fight for the top 50

Is Her Story One Of The Top 50 Games Of 2015?

by Kimberley Wallace on Nov 27, 2015 at 08:00 AM

Her Story is one of the biggest indie surprises to hit this year. Those who reveled in other popular media, such as True Detective and Serial, found something in this interactive experience that scratched a similar itch. The game is delightfully simplistic: you type keywords into a crime database to find videos that tell a truly demented tale. While that may seem easy enough, the real excitement comes from piecing the tale together yourself and coming to your own conclusions about it. 

As with every year, we assess which games make our Top 50. I didn’t want Her Story to be forgotten, because it’s one of those games that stayed with me long after I played it. Matthew Kato is a big fan of the first season of True Detective, so I wanted him to try out Her Story and hear his thoughts. Find out if he’s a supporter in our conversation below.  

Kim: I had been following Her Story before it released because I liked Sam Barlow’s work on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. I played it right away, so I didn’t have any hype going into it. From the onset, I loved how simple and different it was. What made you interested in trying Her Story? How much did you know about it going in?

Kato: I had not heard anything until I saw that you gave it such a good score. After that I was drawn to the fact that an important part of the game was this one actress' performance. I thought, “If she could pull that off for a whole game, that’s gotta be worth seeing.” I didn’t need much more than that.

Kim: It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a game pull off FMVs. Part of the fun is that you’re transported to the ‘90s in Her Story. The Minesweeper game on the computer was a nice touch, but you bring up a good point. I felt the actress did a really good job with her mannerisms and having subtle changes in her tone of voice. Every video had this subtext for you to read and pick up on that always gave you the feeling that there was more to what she was saying. I think subtext is really hard to pull off, especially in a video game, but here it really thrives. What did you think of her performance and how it sold the tale?

Kato: I thought she did really well in both establishing a tone from a gameplay sense even though you’re jumping to all these different clips of her taken from different interviews. Her performance is seamless in a sense, but nuanced enough when it needs to be for the plot’s sake. I had an issue with the game in the later stages where I felt like I had come up against a wall, but I loved the way in which the title sort of signaled that the end of the story was coming (none of which we're going to go into for obvious spoiler reasons). In the games you’ve played, have you ever come across an ending like that?

Kim: The ending kept me thinking long after I put the game down. I ended up getting into debates with friends over it. I feel like that’s a sign of a good game... One that leaves you with one last question to ponder. Things are wrapped up enough to give you a sense of what happened, but then you still have doubts. I imagine that’s how a real detective feels, even when you’re so sure you know what happened, there’s always a little voice that wonders differently. The end also came with its own surprises, like the story had to leave me with one last thinking point. I get where you’re coming from with feeling like you hit a wall. In fact, I opened up every path possible before the end. I didn’t want to miss a clip because I kept thinking, 'What if one small clip holds a detail that turns this whole thing on its head?' The fact I was that engaged made me feel like the game did its job. Did you find the ending satisfying? 

Kato: I did. When I hit the wall I felt like the game’s mystery was being sucked out of it as I kept trying different keywords to “unlock” the ending. Then afterwords I realized how brilliant it was because the keywords tied into this concept we have of how an ending should be, and what it means to end a story, game, or whatever. Like you said, you approach the game like a detective, but you’re really only misleading yourself. In that sense, the title does a great job of being a game, having an amazing performance by this actress, and being a multi-level think piece all rolled into one.

Kim: As someone who didn’t know much going in, what did you think when you first started the game? Did you find it bizarre? As far as the gameplay goes, how did it feel just to be typing keywords? I thought it was something I’d get bored of, but like you mentioned above the keywords held more weight than you’d think. I also enjoyed paying attention to clips in a new way to find a keyword. For instance, if she said a name, place, or thing, I’d use it as keyword right away. It’s not so much the gameplay that delighted me, but those “aha” moments where you look at the story in a new light based on a clue. I think this is another game that challenges people’s expectations of what a game can be; it is a compelling way to tell a story and let you be a part of the experience, doing the detective work. 

Kato: I started out pretty meticulously taking notes, which definitely helped, but as I got into the flow of things I felt the game does a good job of offering plenty of keywords you could search through both in service of the story as well as just to round out the character and the story. I’ve since seen a list of all the keywords, and it’s crazy the amount of work Sam put into the game. It’s well worth it.

Kim: Obviously, I really enjoyed the game as I wrote in my review. It was such a different and refreshing experience. But what were your overall thoughts? Did it reach your expectations?

Kato: It exceeded them, actually. It’s certainly a mystery game at heart, but that aspect of it really wasn’t what I liked it for. Piecing things together is satisfying, and when all was said and done I had plenty of lingering questions, but I was more pleased with the overall structure of the game – and I’m not just talking about some twist here or there. I liked how the flow of the whole title takes into account your actions, although it’s not a game about player choice per se.

Kato’s Verdict: I was impressed with Her Story, and think it definitely deserves to be in the Top 50 list. I think it tells a good story, actress Viva Seifert sets the mood, and it’s one of those games that calls into question our very notions of what a game or even a story is, and does so while retaining an intriguing gameplay framework.

For more on Her Story, check out our chat with Sam Barlow about its creation.