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Her Story


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Rating: 4.3/5 (32 votes)
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Her Story

DoraBilled as an interactive narrative, indie mystery sim Her Story, also available for iPad and iPhone, by Sam Barlow, stars actress and musician Viva Seifert as a woman whose husband has gone missing. She was interviewed on tape seven times about his disappearance, and you have it all at your fingertips in clips cataloged in a searchable police database. Just type in your search terms, hit enter, and the computer will pull up all the relevant clips that contain the words you've chosen, or those that have been tagged by you. The directions are minimal, instructions on how to operate the machine in front of you, and the clips you'll pull up are mostly out of order, leaving you to figure out what to search for, in any combination, as you watch clips and piece together the truth. As you search through clips and listen, you'll want to take notes of your own (yes, children, actual, physical notes) of everything from relevant or suspicious dates, peoples, events, and places. But what's relevant and what isn't? Is her casual admission of where she went one evening worth digging into or just a red herring? Does the slight smirk she gives when she mentions someone's name mean something? Her Story unfolds in front of you as you dig deeper, and if you love a good mystery and appreciate a finely crafted tale, you won't want to put it down.

I can remember quite clearly that there was a moment while I was playing Her Story, listening to a clip I'd dug up on a particular search term, when something happened that made my eyebrows shoot straight up. That, I think, is one of the hallmarks of a good mystery story, which is what Her Story is at its core, in addition to a character study. Up until that point, I thought I knew where things were going, and suddenly I was pulling up old clips to double-check comments for contradictions, watching the way she spoke to figure out where to go next. Noticing recurring themes and searching for related words will almost get you farther within the game than actual note taking, but only to an extent, since to get the whole story you'll need to know exactly what you're looking for. The downside is that depending on what you search for, it's possible to stumble across big revelations very early on, and it can be frustrating trying to figure out the right combination of search terms to pull out what you want, especially since you're limited to five clips onscreen at a time, and the game doesn't count "cheat" and "cheated" as the same search term, but "love" will pull up results for "loves".

What makes Her Story fascinating, however, is the way so much meaning can be found in all of these clips, no matter the order you encounter them in. Some are just a few seconds, while others might be a minute or more, and rewatching them after you learn new information can often be eye-opening as you pick up on the double-meanings, the hints, the subtle cues. You're constantly second guessing everything you see and hear... did you miss anything? Have you figured it out now? Or is another clip going to change your mind? Barlow was behind the excellent exercise in storytelling that was Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, a game that made me lay awake after I'd finished it and pick out all the new meaning I could now see in seemingly innocuous scenes and conversations, so the way Her Story is so carefully crafted with layers and layers is no surprise. Viva Seifert's performance is excellent, revealing so much in glances, body language, even fleeting expressions that she'll keep you guessing all throughout. The game's presentation is simple but effective, in the way that it often makes you forget it is a game... there are no timers, no points, no inventories or checklists... just you, the data, and however you manage to uncover it. It's utterly engrossing, the sort of thing you'll sink into like the best sort of book, and fans of crime novels of all sorts will find something to like here. Her Story is a compellingly crafted interactive experience like no other, though one can only hope we see much more like it from its talented team.

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11 Comments

Harrington June 27, 2015 1:38 PM

I can't recommend this game strongly enough. It's a terrifically engrossing experience, and I don't remember the last time a game has stuck with me so much after each playing session. I've got notes and scribbles on about every writing surface reachable from my computer, and I've still only gone through 80% of the videos. For the price - 5 bucks! - it's a no-brainer. One of the best games of the year so far.

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sunnylauren June 27, 2015 5:19 PM

I love mystery games with an air of suspense and horror and a captivating story. But I don't love that so many of them, like this one, cost money. I understand that developers deserve to be paid for their work as much as anyone else, and I understand that for the people running JayIsGames, shelling out $5 for a game isn't a big deal. But some of us are living on a different budget, so my suggestion is this: please make an obvious mark or symbol to place at the top of the review that signifies a pay game. That way players won't have to get their hopes up only to discover a game costs money. I'd rather see that dollar sign and not tempt myself.

