Fans of Her Story may enjoy His Story – er, I mean The List, an interactive police procedural with live action footage.
Developer: Dan Trimble
Publisher: Dan Trimble
Release date: 29 June, 2021
I love investigation and detective games, and the description for The List reminded me of the acclaimed game Her Story. The key to the quality of any derivative work is its originality and transformativeness. So how does The List perform?
The player takes on the role of a special agent from Sante Fe visiting West County, New Mexico to examine their police interviews with Jordan Grady. After Grady was attacked by someone aiming to kill him and had killed his attacker while defending himself, the West County Police Department interviewed him several times trying to find out the identity and motive of the would-be murderer. They had released Grady after finding nothing, only for him to end up murdered a short time later with no leads on his killer. The player must work within the limitations of the West County Police Department’s ancient database system to piece together useful clues, but as the investigation proceeds, there are hints that perhaps not all is as it seems.
Hopefully without spoiling any details, I found the game’s twist to be too narratively buried and overly subtle. I’m American with a deeper knowledge of American history than average due to my professional work, and even then was unable to make the deductive leap necessary to find the critical video clip without more explicit hints from outside the game. However, although I consider the ending to be more confusing than thematically thought-provoking, I wouldn’t say it is sufficient to spoil the vast majority of the experience.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The game’s user interface is structured like an older computer desktop screen. Although the game’s story is taking place in the year 2020, the ‘computer’ the player character is using is probably more circa 2005 based on the database system’s handbook. The game doesn’t provide a guided tutorial, although there are files on the desktop that can provide instructions on how to play the game if the player chooses to access them.
According to the in-game universe explanation, the database of video clip files must be reconstructed due to a past data breach. Video files are found by searching for keywords in the clip (e.g., man, woman). Keywords must be at least 3 letters long, and only 5 entries can be displayed at a time. If there are more than 5 entries with a particular keyword, the player will have to locate additional clips with different keywords. Clips that haven’t been viewed yet are indicated by a yellow magnifying glass.
One aspect of the database search that I found irksome was with regards to proper nouns. As an example, the player can’t search for ‘York’ and find clips that reference New York. It will only find those clips if the player searches for ‘New York’. As another example, the player couldn’t search for a person’s first name or last name and find clips that referred to the person by their full name.
A nice feature that The List has is the ability to watch the video clips chronologically. This is very useful for filling in gaps with missing clips or getting clues of the bigger story. The desktop user interface also does have a great place to take notes, although I personally chose to use pen and paper. I was able to unlock 273 of the 275 video clips in 4.9 hours without needing to look at any resources outside of the game. If the player does find the pièce de résistance and finish the game without finding 100% of the video clips, a feature is unlocked to help more easily locate the remaining video clips.
Art Style and Graphics
The game utilizes live action full-motion video (FMV) rather than animation. In terms of cinematography, the video clips were filmed like police interviews, but with only the interviewee, Jordan Grady, being seen or heard on camera. The clip lengths are very short on average compared to the similar game Her Story, and the user interface is styled to appear like a circa 2005 computer desktop screen.
Sound and Music
The List’s sound effects aim to create a typical office ambience, such as typing, computer loading and shutting down, and mouse clicks. The game is technically not voice-acted since it uses live action FMV, but the audio in the video clips is good. Up until the twist, most of the music uses what I would deem as more classical instrumentation intended to be subtle and in the background.
At $5.99 at the time of review and approximately 5 hours of playtime (including earning all 8 possible achievements), The List is a satisfactory experience at full price. Fans of Her Story and similar investigative games will find a lot here to like and enjoy despite the game’s narrative flaws.