This is a rather difficult review to write, in good part because calling Her Story a game may be questionable. It’s an interesting experiment, an interesting use of the medium, and there is something to do and progress if you do it right. Unlike a fair number of others which are clearly games, there’s even a point where it may be considered “completed”, which will typically come after the moment when you get the option to “finish” it, so there’s an end state as well. So it meets the criteria, more than a number of others do, but… Perhaps it’d be more accurate to say that it’s difficult to talk, or in this case to write, about it as one would about a game? Yes, that seems like a better way to put it…
Even though you’re thrown straight into it, after only a plain title screen, the fact that you see a relatively normal desktop should make the interface familiar enough for anyone, and specific instructions are in files anyone should know to read. Of course, I keep seeing that the typical user doesn’t read, which continues to baffle me, but one may get away with it even so, maybe finding a few specific functions on their own later, maybe sticking to the basic ones and reaching the end state even so. A few things need to be discovered by the player anyway, and that only requires doing things one would normally do when looking for something on a desktop.
Speaking of additional features, there is one which is a nice touch, and possibly also a clue, but saying more about it may count as a spoiler so I won’t. Other than that, it’d have been dreadful if videos you didn’t watch wouldn’t have been marked, so it’s a good thing they are. And having the date and time in the corner of each and readable in the thumbnails as well may also prove particularly useful at times. That may also be the case for the search history, though I personally didn’t use it. One option I did use, on the other hand, was the filter that does away with the “old monitor” look and makes the image look as it would on a more modern one. Some may see the default look as part of the atmosphere, but for me the “old VHS” quality of the videos, which can’t be improved, was bad enough and I didn’t want to put up with more if I could avoid it, so it’s a good thing that option exists, even if it seems to come at a slight cost.
But the entire game, if it may indeed be called one, relies on those videos and on the performance of the actress, which is indeed excellent. I wouldn’t call it flawless, but maybe the flaws one may spot and, perhaps even more so, the exaggerations aren’t mistakes, but there for a very good reason, clues in themselves. Or maybe not, but the whole is too good to make that not only possible, but highly probable. And, as a side note, while some seem to have found it out of place or at least too drawn out, I quite enjoyed the bit where she sings.
Also particularly commendable is the fact that they managed to make the whole thing work and make sense, inasmuch as any of it does, despite the fact that the player may discover answers in any order and doesn’t get to hear any of the questions. And yes, I can confirm that you can discover every last one of the 271 videos, which have a total play time of just over one hour and 35 minutes, without cheating in any way. A few may prove difficult and a short series, which is irrelevant anyway due to the missing questions, requires the use of a certain search function, but they are indeed all possible to unlock by playing normally.
All of this requires a script that was very carefully constructed, and that’s on top of the complexity of the case itself, all the stories told and the fact that it needs to provide at least some motivation to continue searching even if you may well find what may be the most relevant answers early on. Sometimes pulling all of it off does come at the cost of some answers not sounding quite natural, but that happens less than one would expect, considering everything, and once again I must point out that some of these apparent flaws may not be mistakes. As such, to use terms quite appropriate considering the matter at hand, there’s sufficient reasonable doubt to make it difficult to build a strong case claiming that any of them are.
That said, it’s difficult to point out actual flaws in general. The fact that the time doesn’t skip as much as it should between answers, especially in a few particular places, is an odd slip though. And one feature I clearly missed was the ability to automatically sort the videos added to the current session in chronological order. You can drag them manually, but doing so is so terribly tedious, also due to how few thumbnails can be viewed at once, that if you want to watch them in order inside the game you may be better off just scrolling through them and looking at the time stamps. Plus that, while I did this a few more times before giving up and it didn’t happen again, the first time I changed the position of a video I saw that it moved back to its original place once I added a new one to the session, so even that tedious manual sorting may not work as it should all the time.
Still, that may not be that much of a problem if you consider how you can easily watch all the videos, preferably after unlocking them in the game if you don’t want to cheat and spoil it for yourself. So the one real problem that I really want to point out is actually the one that’s certainly completely intentional and perhaps even the main point of this experiment, and by that I mean the lack of an actual conclusion. You can “complete” the game when you find all the videos and you can “finish” it when you choose to do so, after you find enough of the important ones for the game to offer the option, but the only thing you’re left with is the conclusion you arrived at yourself, if you arrived at one at all. Just like you don’t hear the investigator’s questions, you don’t see the conclusion of the investigation or anything else to tell you what actually happened, what the right answer is. You are asked the question, or at least one of them, but the game can’t know, and therefore can’t check, what you mean by saying yes.
So, is Her Story interesting? Yes. Is it an actual game? Probably, but definitely not in a typical sense. Is it worth playing, experiencing directly, as opposed to simply doing a quick search for the videos and watching them all put together, in order, if you’re curious about it? Maybe… Or maybe not. Only you can answer that for yourself… Which is perhaps the only proper way to conclude a review for a game which asks the player to draw their own conclusion, isn’t it?