Have You Played… Her Story?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I am late to the Her Story party, because I was determined that I was going to play it with my partner. That’s what I did two weekends ago, and it was as good as I’d hoped.

Her Story is a murder mystery where your investigation is directed via a search box. You’ve been given access to an old police computer system containing clips of a suspect’s interrogation, and must search for keywords to puzzle out whodunit. It’s a clever mesh of mechanic and interface, underpinned by a script that does the impressive work of leading you along a story even when you technically have total freedom to skip ahead.

It’s also a great party game, in its way. I sat at the keyboard while my partner and I both watched the clips and came up with theories and discussed what to search for next. It made the revelations – some of which we worked out early, some of which are soap operatic – more fulfilling for being shared.

A sidenote: I say that I sat at the keyboard, but that keyboard was a virtual one, triggered via the Steam Controller as we played the game via Steam Link. It almost worked.

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Oakreef says:

    Easily my favourite game from last year. Glad there’s a second one on the way. If the sequel is literally the exact same thing but just with a different story and videos I’ll be happy to buy it.

  2. fco says:

    same. me and my ID Channel addicted wife loved it.

  3. Freud says:

    Excellent game and a triumph of game design. It makes the player feel clever despite just being made up by video clips and search words.

    • maninahat says:

      It’s like some walking simulators, in that people assume the limited keyboard use must means that the game doesn’t have a challenge. Really they are a lot more like boardgames, in that most of the interaction is going on up in your brain, with you rattling through data planning on how to win.

    • Premium User Badge

      Philopoemen says:

      Really? I completely missed the drawn out storyline the first time around because I went for the pretty straight forward “alibi” as my first search. The game pretty much told me the ending, after a couple more searches. I didn’t feel particularly clever.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    Yep I did. To me it was a clear evolution of what some puzzle-less I-F games have been doing for the last decades, a bit like the Activision Portal one, but with FMV. The best part of it, anyway, is the style: I love when a game features the “working is fun” mentality with a computer, as with Spycraft.

  5. LaundroMat says:

    I’m interested in the Steam link and the controller. Could you elaborate on that last part where you say “It almost worked?”.

  6. The Bitcher III says:

    Yes – for me nothing in the game was quite as interesting as that many people reached a certain interpretation of the events described. For me, it was a story that dealt with certain topics in a clichéd manner. I found it quite easy not to worry about this, as it had at least a couple of interesting, insightful scenes.

    I was less impressed of the design than some. I took copious and highly organized notes to begin with, but after an hour or so realized that I didn’t have to understand much of anything in order to be able to come up with the required search terms, and follow the straight-ahead psychodrama. I guess I had hoped for progress to require a forensic attention to detail, diving into rabbit holes of truth and lies, poring over symbols and signs to deduce terms that would allow me to leverage the search engine. As I say, this wasn’t the case – I progressed by parroting the topics as they were mentioned.

    • Urthman says:

      I loved “Her Story” and was fine that it really didn’t require much careful note taking (my notes were just the dates of each interview to help me keep track of the chronology and a few random search terms I wanted to remember to try). But I completely agree that I’d love for someone to make a properly difficult game in this format that required much more attention to detail.

      Also, I think the actor deserves a huge chunk of the credit for making this game so good. It’s a melodramatic story, but she really nails the tone needed to pull it off. Sam Barlow either has a great eye for acting talent or got really lucky. With the wrong person this could have been insufferably bad.

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        Agreed about the actress. Lots of people (even here on RPS) have complained about her performance, which is often very over the top. But I think they’re also missing some of the subtleties in her performance, and the idea that her more blustery scenes are intentional misdirections.

  7. Pulstar says:

    What about His Story, eh?

  8. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Other than The Nameless One’s story in PST or piecing together the events of Red Mountain in Morrowind, I can’t think of a game that guides you through so many conflicting but plausible narratives and clues in order to stimulate player interpretation.

    Books, movies and other forms of media certainly ask for interpretation, but only games like these leave the interpretation up to a non-linear exploration- which allows for widely separate contexts to shape that interpretation.

    A really remarkable game.

    • Premium User Badge

      Risingson says:

      ” I can’t think of a game that guides you through so many conflicting but plausible narratives and clues in order to stimulate player interpretation.”.

      Two that pop up in my mind that are much better in this that any of your examples: Sanitarium and The Whispered World.

      • Premium User Badge

        gritz says:

        IIRC, Sanitarium was fairly linear in the way the story unfolded.

        I chose MW because of the way you come across the story of Red Mountain piece by piece, none of it in order, always with conflicting or unreliable points of view. And as you piece that story together it recontextualizes your understanding of the main plot and your character’s purpose in the game world.

