The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 18th: Her Story

What is the best FMV game of 2015? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games from throughout the year, and behind today’s door is…

Her Story!

Alec: I’ll write elsewhere about the oddness of spending so many hours with MGSV only to move in dissatisfaction before its conclusion, but Her Story is the polar opposite. A game which lasted just a handful of hours, but to which I will never return because it’s too complete.

When we voted it our game of the month earlier this year, we immediately ran into a problem: we all liked it, even loved it, but could find little new to say about it. Return visits didn’t yield new fruit (though, crucially, they also didn’t diminish what came before). Even though a crucial lingering question remained – was there two or was there just one? – in the absence of an overt answer being given, we were entirely happy to choose our own explanation and embrace that as the truth.

And so we were satisfied. Too satisfied, perhaps, but in a time when most any big game elicits articles, videos and comments bemoaning an unconvincing or insufficient ending, let’s celebrate that.

Her Story is such a complete game; it spins a tale, it stars a human being, it shows her pain and her ingenuity, and it enables us to feel as though we were the ones who figured it all out – even though the truth, of course, is that almost anyone could bludgeon their way to the truth before too long.

I propose another award, then: 2015’s most complete videogame.

John: I loved Her Story. I thought it was really very clever, a juicy mystery, and such a novel way to present a game. And I remain just as amazed that it was able to so cleverly present itself such that I didn’t accidentally ruin the game by typing in a search term too soon. I did type them in too soon, but the cunning editing meant the response only confused and was dismissed, rather than spoiled the surprises to come. That took some doing.

I loved Her Story, but I loved it with a reservation that other RPSers didn’t have. I found the main character’s acting really troublingly unconvincing. And not in a way justified by the “oh but what about the twists?” The super-ra-ra-RADA performance undermined the nature of the person she was supposed to be, and far too often felt stilted. It reminded me far too much of a student film where fellow filmmakers were used instead of actors. Or an am-dram theatre production where the actors have been told to ENUNCIATE rather than act. All that sighing, flopping of hair, and sighing again, felt like something that should have been followed up with an unenigmatic, “Oh no. The monster from the lake I never thought I’d see again is here again.” Before she is sliced in two by a guy in a fancy dress shop costume.

But still, I loved it. I loved that I made pages of notes, and even drew a mind map, in my efforts to piece it all together. And more than anything, I desperately wish there were more games like this. Not copycats, but games experimenting with different ways to present themselves, trusting the player to be smart, and not relying on games that have gone before.

Pip: I loved Her Story. Perhaps that’s not a surprise. After all I love crime fiction, fairytales and I nearly became a librarian. Her Story is crime mystery crossed with a fairytale which relied on database management for you to unravel it.

What I liked most about the game was that aside from keeping track of the words I used in order to find all the video fragments I didn’t set out to keep track of what was going on with the story properly. As a result a lot of the revelations got fuzzy around the edges as I spent more time exploring. Perhaps there’s a definitive answer to how everything unfolds but my version was a lot looser. When I run through it in my head now the main points are there and the finer detail is a bit more flexible.

I loved talking to friends who played it and finding out how they’d interpreted the videos and the level of certainty they had over particular things. Some approached it like there was a specific set of facts to pin down or uncover. Others were more like me and were happy for it to be rougher, less exact. I liked hearing those differences. It was like finding variations on a favourite folk tale.

Adam: I’m with Pip here. Her Story wasn’t about finding the truth of a story, it was about the impossibility of finding a truth. Or perhaps the invevitability of finding your own truth; the truth that suits you as a spectator rather than anything concrete and provable.

The story, and the malleable structure, both allow for a knot of threads to develop and pulling at a loose end sometimes causes the whole thing to pull tighter. I found it to be a game that’s as much about the certainties that develop in peoples’ minds as it is about the crime itself and you can read more about that angle in my huge interview with creator Sam Barlow.

One aspect that is easy to miss is the wit in the writing. The interface itself becomes a source of amusement as certain keywords lead to clips that play out as a direct response to the thinking behind the entry of those keywords. The video clips speak directly to you across the years, responding to your desire to pull back the curtain and discover the juiciest and darkest of details.

Go here for more of our picks for the best PC games of 2015.

21 Comments

  1. Laini says:

    My browser is acting weird, cos this seems to be text about Her Story and not Contradiction as it should be.
    Although maybe that ought to be a contender for funniest game now I think about it.

    • Funso Banjo says:

      Oh boy, was Contradiction ever a bad game.

      If there was an RPS calendar entry for disappointment of the year, Contradiction would be a very strong contender.

