Just as those first air-breathing fish probably ran face-first into a tree, after shouting "Check this out, guys! I got me some legs!", the leap to CD-ROM was about as smooth as a sandpaper enema. Early on, far too many games were built around the medium's ability to display full-motion video - a case of the medium showing off before it had learned to stand on two feet.
There had been FMV games before, of course - the laserdisc arcade benchmark Dragon's Lair drew many admirers, despite being little more than an interactive cartoon. But then came CD-ROM drives, and Sega's lamentable Mega-CD experiment.
Night Trap made waves for all the wrong reasons, while others had FMV shoehorned in-between otherwise unremarkable gameplay - see Sewer Shark, Wing Commander 3 or The 7th Guest (whose launch we attended, when it was still in development for the "Nintendo PlayStation" - and was hyped as being destined to claim a chapter of video game history all to itself... no wonder Mr Biffo gave himself mild concussion at the event, by hitting his head on a fireplace). Then there was Sega's own Make My Video series, which was as of its time as the bands it featured (Kriss Kross, INXS, and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch).
Fact is, before long FMV lost its novelty sheen and just became another part of games - and with the quality of in-game visuals now far surpassing those early pre-rendered efforts, there's little call these days for a game that pays homage to early FMV. At least, that's what we thought.
Billed as "A game about a woman talking to police", Her Story is both as simple and as complex as that statement implies - and quite unlike anything we've ever played.
Built around a 1994 interview with a woman called Hannah (we don't know if the significance of that date is also a tip of the hat to the early-90s FMV boom), it's presented as a series of disjointed, non-linear video clips. Typing key words into a recreation of a 90s desktop interface, your searches bring up more clips (though only the five most relevant are accessible at any one time).
Your goal is to solve the initial mystery of Hannah's husband - who has disappeared - before it opens out into a broader enigma of just who Hannah is. To say another word about the plot would be sliding our elbows into spoiler territory, and it's the discovery of that story which makes this game so unique.
How it is structured, so as to not reveal the answer (or - teasingly - answers) too early on is bordering on genius. The story will unfold differently depending on who is playing it, and their choice of keywords. The pieces of the puzzle are displayed on a database checker - showing you how much of it you're still missing. Inevitably, as time goes on, new clips become ever more rare, and you'll find yourself frustratedly checking and re-checking previously watched snippets to pick up clues you might've missed.
Even though your choices are unique, somehow Her Story still ends up feeling structured - turning points and reveals feel completely natural, so that the story you unearth is ultimately your story.
As a game, as a piece of narrative structure, Her Story is a masterpiece. Unfortunately, something that hinges so heavily on both acting and scripting - make no mistake, this is a piece of scripted drama, almost a one-woman play, as much as a game - also needs to be judged on those terms. It's here where Her Story doesn't entirely stack up.
While the performance of actress Viva Seifert is fine, there's a degree of over-earnestness, a sort of polished "I'm doing acting!" sheen to it, which sort of jars with the character we learn about. Similarly, there are points where the script grates, or fails to convince as believable or truthful. Occasionally, it borders on becoming cliched and far-fetched.
Combined, this meant we never felt empathy - or even sympathy - with the character, the way the game clearly intended. We were compelled to push forwards with the story, but never because we cared what happened to the titular Her. Which is a shame, because there's some interesting themes in there - about identity, and how guilt or innocence can hinge on how much of a person's story you actually know.
Indeed, part of Sam Barlow's inspiration comes from the trial of Amanda Knox, something all of us in this media-saturated world have an uneducated opinion on. Even though it's set in 1994, it's utterly relevant to today - to a society where trial by Google, or Twitter, or Reddit, has become the norm.
Ultimately, though, Her Story is essential for anyone interested in the storytelling potential of games. As a work of interactive fiction, it ironically feels as much of a leap forwards as that jump to FMV 20 years ago.
SUMMARY: A bold, original, and compelling interactive drama that could only work as a game.
SCORE: 8.9114% out of 10.43423%