        PST does the same thing with recovered memories and unreliable supporting characters in a less-ordered path, and then asks you to reflect on what you’ve seen and what it means to you. (Similar to the question asked at the end of Her Story)

        So it’s not so much the idea of a story being open to interpretation (lots of games do that), but the idea of unordered discovery and how that exploration shapes interpretation in a way that only gameplay can.

        • Premium User Badge

          Risingson says:

          You are right: order, not symbolism.

          Photopia then :D actually, this has been tried many times in i-f and visual novels. Her Story has been the first “mainstream” success.

          • Yglorba says:

            Photopia was actually also completely linear (outside of a very tiny bit of wriggle room within each vignette.) It was actually a bit controversial for this, since it sparked a small trend of on-rails interactive fiction in the IFComps that followed its release, most of which wasn’t nearly as good as it.

            (I suppose it’s a bit amusing that all the arguments over that sort of thing were done long ago in the IF world.)

  9. Lethys says:

    I played but unfortunately could not finish Her Story because the way the game logs videos is insanely cumbersome. You move videos into the horizontal list at the bottom after watching them, and it helps greatly to put them in chronological order, except that the videos can’t be reorganized except for one video at a time. so you click a video, click another, and they swap places. so you can’t just move a video between two. And there’s hundreds of videos. if you try to move a video between two others, it will screw up your whole timeline. so you end up having to click the mouse like seventy to eighty times just to move videos, because there’s tons of clips in this game. some of them last only one word and are extremely important.

    And yes you’re supposed to theoretically keep track of videos with your own keywords, but that’s basically impossible to do. the game is almost just searching for videos in the database, you do it through keywords, and only 5 videos can ever show up from any query. and you can add your own keywords, which is obviously the way the dev intended people keep track of videos.

    but it doesn’t work because you don’t know if your new keywords will trigger more videos, and because you don’t always know the relationship of multiple videos until after having seen many of them (thus not thinking to give them good keywords). so if you made a keyword to tag a particular video and that tag already exists for 5 other videos, it’s actually possible to lock yourself out of that video. so you’d have to split clips into groups of 5 even though there can often be more videos that are related to one another, and give them all new keywords, which there is no “note” section to keep track of in the game client itself (so you’d need a pen and paper to do the game this way) and it’s either that or spend like 5 full minutes moving a single video into chronological order on the list on the bottom of the screen.

    and yes part of the game’s theme is old PC’s, the game takes place on an old OS and computer, but when that gets in the way of enjoyment then it’s just awful. I had to quit 3 and a half hours in because I still had more videos left and my hand began hurting, and I’ve played all manner of click heavy games in my time. but this was among the worst of them in that regard. and a solid game too, if not a little obvious with the clues in some parts. I thought there also should have been a “hard” difficulty that removed a lot of the really, really obvious clues from the game. some were appropriately subtle though.

    • Urthman says:

      I played the game very differently from you. I didn’t use the storage space for clips at all, didn’t add my own keywords to any of the videos, and only came back and re-watched a small handful of videos (maybe 6 or 7 total).

      And I really like that the game didn’t artificially lock away some of the more spoilery videos until later, trusting the story and the act of piecing it together to still be interesting even if you get a really big detail earlier instead of later. For me, that was one of the biggest appeals of this kind of storytelling, that I really can get any bit at any time, and it’s really completely up to me what leads I pursue and in what order I discover things.

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      gritz says:

      I think that you went on something of a fool’s errand.

      Even with the best possible UI and best tools for organizing videos into timelines and keeping detailed notes, you’d find that the story does not lend itself to objective truths and easy answers.

    • malkav11 says:

      You don’t need to do any of that. All you need is somewhere (Wordpad on my laptop, in my case) to note down keywords you’ve tried, and maybe assign tags to a few particularly key videos. I mean, if you want to try to work out a precise and comprehensive timeline of events, etc…you can try, I guess. but that’s not the point and it’s not going to be remotely easy.

  10. HisDivineOrder says:

    Wish I could play it. The game starts. I’m able to open the little txt files in-game. But when I go to play a video, nothing happens. Been true before. True now. Bought it once, found it didn’t work, and I refunded it. Got it again as part of a Humble Bundle, so eh. Videos in-game do not work. On the forums, there are solutions that involve downloading new versions of the videos and replacing them, but that didn’t work, either.

    Game’s pretty broken for me. One solution presented was loading a codec pack, which I refuse to do. No game should require me to load potentially malware-infested codec packs to run.