The Quiet Man, which released today, stars an Abercrombie & Fitch model—actually a bodyguard, I think—who seems to be obsessed with a woman who looks like his dead mom. I mean, maybe? The coupling of live action video and 3D combat is such a layer cake of clichés that I can't tell if it's meant to be a story or a promo for a stock video collection. Woman smiles. Men converse.
It's a spectacular disaster, which feels like a rarity these days: there are lots of bad games, but for a game that was announced at E3 and made by a major publisher and studio to be this catastrophic is something.
A quiet game
The troubles start with an artistic premise that demands an amount of creative ingenuity that I quickly realized was not present. The protagonist, Dane, is deaf, and Square Enix and Human Head Studios commit to his perspective. During the live action cutscenes and interactive 3D fights, footsteps and punches are muffled crunches, and all dialogue is inaudible (except at the very beginning), heard as synthesized chimes. There are no subtitles.
It's a bold decision (that feels like it was meant to be called a bold decision by critics), but in practice, it's just videos with the voices removed. The story isn't cleverly told through body language and expressive camera work, or designed in such a way that unheard sounds play any part in it, at least so far. The quiet is just there, and while that may be true for Dane as well—I like that a deaf person is being represented—I don't feel like I understood anything about his experience from watching him talk to people without audio or subtitles. (He can read lips, seemingly, but I can't.)
Early on, as an example, there's six minutes of largely pointless footage depicting Dane having a conversation with one of his criminal cohorts. A cheesy flashback establishes a shared trauma, and I sensed conflict and resentment beneath their kinship, but 20 seconds probably would've done it. Six minutes of guys drinking whiskey!
And it just goes on like that, with lengthy scenes that convey very little and nonsensical time-hopping in between. It feels like what a machine learning algorithm would create if you exclusively fed it Christopher Nolan movies, CSI: NY, racial stereotypes, and the insecurities of a teenage boy.
It gets worse
When not watching the filmed segments—which I'm not convinced would make sense even with audio—you're stiffly walking around ugly 3D sets from fixed camera angles and beating up gangsters. The story begins with Dane approaching a trio of Latino gangster stereotypes—an awful choice by the writers—in an alley that looks like a West Side Story set. He then beats the crap out of them and steals their cocaine, which isn't very nice.
The controls are never explained, but space dodges, left mouse button punches, right mouse button kicks, and WASD lets you walk around like Honda's Asimo robot—which often puts the enemies you're fighting off camera. Spamming the left mouse button to combo enemies works fine in the first few fights. Later, enemies who block are introduced, and you have to dodge out of their attacks and then strike back. I mean, I think. That doesn't always work, and sometimes they take forever to throw an attack in the first place, so we just stand and look at each other.
I'm somewhere in the middle of the game—please don't make me finish it—and the fights are hard now, because there is no consistent logic. One enemy can throw two uninterruptible attacks in a row, and blocks even after being dodged. How I started getting hits in I don't know, but once I did I spammed punches and locked him into a repeating sequence that eventually finished the fight.
If you die, you watch a sunlit woman smile at you before transitioning back to the fight scene, and it lasts way too long. She looks like Dane's mom from the flashbacks, but also like another woman he's trying to protect, I think, and whose 3D model doesn't look like either, adding to the confusion. There are masks involved, and probably some Fight Club bullshit ahead, but it's too awful to keep playing. I gave up and watched some of Giant Bomb's stream.
There's some comedy in how bad The Quiet Man is, but it's not funny like certain David Cage games are funny. If you really must, you can buy it on Steam, but I don't recommend it. I just hope the cast, crew, and developers get to work on a better project next time. There are so many great ideas out there, and while this one is certainly unique, I can't fathom why Square Enix decided that it was the one to take a chance on.