Fascinating, dark, and lovely, Her Story offers you the experience of gradually piecing together a complex, layered narrative as you scrabble through a fragmented database of video statements one search term at a time. The woman who is their solitary subject is the only source of testimony available, and the challenge of assembling something which satisfactorily resembles truth while questioning her veracity and motives is deeply compelling. Multiple thematic symbols and threads gently hint towards one conclusion or another depending upon your subjective predispositions, but your interpretation is one that will remain open—as well as uniquely yours, since no other player shared the same process in reaching it.
Actress Viva Seifert carries the entire game on her shoulders. Her performance never feels cinematic but rather believably human, full of false starts and fidgets that vitally color her words. She is presented through a wonderfully interlaced and dusty recreation of VHS tapes' look—and sound, as well, with the dull tocking of a wall clock audible behind the poor acoustics of the recording, which render subtitles invaluable, even to someone like me who generally abhors them. All of this aesthetic design takes place within a classic '90s desktop that perfectly establishes the context needed to let you feel like a modern-day true-crime historian.
The occasional bits of music that play over the ambient noise of the fluorescent ceiling lights gloriously reflected off the screen create a warm—if melancholy—tone that puts me in mind of Gone Home, a very different vibe than might be expected of a murder investigation; it went a long way towards getting me in the frame of mind necessary for empathetically thinking about these characters' lives. Flashes of facial reflection on the surface of the simulated computer monitor did the rest as they prompted me to wonder about my own role and the personal meaning that this mystery might hold.
Some have complained about the archive's limitation of displaying only five search results at a time, but I would argue that this is the essential obstacle which sparks the player's interaction; without it, these records would be laid bare and the puzzle would lose the novel structure that makes it so intriguing. My one objection to the interface is that the videos saved for reference are too difficult to organize. Swapping them around would not be too terrible in itself if only there was a way to prune clips that are no longer needed; as it is, the collection only ever grows and so eventually becomes cumbersome. (Update: The ability to delete videos that have been saved to the user session is being added to the game.)
However, this small issue is hardly a blemish on the game's accomplishment. Her Story is very special, and I am gratified by the critical attention it has quickly received; it is already clear that it will be a lasting influence on game designers. Players who enjoy the game and yearn for more would do well to search out Christine Love's free title Digital: A Love Story, of which I was reminded in more ways than one, as well as Barlow's classic work of interactive fiction, Aisle.
This review can also be viewed and rated on Steam.