Her Story & Detective Games

I’ve recently come across an interesting article, “Making the Player the Detective” by Bjarke Alexander Larsen and Henrik Schoenau-Fog (2020), where the majority of mystery and detective games are criticized as being stories of investigation as opposed to crime. In traditional adventure mystery games, there’s little emphasis on actual investigative work. The gamer is often following the footsteps of the detective, rendering him or her a proxy for the plot. In this way, you’re really a Watson and not a Sherlock. Ironically, what distinguishes video games from other storytelling forms is player agency, which gives consumers the opportunity to exercise free will (to a certain extent). However, in many detective games you’re mainly watching the progression of a lead detective deduce their own conclusions (often in direct exposition). It’s similar to watching a movie in some ways.

Fortunately, we’ve seen many titles in recent years where the actual detective work is pushed into the hands of the player instead, and one of those games is Her Story. I can think of two other favorites in this category–Obra Dinn and the Painscreek Killings.

It’s not really to say that one type is better than another. There are still well-made and thought out traditional mystery games, but if you’re anything like me and you love to take reign of the investigation yourself, then it’s always a relief to stumble on a title that fulfills that desire.

I’m not the biggest fan of FMV games so the title skipped my radar for quite some time. I’m glad I finally gave it a chance.

The opening screen begins with a computer interface from the 90’s. It appears that we’re in control of a police station database. Aside from a handful of documents littering the desktop, the main focal point is the database. We’re given a search bar where we can enter search queries to pull out a repository of recorded videos, interviewing a woman.

The first query is pre-filled and after watching a couple of videos, it becomes apparent that a man went missing under mysterious circumstances and the only person at our disposal to investigate is the woman in the videos related to him.

The recordings are fragmented, some of which were recorded over different times. The clip numbers are great clues allowing us to group similar topics together.

The objective is to synthesize the accounts related by this woman, who eventually comes across as not being the most reliable narrator. There are several twists to the story, and upon reaching a conclusion in the end, there’s little confirmation to back it up. There is somewhat of an event in the end constituting closure, but it seems the emphasis is put on the process of investigation itself. Just in real life, you reach a conclusion and that conclusion does not trigger a cutscene to confirm it. You’re surprisingly left with a sense of satisfaction all the same.

My note taking choice for the game was Google Keep. I love using it for gaming as it allows me to easily tag and search my play notes. I’ve segmented my notes according to themes and dates, which was really helpful to quickly draw connections between the clips.

After checking the in-game database report app, I realized I missed a big chunk of filler clips; however, I reached my conclusion. I’m not sure if it’s the former librarian side of me, but I managed to use the right strains of search queries and formulas–just enough to get me to unfold the story.

The ending didn’t come as a total surprise. I kind of saw it coming, but the process of reaching the conclusion using search was immensely enjoyable for me.

Overall it’s a fantastic indie game; definitely a trend setter in its category and I can’t wait to try the developer’s other game!

My final score is 4/5 ★★★★

  • 3/5 for gameplay
  • 4/5 for design
  • 4/5 for Puzzles
  • 3/5 for plot
  • Game Platform (played on): PC
  • Game Link | Click Here

Machinika Museum

Life as a researcher at the museum never ceases to fetch exciting things. I find myself in a dark workshop at a museum. A clear spectacle of the full moon is shown through the skylight above me. It’s dark and quiet at the museum–another long night at the job it seems. In front of me a big newly shipped box awaits with a document addressed to me–“Dear colleagues from the 4th floor […] we have pulled from the inventory this old 3D printer / scanner. It’s an old model, but it works!”.

After tinkering with it for a bit, I realize I’m able to clone various objects in my workshop–like the museum medallion. That’s handy! Bizarrely but quite conveniently, I squeeze the printer into my left side inventory and little did I know, this new printer will become my best friend for the journey ahead, along with a nifty cool endoscope that I can stick into hard to reach places, and a magnetic customizable screw driver.

On one side of my workshop, I notice several packages with varying sizes placed on the floor. It doesn’t look like my management is communicative enough. I’m not given sufficient information other than I’m expected to examine alien objects inside each one of the packages. A letter is always attached next to the package, but upon opening it, I realize that half of what is written is blacked out in confidentiality. What is going on here?! The researcher in me is most definitely intrigued to get started.

Each chapter begins with a package placed on an examination table. The layout and controls are very similar to the Rooms series–a point-and-click, puzzle adventure. Each parcel constitutes a box puzzle that can be manipulated in various ways. At times I wonder if I should have been a mechanic or an engineer instead of a researcher. Several letters warn about the risk of handling these objects. And with each chapter, those warnings are put into context as things slightly go haywire. It appears to be that these items have reached earth from an outer planet. By the 9th chapter, we piece the items together to unfold the full picture.

The game is unique in allowing you to use the 3D printer and other tools. At times the puzzles can be tricky and mind bending, which is great! In several places, I felt the story fell short and the culmination of events at the end was abrupt and somewhat eccentric. And without saying too much, there’s the promise of a confirmed sequel, as the game doesn’t offer a conclusive ending. But since it is purely a puzzle game, the experience of finishing the sequence of chapters feels strangely satisfying.

Would I recommend the game? Yes, especially if you’re a fan of puzzle boxes and the Rooms series, although do not expect the game to be as polished as the latter. It might be worth waiting to get it on sale.

My final score is 3/5 ★★★

  • 3/5 for gameplay
  • 4/5 for design
  • 4/5 for Puzzles
  • 2/5 for plot
  • Game Platform (played on): PC
  • Game Link | Click Here