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I just finished this game and I was struck by how similar it is, in some ways, to the old game Portal (Activision 1986, not Valve 2007). In both games, the player is trying to piece together a coherent story by unlocking small fragments of initially unrelated information. The major difference is that in Her Story, it is up to the player to isolate those keywords which will turn up the next important piece of video, while in Portal the player needs to figure out which area of the vast and continually expanding database might have turned up newly-salvageable documents related to what's just been read.

While both Her Story and Portal have riveting stories behind them, they do also highlight the weakness of this method of interaction. It is only difficult to solve the mystery in both games because the facts are artificially rationed out to the player in tiny morsels. Of course, that's the whole point, from a design point of view; to give us a feeling of being smart detectives in a murder mystery (or sci-fi mystery in Portal's case), without requiring the huge amount of work necessary to let us truly follow our own lines of inquiry, or sacrificing our suspension of disbelief by just blocking us off arbitrarily. If our reasoning is correct, the next keyword turns up another useful tidbit, while if we're off, the search turns up nothing, but that just means that it wasn't covered in the interviews (or is simply too corrupted to be salvaged, in Portal).

Sadly, the keyword-search-based nature of Her Story's interface does make it possible to blunder into signifigant revelations without meaning to. As a result, I actually got a huge hint on only my fourth search:

I tried "MY NAME", just because I thought that I'd like to get everyone's names straight, including the suspect herself, and this netted me two clips from the final "confession" interview where she gives responses that kind of give away the first twist in the story.

But that's OK, because one of the best parts is definitely, as stated in the review, going back over the clips once you've really solved the mystery, and noticing all the subtle cues that were there all along. Where a pause happens in a sentence, a particular choice of words, a look... it's all very engrossing.

Interestingly, after watching all the clips through in sequence, it looks like there are a few that you will simply never be able to turn up in a normal search (although they're unimportant):

During the "confession" interview, there is a block of several clips in which she gives only one-word yes or no answers, during the lie detector test. Even with the unlock function to allow 15 search results, these clips still do not show up in a search for "yes" or "no". I guess the only way you could see them within the game would be to sit there for a long time using the random function, which is a bit silly. But full points for staying committed to the reality of the game and not only filming those clips, but also including them in the release version.

Overall I think that Her Story is certainly worth the current US$5 asking price.

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Patreon Supporter Nezuji June 28, 2015 12:51 PM replied to Dora

Ha ha, yes Dora, I've been a big fan of the Silent Hill series for years. IIRC I started with 2, then played the original, and then the rest as they came out up to Homecoming. I started Homecoming but just didn't have the heart to stick with it, and I bought Downpour but I don't think I've even tried booting it up yet. I agree, Shattered Memories is definitely one of the best games in the series, because even though it's a pretty big departure from the usual gameplay style, it takes the original story and reworks it with both interesting new plot points and new game mechanics and pacing.

If you'd be interested in a similarly huge twist mixed with some stealth-based action, I can recommend Second Sight. But don't look it up on Wikipedia, as the synopsis there gives away the twist. I found a review on YouTube that pretty much sums up my opinion of the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTt8T2MY6g8

And now two more comments on Her Story. First, in the initial interview, dated 18/6/1994, she talks about Friday, Saturday, and today, indicating that "today" must be Sunday. But that day was actually a Saturday. Small niggle.

