NYMVG: Her Story

Few other video game genres were as ubiquitous in the 90s as FMV games, and few others were forgotten as quickly. With the advent of CDs and 3D game engines, video game makers could finally begin crafting worlds only limited by two dimensions – worlds you could actually explore to the fullest. Problems started appearing when they actually wanted to tell stories set in them. Available technology didn’t allow for the most expressive faces, but many game makers found a way to solve that problem. Since they couldn’t render believable human faces, they hired actors to act out the script and just added the films in-between the interactive bits. After all, they finally had all the space they needed to fit them, having moved from 2.88 MB floppy disks to a much larger capacity of a CD. Thus a full-motion video, an FMV, was born.

Do you know what Sturgeon’s Law is? It is an adage that says that 90 percent of everything is crap. Nowhere is it as true as in the FMV genre. There were good FMV games – Wing Commander III and IV, Gabriel Knight 2: Beast Within. Realms of the Haunting, The Command & Conquer series. The Tex Murphy games, SpyCraft: The Great Game. Those were few and far between, and had one thing in common – they used live action scenes as a tool to enhance the game and/or the story instead of being the main draw of the title. Some of those aforementioned games also had some actually good actors - Wing Commander is a particular standout with its all-star sci-fi cast (including Mark Hamill), as is SpyCraft, which starred former heads of the CIA and KGB. Many other titles, however, were atrocious games and most of the time, also had terrible actors acting out awful scripts to amateurish directing. There’s a reason that the most fondly remembered adventure games of that period were made by LucasArts (may they rest in peace), which completely ignored the FMV phenomenon.

Thanks to that, the genre died almost as abruptly as it came to life, with only a few games popping up over the years. But in 2015 we had an actual flood of FMVs – two whole titles were released! And both were actually good! At least I assume so, having only played one of them. Until Dawn is a PS4 horror game, and while I’ve never read a bad review of it, I can’t actually vouch for its quality, since I don’t own that console.

The other game is Her Story, an award-winning title by Sam Barlow, in which we find ourselves searching through a police database, investigating a case. We have seven interviews conducted by the detectives in the summer of 1994. However, following a flood the database has been corrupted, and the clips from the interviews were scattered and the ones with the detectives’ questions are unavailable. This leaves us only with answers given by the interviewed woman, questioned about the death of her husband.

We discover the events by searching the database, which provides us with videos where a searched word or phrase are spoken by the interviewee. We only get the 5 earliest clips where they appear, so to get deeper and gain access to new videos we need to be creative and perceptive, actually play the role of a detective. This means the story gets told in a non-linear way, as we have no control over what pieces of information we get and how important they are. What might have been a pretty straightforward and linear game turns into an actual interesting detective game with different paths to getting to the truth. Even after searching through the database and finding every important clip, everyone will have reached different conclusions from what they saw.

None of this would matter if not for Viva Seifert’s performance and the strength of the script. Viva wonderfully portrays the interviewee, leaving enough hints to her characters motives, while also allowing for different interpretations of her words and actions. There are some moments where the character unnaturally reacts to the detectives questions, as if she knew that someone might one day play through the interviews with only her words as context. But it’s a necessity, without which it would be hard to make any sort of sense from her answers.

Her Story is one of the few well-crafted crime stories in gaming history. While by now you can find all the clips edited in their correct order on YouTube, I recommend playing through the game yourselves. It’s one of the best indie titles which came out last year and well worth the time spent.

Her Story is available on Windows, OS X and iOS.

Dominik Zine is a nerdy lad from northeastern Poland and is generally found in a comfy chair with a book in hand.