Her Story has you trawling an archive of police interview footage to unravel a murder that only gets stranger the more you watch. It makes for a puzzling—and utterly fascinating—montage that won’t be the same for any two players. The fractured structure comprises hundreds of pieces of FMV which you cross reference for clues (and make your own logical leaps) in order to unpick what happened to the game’s leading lady, who’s also the only character you see on screen.
In a post- Serial, post-True Detective world, it’s already a worthy achievement that Her Story has found a new way make the police procedural, one of the most well-worn genres in storytelling, seem compelling. Much of Her Story’s novelty rests on the quality of Viva Seifert’s remarkable performance, but the ambiguity of its narrative—and its insistence that players resolve it for themselves—goes a long way toward making this one of the most original and peculiar games I’ve come across.
In this edition of ‘If you like...’, I look at films, a novel, and a comic series that share some of Her Story’s mysterious DNA. Crime is a common thread in this list, but more importantly these works all present stories that resist easy answers and tidy conclusions.
Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan
It might be tempting these days to look back at Memento as simply the beginning of a spectacular directorial career, but at the time of its original release, the film’s high concept was the big talking point. Its non-linear take on memory loss, regret, and truth remains haunting and spectacular. The basic premise involves Leonard Shelby, a man unable to store short-term memories. His solution is to write notes to himself and has (supposedly) important bits of information tattooed on his body. Ostensibly working to track down the man who raped and killed his wife, Leonard—and the audience—get caught up in a story that’s as tough to pin down as it is intriguing.
Complicating matters is the structure of the film, which is split into two separate time sequences. Much like Her Story, the film’s ambiguous narrative form makes clear answers hard to find. But it’s really the attempt at uncovering the truth of Memento that, in the end, feels so satisfying.
Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson
A runaway bestseller when it was released in 2011, Before I Go to Sleep deals with issues of fractured memory, shady relationships, and loss of identity—all themes that intersect with Her Story’s narrative. The book’s plot also has a lot in common with Memento. In Watson’s novel, a woman is afflicted with a condition that causes her to wake up every day not knowing who she is. All she has is a journal to tell her about her life and personal history.
And as in Her Story, the reliability of what we learn about this amnesic woman is always in doubt. But accompanying her on her way to uncovering the truth of her life is thrilling. I think writer John O'Connell’s review of Before I Go to Sleep sums it up nicely: “Forget whizz-bang futurism: it proceeds from ordinary life in tiny, terrifying steps, and is all the better for it. The Escher staircase has an oatmeal carpet.”
The book has since been adapted into a fairly workmanlike movie starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong.
Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer
Mirrors—and the different ways in which we see ourselves—play a central role in Her Story, just as they do in Under the Skin. The 2013 horror film starring Scarlett Johansson offers up more questions than answers in its story of a mysterious woman who drives a van around Scotland and preys on random men. Many of its scenes were improvised and filmed using hidden cameras and dashcams, a technique that situates the viewer in a perspective that often echoes Her Story’s interview room setting. There’s no escaping what happens on screen, and part of the experience is figuring out a way to understand and cope with the strangeness of what you are witnessing.
And fair warning—Under the Skin is far more Kubrick than Columbo. But if you feel Her Story has just as much menace as mystery on display, you’ll find a lot to appreciate in Glazer’s film.
Gotham Central, written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, illustrated by Michael Lark et al.
Widely considered to be the best police procedural ever to appear in comics, Gotham Central focuses squarely on a vital element of Her Story that stays completely off-camera—the detectives. Operating in a Gotham City populated with super villains, the police in Gotham Central just want to do their job, with or without the help of Batman.
Originally spanning a three-and-a-half year run that ended in 2006, the stories take readers into the squad rooms, patrol cars, and crime scenes inhabited by the Major Crimes Unit. Flipping the superhero formula on its head, Gotham Central’s tight writing and straightforward art style let the very human story of ordinary police work shine through.
Patrick currently works as web editor for Hinterland Studios, which is making The Long Dark. For more installments of ‘If you like...’, check out his recommendations for Dead Space, The Witcher, Dishonored, Mass Effect, Skyrim, Fallout 3, Deus Ex, Company of Heroes and STALKER fans.