Second, talking about the twist I have a theory which I'd like to share (Warning: BIG spoilers):

I think that Hannah and Eve aren't twin sisters, but that Eve is actually Hannah's split personality, who by the end of the interviews, has completely taken over. I'm not sure if this should be obvious and I'm just a bit slow, or if I'm over-interpreting things, or what. In support of this theory:
- The whole Glasgow "proof" doesn't really mean anything, since even if it's actually true (i.e. the two women are physically separate individuals, rather than just Hannah/Eve believing it), the time between Eve's departure and Simon's death would be minimal; probably less than the margin of error in determining time of death after a week during summer in a house described as "stifling", which circumstances apparently had very unpleasant effects on her parent's bodies.
- Eve's tattoo could either be a fake which Eve reapplies at every switch, or a real tattoo which Hannah has been covering with makeup at every switch. Harken to the story of Eleanor's cigarettes, which now may have another signifigance.
- When Hannah taps on the table while she thinks she's alone in the room, she taps out, "LOVEU", but Eve's example when she's explaining the knock code during the "confession" interview is "BYDHANNAN" (probably meant to be "BYEHANNAH", but two numbers are each off by one), which is an odd choice and has no clear meaning in the rest of the story.
- In one of the last clips from the "confession" interview, Eve says, "My sister is gone... and she's never coming back," which is pretty creepy on its own, but in the next chronological clip she continues with, "Can you arrest someone who doesn't exist?" With about two seconds of missing video between these two statements, the interviewing detective would have to be mighty quick to get out, "You're under arrest," much less, "for the manslaughter of Simon Smith," or the police caution and her rights, which would be required by law. That indicates to me that her sentence follows directly on without interruption, implying that Eve's saying that Hannah doesn't exist.

The one thing I can see that doesn't fit neatly with this is Hannah's bruise on the 25th of June. Presumably, this bruise was caused by Simon hitting Hannah during their fight on the night of Friday the 16th. When it's disappeared on the 27th, Eve comments that she heals quickly, and touches the wrong side of her face. This would make sense in a way if they are two separate women, if Eve had seen Hannah's bruise but not thought about her right vs. Hannah's left. The problem with THAT is that after almost 20 years of impersonating each other, one would not expect them to make such a simple mistake.

If Hannah and Eve are literally the same woman, that would mean that either:
- Eve had covered the bruise with makeup for at least the first and third interviews, and virtually deliberately touched the wrong side of her face, or
- The bruise had already healed and Hannah made up a fake one, but Eve still touched the wrong side of her face.

But neither of these seem to make any sense at all. Is it because it's a double-layered performance, and she's subconsciously trying to be "caught" as twins? The "real" Hannah pretending to be Eve pretending to be the "fake" Hannah? Maybe even she lost track of the stories a little at that point.

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Sylocat June 30, 2015 7:38 PM

Nezuji, regarding

the multiple clips where she only says 'yes' or 'no?' The readme doesn't do the best job explaining this, but when you search for a certain word or phrase with quotation marks around it, it only returns results for when that particular phrase is the ONLY thing she says in the clip. So, searching for "no" instead of 'no' will get you the clips where the word 'no' is the only thing spoken in the clip. That's how you find the lie detector clips.

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zer01ne July 6, 2015 6:35 PM replied to Nezuji

Search for "bedsit". 12 minutes before asking "Can you arrest someone who doesn't exist", Eve says "I didn't put down any roots. I don't exist." That's what she is referring to later.

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zer01ne July 6, 2015 6:40 PM replied to Nezuji

Also, "My sister is gone, and she's never coming back" could mean that Hannah escaped town so she couldn't be arrested, couldn't it?

I'm wondering who SB is. Haven't found a name with these initials, or a surname starting with B.

