Starting Her Story, you face a computer screen. Something like from the Windows 95 era. This computer has a program to access confidential, FMV interview files related to a murder case in 1994.
Most games will go to the extra mile to give context, background, a world story before you ever start playing. Her Story – written and directed by Sam Barlow, who previously worked on the Silent Hill series – takes a very different approach, throwing you right in the middle of a situation without any piece of information. You have no idea what the whole thing is about. The whole point of this experience is to figure it out for yourself. You are, in effect, playing the role of a detective.
I will not spoil the game for you. But let me just say that some guy called Simon was found dead, and that the prime suspect is his wife, Hannah Smith. And this is pretty much all you have access to: a bunch of videos taken by the police during the investigation. This is not some kind of privileged, unlimited access however. You are a guest here, and can only view a maximum of 5 video extracts at once, out of hundreds probably. Each extract is around 30 seconds or less. How do you get to unlock new segments? Well, you type your queries using search words on the old-school CRT monitor you are provided with. If the search words appear in the video transcripts, you will get to see such videos in the results.
And this is it. The rest is all about figuring the whole story, like a big jigsaw puzzle that needs to be put together to see the full picture. Her* story.
And this is where we get to a relevant question. Is this even a game? What IS a game? We tend to think of games as having objective, goals to complete. Most of the time with specific rules and techniques. I am not sure Her Story qualifies as a game in the traditional sense. Even visual novels tend to have branching, choices, making you an active actor in your environment. In Her Story, you are actively searching for the truth, but your discoveries will have no impact on anything. It’s purely a narrative experience.
This is not to say it’s not innovative in its own right. There’s nothing in it that could not have been done and produced 30 years ago. I remember the whole wave of first CD games in the early 90s, with their short video sequences and limited interactions. Her Story would have fit perfectly in that era. But nobody thought about making something like that then.
Three elements make Her Story work very well.
One, it’s a detective story. Don’t you want to know what happened? Who killed Simon? And more importantly, why? He seemed like a nice guy…
Two, the writing is sharp. There’s the typical wealth of useless information that you have to fight your way through, with some clever hints here and there. It feels natural, no line seems forced or game-like. You don’t hear the police talk to her at all; just Hannah talking the whole time. Consistent from end to end.
Three, they found the actress to pull it off – the British musician Viva Seifert. You only see her the whole time, and you live the story through her recollections. Even the best writing would not stand a bad delivery, and she nails it from beginning to end.
The journey is short. You will typically find out pretty much everything you need to know within one hour or two, with some added confusion right in the middle. And I call this an experience, and not a game, since there is virtually no point in replaying it once completed. The puzzle will only surprise you once. But at the end, just like after a good meal on an empty stomach, you will end up satisfied and fulfilled.
Don’t we all love something new once in a while?
Making it Run on Linux
Why talk about Her Story now? No reason really. It’s been sitting in my library for a while, and I knew it did not run properly with Proton. It will install fine, but the videos will not show up which makes the whole experience pointless. I had a glimmer of hope with 5.13 came out and announced some better support of video files, but that did not change anything. Instead of waiting, I decided to play it dirty by tinkering with the install. Please wash your hands after the following:
- install or update winetricks in your distro to your latest version
- install protontricks
- make sure you run the game at least once so that Proton will create the default folders required
- in a terminal run the following:
protontricks 368370 ffdshow l3codecx winxp directshow
This command is going to take a while, as it needs to download some large files, so if you had anything else to do now is the time to take a break from your computer while this step finishes. (You will be prompted for options for ffdshow at some point, just select everything).
Once this is done, the next time you run Her Story, you will be able to play it the way it’s meant to be played. Subliminal advertising? No, we don’t do that here.