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The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 18th: Her Story

2015's best FMV game.

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.

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