word and body language, feverishly typing, going back and trying combinations, desperate to tease out a lead. The only issue I have with Her Story is me; or rather, my spelling. I couldn’t find any clips related to the Ouija board until I realised I was spelling it with a Q. Didn’t Win-95 have a spellcheck?
It becomes tense when she mentions something you were hoping for, backing up your theory. I have new-found respect for investigators trying to keep to a narrative while storing away seemingly insignificant mentions. I need to resolve what happened in Glasgow! She said she stayed in a layby, but then mentioned a B&B. She knew all the landmarks but not the road name? That’s it, don’t lose this thread … what happens when I search ‘sex’?
It’s a pure detective experience; even games like LA Noire with their interrogation sequences can’t hold a candle to the raw simplicity of this. It’s the lack of crime-scene investigation that gives it the edge. It’s just you, breaking down her interviews; this all happened in the past, you just have those clips to go on - is she truthful, lying, manipulating? Does she want Simon’s murder solved, is she trying to discover what the police know? No hints, no partner to guide you; you generate the clues, the hunches, direct your investigation.
Eventually, enough clues will lead you to the resolution. The how and the why though ... Although Simon’s fate is a little hokey, getting there was brilliant. And at that point you can close the case. But by then I didn’t want to. A tracker shows how many files you’ve reviewed, and I stayed for hours trying to access them all, feeling I’d not gotten to the real story. They say cops shouldn’t become attached to their suspects but I’d started filling in the blanks, projecting onto Hannah, deciding what happened rather than confirming it.
And, given the nature of the game and the fact that we only have those video clips, even the resolution is open to interpretation. You can be sure what happened to Simon (I think) but not sure what Hannah’s really telling you. Much like a real investigation, you just need to satisfy the case, but it’s the questions that don’t have answers that make you stick around.
Her Story is available on iOS and Android, which is the perfect place to play it. We’re all used to watching short content on our phones, flicking through YT or FB videos that are vaguely connected by history or tags. But here you’re the one making the connections, trying to maintain a narrative and figure out what the real story is.
Her Story is an absolute must-have game; I’m just watching a single camera focused on a lone woman and I’m on the edge of my seat, excited when a shot-in-the-dark search yields new footage – this is it, I’ve got it! But it also gets emotional as Hannah’s story unfolds – or unravels, depending on what you uncover. You’re invested. If nothing else, it’s worth playing just to discover how easy it is to draw your own conclusions and invent a truth. And realise how bad at spelling you are. “Atic – no files found” really? Sure she said to look in the attic.