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RolandvonGilead July 8, 2015 4:46 PM

My theory of who is SB and the twins or not:

The lie detector test clears that she is Eve and an other person than Hannah,an individual.Obviously that Hannah killed Simon was an accident because she did not want to kill him although she was heavily jealous.But to hide him was for both necessary to protect the child in Hannah,the later Sarah.Eve manipulated the watch so the police could think that she was in Glasgow at the time. I think all of that was to win time for Hannah to get away and start a new life with a new name and her new child.Eve is not totally down when she confesses,she seems satisfied with the time that could be won.But the way she talks about Hannah is a bit arrogant so perhaps she sacrifices herself to go to jail not for Hannah but for Sarah.So one possibility for S.B is Hannah who must be the mother of sarah who wants her to understand why she did what she did what means what happened to her father and why she/they had to hide him,for her.Possibly Sarah knows the person who is waiting outside,that is not out of possibility.So could be Hannah.Perhaps Sarah hated her mum for not having a father and she wants to beg her pardon and explain why this happened

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Discussing comments by zer01ne and RolandvonGilead:

zer01ne, I did see the video of Eve speaking about having put down no roots and having no real presence in the world (I actually watched all the video segments in order directly from the game's data folder after I "finished" normally, which is how I found those "yes"/"no" clips), and I agree that it would not be surprising for her to make a comment about being unable to arrest someone who doesn't exist, about herself. The thing is that at that point in the interview, the topic of conversation is Hannah (and how she killed Simon), not Eve, and aside from a two second blank for the detective's comment, no-one has changed the subject to Eve's arrest. Even insisting that Hannah and Eve really are twins separated at birth, if Eve believes that Hannah has made a clean getaway, she could still use this phrase referring to Hannah.

So Eve talking about her sister being gone and never coming back could indeed refer to Hannah having fled into hiding, (in fact this is probably what Eve consciously believes, as she does believe that she and Hannah are separate people), but it's an odd choice of words, and could be a hint from the authors/Eve's subconscious, pointing to a dual personality.

RolandvonGilead, a lie detector only shows with reasonable accuracy whether or not a person is consciously lying, not whether or not they are telling the objective truth. Otherwise, we could answer a lot of age-old questions by simply hooking anyone up to a lie detector and asking them if God exists, or if there is intelligent life on other planets. It is possible for a delusional person to answer questions while being tested on a lie detector, and to pass with flying colours while saying things which have been proven beyond doubt to be absolutely false. In my scenario, the reason that Eve fails the question as to her identity is that at that moment, she truly believes that she is Eve, a separate and distinct person from Hannah, even though they actually share (or perhaps shared) the one body.

Also, it is Eve who is revealed to be pregnant at the end of the interviews, not Hannah. Hannah did become pregnant with Simon years ago, but miscarried. Eve became pregnant when she slept with Simon (according to her, the first time they did it, at Hannah's house), which, despite Hannah's denials, was the source of the tension between Hannah and Simon, leading to the argument.

As it happens I've been thinking about Her Story on and off since playing it, and it occurred to me that there is also the problem of Hannah's pregnancy at the same time that Eve was not. Eve having sex with all sorts of men without much care could certainly have contributed to a miscarriage (especially contracting an STD), but it's hard to imagine a woman being "late in the pregnancy" and pretending that she wasn't pregnant. There are some cases of women carrying children to term and hardly showing much of a bulge at all, but it's pretty rare. Then again, Eve may have been delusional enough to simply ignore it as it didn't fit with her story. Her words about getting thinner while Hannah was pregnant somehow reminded me of a anorexia sufferer who believes that they are getting ever fatter even as they waste away.

There's also the possibility that Eve did something on purpose to make Hannah miscarry, because there certainly seems to be a jealousy there, despite what Eve says. There are a few mentions in the final interview of Eve having a desire to somehow "merge" with Hannah to "become one again". The circumstances certainly do allow for (and I would argue even hint at) Eve having killed both Hannah's parents and Frances (if she ever existed), even if they are two, physically separate women.

If Hannah and Eve are dual personalities of the same physical woman, that makes both of them very unreliable narrators, which does make it easy for me to assert that anything in the interviews that supports my theory is true, while anything that doesn't fit easily is a delusion, but in fact I feel that there are a lot of oblique references throughout many of the clips that point to this conclusion, rather than the two women simply being twins.

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