When a Game’s Schtick Doesn’t Stick the Landing – The Quiet Man
I love it when games try something new outside of the norm. Heavy Rain. Braid. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Undertale. Firewatch. Practically any indie title. And—brace yourself, I’m about to mention an Xbox One game—Quantum Break. All of these games’ developers took a risk, whether it was in the story they were telling, how they were telling the story, or the unique game mechanics used. Most of the time, the risks paid off and they were able to craft something incredibly special.
I had the same hopes for Square Enix’s The Quiet Man, which debuted at E3 2018. We couldn’t tell anything from the trailer, except that it seemed like the protagonist was deaf or, at the very least, didn’t speak. (Not couldn’t speak, but didn’t speak.) Well this seems like the kind of crazy schtick I would love in a video game. I bought it upon release and then saved it for my Extra Life 2018 marathon run. Sunday morning, I got my coffee and was ready to sit down with this bad boy. Since it was a $15 purchase via the PSN, I figured it wouldn’t take long to complete.
That is probably true, if only I could finish it. I’m well aware I’m not the most talented gamer out there, but that’s only part of the reason why I threw in the towel. The game’s entire schtick had such promise, and it really is a unique and interesting concept. It’s a shame it was utterly awful in execution.
Silence is Golden
Like Quantum Break, The Quiet Man is mostly FMV (full motion video) with some gameplay interspersed within. Since the main character, Dane, is deaf, all of these FMV cutsences are silent. When someone speaks to Dane or touches him, you hear subtle tones of music. The music changes depending upon if someone is lightly touching Dane or hitting him, and it also changes depending upon who is speaking to him. Those tiny details brought a smile to my face, even though I had no idea what anyone was saying to anyone. Dane can’t hear them, but he can read lips. At least, I assume he can read lips. If he can’t, he fakes it pretty well.
The silence continues in combat, too. When Dane lands a punch or a kick, there is an audible thump that is almost more felt than heard. When he lands a humdinger, you can hear/feel the bones break or the teeth come loose. Dane’s footsteps echo through the rumble of your controller, as well as his heartbeats, which speed up when he gets close to something he can interact with.
Because everything is silent, it’s really up to the player to sort out what is going on in the story. It’s all a mystery, and that’s not just because you have zero background knowledge of Dane and his current life.
On paper, this sounds like everything I’d adore in a game. A mystery. A unique game gimmick. A unique game narrative. The Quiet Man had everything going for it in theory. Unfortunately, it didn’t take me long to learn that this was one of those instances where the developer couldn’t figure out how to frame a game around their gimmick. The idea soared like an eagle, and the execution fell like a rock.
The Clusterfuck of Combat
The actual gameplay runs as a cross between Heavy Rain and a side-scrolling brawler. In some moments, you will have to search through a room to unlock cutscenes or progress to the next room. Most of the time, however, you’ll be giving gang members the business.
The combat set-up is akin to a side-scrolling brawler with some 3D-ish elements. Dane will have to punch, kick, grab, dodge, and deliver combos his way to victory. If the game gave the player any sort of tutorial, the combat might not have been as much of a beating. Not realizing that you can run in combat until the first boss fight is a sure-fire path to frustration.
I greatly emphasize upon the “might” in that paragraph above, because most of everything else in combat is a hot mess. The clipping is absolutely unreal. I know clipping happens every now and then with realistic-styled games, but it shouldn’t happen with nearly every punch and kick. I could have made a drinking game out of how many times Dane’s foot would go through someone’s chest. The fact that it happened during one major boss fight where the boss is immune to regular kicks and punches was downright comical. At least it would have been comical if I wasn’t so frustrated during the fight.
As one commenter said during my stream, the real boss of the entire game was the camera. I constantly fought with the camera during combat. The camera greatly hindered me against the boss that made me rage quit. I couldn’t see where he was half the time, which kind of sucks when his hits are nearly one-hit kills. (I was playing on Mild difficulty, mind you. I don’t want to know how much more awful the game would be on Hard.) If that wasn’t bad enough, that boss was only vulnerable when he performed one type of move. Either A) I couldn’t see it because of the camera angles, or B) the boss would start the move and then never commit.
Hey, Square Enix and Human Head Studios, here’s a quick tip. If you’re going to have it where players can only defeat a boss during a certain move, please have the boss perform that move more often than once every ten minutes AND commit to the move once it starts.
Hits Where It Hurts
When I did finally rage quit after nearly 45 minutes of trying against this one boss, I was a bit devastated. Not only have I wasted $15 and 2.5 hours of my life, but this game wasted all of its potential. Here is a game that had a really cool concept and dared to be different from other FMV and/or brawler games. And yet, somehow, the developers had zero idea how to build a game with this concept.
The game part of it seems to be a huge afterthought, and it shows. It’s almost as if they wanted to make a short film with this idea of deaf protagonist, but no one wanted to fund it as a film. So hey, people like games, right? Surely we can figure out something to make it game-y around this narrative. Next time? Go with a choice-based narrative (like a visual novel) or a point-and-click adventure.
Anything would have been better than this sad attempt. Know what’s even worse? I still want to finish it. I’m going to sit and wait for that patch to clean up the combat that will never come.
Now I’m not sure which is sadder: the game or my false hope.