Yesterday, we counted down the 15 best British games of 2015. All of them are worth playing, but there was one that really blew our Union Jack-patterned socks off. That game was Her Story.
The first time you start up the game, you're presented with a perfect facsimile of an old, curved CRT computer system, scan lines, screen glare and all, with a couple of open windows. In one of them, there are two videos, with a query auto-filled in the search bar: "murder". This simple set-up leads you through a mystery that originally has many different threads - who got murdered? Who did it? Who is the woman in the videos? Who are you? Why are you researching this crime? - and the questions only multiply as you type in phrase after phrase, watching the fragments of footage that come up. Her Story's design is ingenious, in that every single player feels like they have approached in their own, organic way, and yet somehow everyone ends up at the same conclusion. Every player's pattern of searches will be different, the pattern of revelations dependent upon what you think to pursue first, but the game guides everyone gently towards the same, thought-provoking conclusion.
I played Her Story a few months ago, with a friend whom I hadn't seen in a long time. We were up late, waiting for Life is Strange's final episode to download, looking for a short game to pass the time. Within about ten minutes, we were both completely absorbed in its mystery, bouncing wild theories off each other, digging out notebooks to jot down evidence, items of clothing, names, potential search queries. Those notebook pages look like the scrawlings of a mad person; I will smile whenever I see them.
A few hours later, having unravelled as much as we could of the mystery, we couldn't stop talking about it. It is a story that lives as much in the mind, in the unsaid details, as on the screen. It's a game with many characters, but you only ever see one of them, portrayed by the talented Viva Seifert, who has won several well-deserved awards for this performance. It was written and directed by one person: Sam Barlow, a British developer who had previously worked on Silent Hill: Shattered Memories.
After 20 years of playing video games, surprises don't exactly come thick and fast, which is why Her Story is so impressive. It is a form of storytelling game design I have never seen before, and it's just so clever. Immediately after finishing it, I read this fascinating article on how it was made and the real murder(s) that inspired it. If you've played it, I highly recommend you do the same. If you haven't: do it. I can promise you it will be like nothing you've played before.
Congratulations, Her Story! See the other shortlisted games in our British Games of 2015 list.