  2. gbrading says:

    Say what you will but Contradiction! is a close second. ;)

  3. Premium User Badge

    John Walker says:

    Contradiction was a giant mess, broken in both tech and content, that ended without wrapping up 90% of the story threads. Nice acting, but a disaster of a game.

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

  4. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    I have to say, while the writing itself and particularly the way some keywords are carefully dispersed through the script is ingenious, I think the actual story could do with a lot less ingenuity. There are far too many weird contrivances and moments when suspension of disbelief feels nearly impossible. Maybe chasing story ambiguity AND fractured non-linear narrative was one rabbit too many. I don’t know.

    It’s a remarkable clockwork, but the story left me mostly cold and confused.

  5. Palimpsest says:

    I hope you have a ‘best racing/driving game’ because I think everyone here should know how good Dirt Rally is.

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      They pick the games and then choose categories for them afterwards.

  6. Phil says:

    Loved Her Story. The ambiguity was perfectly judged, plus the way the whole thing is a retelling of the story of the twa sisters (which is told by the song she plays in the middle of the game) was a nice piece of self-referential story telling.

    (Viva Seifert’s performance as “Her” was perfectly judged too – just the right balance between the various possible interpretations as you try and work out what on earth is supposed to be going on.)

  7. Stupoider says:

    The Curfew, anyone?

    The acting in Her Story didn’t really do anything for me

  8. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Loved it. Her Story and LiS tie for GOTY in my worthless opinion. Both deeply affective, hauntingly original/wonderful games.

    Her Story made me take notes like I was in undergrad. Fantastic.

  9. blind_boy_grunt says:

    I loved it. I loved the staginess, but for me in the end it didn’t come down to the question of what “really” happened but does she believe her story or not. A psych-evaluation vs. a criminal investigation. Which was a bit sad, because it takes away some of the fairy-tale atmosphere.

  10. technoir says:

    I didn’t like it that much. As much I love to see people experiment with interactive narrative, the actual story being told here was just too preposterous for me to take seriously. It’s great that there’s many ways the mystery can be “solved”, but it’s a shame that none of them really make any sort of sense.

    • anHorse says:

      I’d agree with this sentiment

      The less of the story I’d unravelled the more I liked the game, I started off really interested and finished the game annoyed.

      Not because of the mechanics but simply because of the story being told

    • malkav11 says:

      They make perfect sense. It’s a coherent, carefully constructed narrative that hangs together in pretty much every detail. I’m guessing what you’re actually objecting to is the fact that it’s extremely unrealistic and implausible. And, I mean…it is. That just doesn’t bother me. First of all, it’s okay for a work of fiction to present a scenario that’s not actually possible, and secondly, the scenario Her Story presents isn’t impossible but merely very unlikely. And stranger things have actually happened. But it’s okay to have wanted something more grounded, certainly.

      • ChrisGWaine says:

        I have a different stance in defense of it: the way I see the game, it’s not simply about finding out what her story is, but about whether you believe her story. If a woman in a police interview comes out with a preposterous story, the upshot of which is that she didn’t commit the crime she faces being charged with, do you believe her? What I find interesting is that I think the way it’s presented, the fact that the player initially works toward uncovering that story, leads the player to not contextualize it that way and be more likely to believe she’s telling the truth.

    • Phil says:

      I eventually decided that the game was really a re-telling of a piece of folklore. It didn’t have to make complete sense in the modern world precisely because it wasn’t meant to be completely realistic in the first place.

  11. Ben King says:

    I really enjoyed the work hunting searching part of Her Story, and I totally enjoyed the actress and her acting but man oh man was the story ever just the most cornball daytime soap opera schlock ever… I was 100% on board early on as I uncovered the basic outlines of the biggest twist in the game, but as the drama and word play got more and more elaborate and silly I felt as though I had just flushed an hour of my life away watching a daytime soap opera. Or-or this is a WAY BETTER analogy, but harder to get across: Playing Her Story felt like watching the WORST episode of your FAVORITE tv series. Remember the disappointment you felt after watching the “Black Market” episode of BattleStar: Galactica? Yeah.

  12. Monggerel says:

    Another fine Sam Barlow production.
    Like Aisle or Shatmems.

  13. ansionnach says:

    Haven’t played this. Interesting to read all the opinions. No way to know without paying up and experiencing it first hand, but I’m often suspicious of games held up as having a great narrative by any yardstick.

  14. Von Uber says:

    me and the other half spent a very enjoyable 3 hours or so doing this together, complete with a pad of paper with various clues and keywords written down.

  15. caff says:

    Really liked Her Story, but one of the puzzles frustrated me beyond belief – the tapping one. Let’s just say I was attempting to interpret morse code…