Her Story demonstrates an interesting and immersive storytelling technique, only possible through an interactive game.
I knew this game was going to be a lot of videos clip watching. But watching video clips does not make a game, and I was curious what that missing ingredients were to make this work. I was not disappointed; Her Story was an interesting experience.
There is no element in this game that tests your dexterity or reaction time, everything is done in a retro, 90's environment in front of a computer screen running what looks like Windows 3.1. Only a few inputs are available to you: the ability to search words, a history of words you searched, add notes to the video clips, and save the clips you think is interesting.
The game doesn't do much to help you, and once the game/story starts you will have to poke around the desktop, read the text files and dig through recycle bin and discover the game mechanics for yourself. Most obviously, each time you type keywords, videos containing those words will appear.
At some point the game thinks you have unearthed enough of the story, by having an entity asking if you are done with accessing the video database, reveal some interesting plots, and some admin commands that you can type to help you with the game. You may decide the game is "finished" for you, but you can continue to poke around the database and play the mini game.
Progress of your investigation is tied to the number of video clips you've watched, and the clip will only show up if you typed the right keywords. A helpful Database Checker window gives you a good idea how many more videos you can watch.
Part of the game interface is a little confusing. I never understood what is the best way to use the feature to store clips in user session. Stored clips are bookmarks, of course. But you can not delete from that list, and you cannot sort nor re-order them. Therefore, soon after I had saved significant number of clips (that I initially thought were important), it became too troublesome to scroll through the saved clips and I stopped using this feature.
Periodically the lights flicker, or a police car drives by and you can see reflection of the character you are playing, who is searching the database. Identity of this person is revealed by the game and adds an interesting touch, I thought, because it relates to what happens to the people in the video clips.
The game will not register partial keywords. So you cannot type some letters and hope to unlock a lot of video clips that way. I liked the mechanical noise made by hard disk seeking. Tense of my verbs also made a difference to the query results.
Difficulty of the game, at least initially was this artificial limit placed on the returned search results. Until you type in the special command revealed to you when you wrapped up the investigation, your terms may fetch a lot of results but you'll only get to see the first five. So you must be more specific with your queries or change your search terms. This encourages the player to really think about what were in the videos and come up with words that may be part of the recorded answer in another clip. And even with the admin command, you are still limited to fifteen returned clips, so you cannot just type a generic word (I tried "I" and got 190 hits). This is especially true because the returned results seems to be sorted chronologically, so you will not see the clips towards end of list in database.
Clues and Video Clips
Majority of story telling depended on the actress in the video clips, and she did a phenomenal job to convey the feelings and to give you just enough hints to come up with the next search term.
In what I think is great planning and scripting, you get search results for everything that you expect, the low-hanging fruits: people's names, dates, feelings, actions (verbs). So the story is always progressing. Some of the clues are a little subtle, like the ones asking about camera recording which, depending on the order you view the clips, adds a layer of depth to the story. Related, the video clips only contains her responses, but player never hears the question. That is neat because the scripted replies allude to the questions, but player doesn't hear a voice that is different from his or her own voice.
A plot twist had me started taking notes and noticing little details about what is in the clips: coffee or tea, clothing, timestamps, accessories, etc. Each discovery made me more invested in the story. This isn't a long game, but after a few hours I felt like I've really understood what happened without the game explicitly telling me so. What you discovered and learned on your own, and the experiences you went through, stay with you forever and it felt rewarding.
The clips in database checker seems to be group together chronologically. After about six hours of playing there is a consecutive block of clips that remained hidden from me. This is where the second admin command comes in. It is rather cruel I think, I don't see how I could have discovered them on my own; only one word in those clips, and searching for those words will turn up so many results that it would be impossible for player to see these missing videos. I guess the developer must have anticipated this was going to be impossible, and so the admin command seems to discover these last videos rather quickly. But it didn't feel right, because rest of the game encouraged thinking and here it is asking me to repeatedly typing one term hoping I'll get lucky.
This mini-game was really fun for me. To unlock one of the achievements, you must play a draw. It is quite interesting, because midway through the match it gets difficult to balance the scores, since for one player to earn points, the other player usually loses points and I find myself constantly adding and subtracting, just doing math. It is a little weird that I am nearly as much time playing this mini-game than the main story, but maybe that says more about me than the game. I think games with few achievements just triggers my OCD.