Sam Barlow, the main designer for both Silent Hill: Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, released a game in 2015 that drove the gaming world a bit batty. Along with Undertale, Sam Barlow's Her Story received a good deal of awards and accolades, and was the newest great enemy of gaming for a good while. It sold over 100,000 copies by the end of the year, got high marks from gaming publications all around, and even stole a few awards.
It's all a bit surprising. Her Story isn't a bad game by any means, but it really doesn't deserve the reputation it has gained. It doesn't break new ground or even do anything that particularly interesting. That said, there are some reasons why the game did so well and got so much praise, and it's all built into its simple design.
Her Story casts you as someone at a police station going through the archived interviews, in which detective audio has been completely wiped. All that's left are the video and audio of a major suspect in a murder in 1994, a mysterious woman who was interviewed multiple times. Your goal is to piece together the truth from these video clips and figure out what happened in that case of '94, though it's not revealed till the end why your character is trying to do this.
Unlike the tightly structured Gone Home, Her Story gives you free reign to piece together its narrative without a clear path to follow, much in the same way as Analogue: A Hate Story. You type in key words into a search engine and play the video clips that pop up, keeping track with a database on the monitor that shows you what you've seen and in chronological order. Unseen videos have little eyes on them. You can also store videos you feel are important in a little playlist and tag videos so you can find them easily in future searches. The trick is to use words and phrases you see in the video to find the clips, along with narrowing down searches with multiple words and phrases. You can only see the first five clips in a search, and they're always the earliest chronologically, so you have to get creative for later clips.
This is the game's big trick. It makes you feel like you're solving a mystery and doing leg work to do so. It's not a bad trick, it worked wonders for Analogue, but it backfires here on completion plays because the script is nowhere near as good. In some ways, Her Story can be compared to a Lifetime original movie. The actual mystery at the heart of the game is ridiculous once you stop and think about it, and the game gives you a lot of time to do that because of how dull many of the clips are. After awhile, you're just treading old ground or watching short, pointless clips in hopes that you can find something with meat at some point. There's an hour and a half of cinematics in this game, and only about a third of it is of any real interest. It does not help how cheesy some clips are, or how out of place they can feel. The two song clips are especially awful, and I think even the actress was aware of that. It's like someone put a silly outtake in the final game for poops and giggles.
Despite these script issues (seriously, how did this come from a man who wrote for the Silent Hill games?) and failure for the design to really compliment the rest of the game, the acting is quite good. Viva Seifert is basically putting on a long one woman show, and she does it well in spite of the material she has to work with at times. She really disappears into a new mood with every new interview set, doing especially impressive work in the late clips. Once you notice the twist, it makes her performance all the more impressive with how convincing it is and how well it misdirects you. She's the one element of this game that really deserves all the praise its gotten, and she almost elevates the poor material.
Unfortunately, Her Story just can't come together properly most of the time, and when it does, what it becomes is a rather sub-par daytime drama. It has style (the old monitor and glare effects really do add a lot), it has interesting ideas, and it has a strong framework for a great game, but that bloody writing. Her Story is a solid curiosity pick-up (especially for its short length of two or three hours), but you might be better off with Analogue. It may not have movies, but its writing actually feels cohesive and a tad fresh.