Thursday, 24 November 2016

Her Story Review

Her Story is an excellent example of video game/interactive narrative done well. Not the first of its kind but definitely an amazing perspective of the medium. That's not even the best part, it goes beyond being a unique experience with impressive narrative and a memorable conclusion, all in resonance with its gameplay elements.

To give a gist of what I adore about this game, let me talk about video game narratives for a bit. Games are a medium, much like film and animation but what sets it apart is the idea of interaction while telling a story/providing an experience. Most games boil down interaction to decision making and branching stories which is fine in itself but the options are ultimately static and very limited at any point. Other games eschew any sort of interactive story telling and restrict it to a challenge, games as a medium for story telling is still at its infancy in contrast to film, animation or books despite years of diversification and expansion as an industry. Very few dare to take a risk from the convention at this point but there have been efforts into pushing the medium further in the Indie scene: Dear Esther, Gone Home etc. unfortunately these games are far too familiar to most of us after numerous first person titles but that doesn't mean they are poor attempts at all, just that they are quite overwhelming in this impatient world that isn't fully acquainted with the idea of environmental story telling. What sets apart Her Story from these is its fresh take on interaction/gameplay - the entire game follows a Windows 95 style UI and a gameplay element we are familiar with not thanks to other games but something we do everyday: searching key words from a data base.

A simple gameplay element and not even impressive on its own but in relevance to the story, its effect is pronounced. With no tutorial or guide at the beginning, game relays its story through interaction, I opened the readme file before I did anything which gave a gist of our task without detracting from the theme/story quickly adding to the immersion but I won't be surprised if people started getting into the meat of it right away (as did my dad).

We get to watch a number of FMV on the interrogation of a woman in bits and pieces. The player is tasked, rather suggested/implied to piece together these bits and pieces they hear from the videos. You don't understand why but you are nonetheless pushed to solve this mystery in hopes that you will. You find more videos as you pick up on what this woman speaks in these videos and search in the data base. What's incredible at this point is that there's next to nothing that detracts you from believing that everything on your screen is short of reality, the suspension of disbelief slides in with little to no effort thanks to the UI, the interactive tools (keyboard and mouse) and the utter lack of videogame-centric hints or information. Every bit of it is in sync with its story. VThere were a few moments that the game does detract but that was only because it deliberately wants to but not that there was a short coming of it, I wasn't aware why as I played but I later came across Sam Barlow's GDC presentation on the game and he mentioned that it gives us a moment reflect the events of the game in our own life.

This was important with respect to how it concluded, it asks for a simple answer, yet one of the more difficult choices I had to make in a video game which felt a lot more intimate than anything I've ever played. I played quite a few games that left me in a bind when it came to decision making but none felt as intimate and personal as this. It didn't matter what sort of outcome the game would have as result of it but the answer it expected would only affect us, as players than the game itself.

Forget the characters of the game, would you be okay with it? Whatever your answer may be, it's alright, perhaps it's what makes you you.