She Sees Red Review
In a sense, gaming has always been the black sheep of the media family, doomed to be eternally compared to its more established siblings TV and cinema and found wanting.
For a while, some thought the answer was to make it more like them, and a slew of sometimes interesting, occasionally notable but mostly awful FMV games permeated the ‘90s before the notion was quietly shelved. Fast forward to 2020 however, and it appears that the idea of real actors in games may have a future after all.
She Sees Red is the ambitious first release from Russian developer Rhino Tales. With considerable experience in both film and games, they have crafted a compelling parallel narrative of a shadowy black-capped cipher breaking into a seedy club, and the detective who has to make sense of the path of destruction the infiltrator has wrought. The footage is very well shot and the synth-laden soundtrack is tense and brooding in the vein of a premiere TV drama, but while the acting and casting is high quality, the dialogue leans heavy on ADR which breaks the immersion slightly. The English dubbing is on by default, but this isn’t the ideal way to experience the story; the voice-overs are cheesy and overwrought, and don’t gel with the actors’ performances. Turning on the subtitles and switching the audio back to the original Russian definitely helps, and subtitles for a host of other languages are also included.
The game warns in advance that all your decisions affect the plot; choosing not to begin the game rather amusingly sends you straight to the end credits. The story jumps back and forth from the mysterious protagonist committing the acts to several hours later, where a detective and the club owner are trying to piece together what transpired. Gameplay is limited to making an occasional binary choice which influences the narrative; attack the guard, or create a distraction? Investigate the room, or leave before you’re discovered? Don’t dawdle, as you only have a few seconds to decide before the choice is automatically made for you. There are 62 scenes and four definitive endings, roughly a quarter of which you’ll see on your first watch. To uncover the full truth will require multiple playthroughs, although fortunately after you’ve done so a couple of times you will be able to skip the scenes you’ve already seen. A gallery section includes some fun behind-the-scenes photos and a making-of video, which highlights the level of stunt training the actors had to go through to make the many fights seem realistic.
The total number of possible choices is not extensive and hardcore gamers may find the gameplay, such as it is, perilously light. Completists seeking to view all the scenes should be warned that some choices result in only very minor changes to the plot, and as such may not be worth the extra effort. Unfortunately while scenes can be skipped, the story starts again from the beginning each time; an option to go back to the last branch point would have been welcome.
The developers clearly intend for players to go through the story multiple times, however rewatching the same scenes over and over can get tedious.
Inevitable comparisons will be made to Sam Barlow’s modern classic whodunnit Her Story and Black Mirror’s similar recent foray into interactive TV, Bandersnatch. While She Sees Red doesn’t quite equal it, for an independent developer without the vast resources of Netflix behind them, it comes pretty close. The execution sometimes falls a little short but for a first project you have to commend the effort and vision; the developers are right to view it as an area of untapped potential. Whether or not it’s the future of TV remains to be seen, but we could stand to have a few more experiments of this nature.
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