Welcome, welcome, one and all!

Welcome to Happy Talk: a feature in which I—one embittered, cheerless soul—aim to highlight something actually good in video games. You can be sure that, as the world crumbles around you in a haze of hate and fury, Happy Talk will be here to point you towards something which might put a smile on your face, provide a moment of keen interest, or just briefly divert your attention from the unrelenting dismal charade that is modern life.

Let’s talk some happy! (That’s a working introduction which is absolutely subject to change.)Her Story NoteHer Story was released last year to widespread critical acclaim. In Happy Talk, I’m going to talk some more about how bloody fantastic it is. A quick reminder that nowhere in Happy Talk does it say my talk has to be original – only happy.

In Her Story, we are given access to a police station’s desktop computer, replete with the chunky menu boxes and pixelated icons that betray a 90s setting. By scouring the LOGIC Database, one is able to view a whole host of clips from various interviews of Hannah Smith, whose story we are trying to ascertain.

Happy the first! (Yes, this is an aside. Yes, this is a staple of Happy Talk. Yes, I might change this.) Her Story contains a mini-game that’s basically Reversi. I fucking love Reversi; I can play that shit against myself and I won’t even care. Not only is Her Story a great game, it is a great game with a great game chucked in for good measure!Her Story ReversiOkay, so, you can search the database by inputting any text you like. If the text of the transcript matches what you’ve searched, that clip will be displayed for your perusal. Wisely, they limit the number of clips you can see to five, meaning you can’t game the system by typing in ‘I’ or ‘a’ and sifting through pretty much every clip.

It’s a system which invites exploration like no other, giving you total freedom to embark down whatever avenue your latest whim demands. This can mean searching general phrases, trying to broadly uncover as much evidence as possible; it can mean finding a particularly interesting line of inquiry and attempting to explore it fully; ultimately, it means playing the game the way you deem it should be played. And, I know, that sounds like exactly the kind of vague platitude chucked at us by a CEO in a t-shirt and suit jacket at E3. How joyous that, in this case, it actually happens to be true.

Happy the second! (Okay, in reflection, I probably will end up changing this.) I had a great moment with the search method. I’ll not go into specifics because that would constitute a spoiler, and spoilers are decidedly unhappy, but basically I had a theory about what was going on with the plot, typed it in, and got an immediate response from the few clips that appeared. I realise that, devoid of any specifics, that statement is a little oblique, but my basic point is thus: Her Story offers up that little ecstatic thrill of solving a puzzle in your own way with every facet of its gameplay.20160713004522_1The acting and writing are superb; they inject all of the intrigue, tension and pathos into a game which so easily could have ended up as Database Simulator. This is a story about an interrogation, it’s a story about a murder, it’s a story about a story about a story about a– Oh, look at that, I think it’s time for…

Happy the third! (Yeah, no, I’m definitely changing this structure next time around.) As I was writing this, I went back to Her Story to mess about and type in a few more words; I found a clip where Hannah talked about sleeping in a car because she was “exhausted” and self-indulgently added ‘PUN!’ into the user tags box with a huge grin on my face.

You know, I think that’s a good point at which to end this pilot of Happy Talk. Her Story is a game so engrossing that I would audibly ‘ooh’ at the more tantalizing snippets; so intriguing that I would literally scratch my chin in deep thought, a trait I’d previously thought only existed in cartoons; and so immersive that I would leave a note on the fictional database, to a fictional investigation unit, making sure they knew that the fictional suspect had made an awesome pun.

That, my friends, is a great game.

This, my friends, has been Happy Talk.

(That ending, my friends, will also be altered in the next Happy Talk – I promise.)