Video games that cover disabilities are always a challenge. Fortunately, these challenges are almost always worth it, and the finished product becomes a fascinating gem. I think of games like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which delves into the mind of a schizophrenic. Others, like Beyond Eyes and Perception, follow main characters who are visually impaired, which shakes up the game mechanics in a strangely unique way. Somegames even tackle the stresses of physical illness; That Dragon,Cancer comes to mind. But deafness? That’s something I’ve yet to see in a video game, and with Square Enix’s latest title The Quiet Man, there’s definitely some uncharted territory to discover.Upon my first playthrough, I didn’t quite know what to think of the game, with its story being quite vague and its combat being very basic and clunky at first glance. However, after playing through the three-hour story once again, with dialogue, I was treated to avery different tale; one that successfully pulled me in and kept me asking questions until the very end.
The Quiet Man is, quite simply, the story of a deaf hitman. You play as a young blonde man named Dane. I only know this because his name shows up on a character’s phone once. That character was named Taye (found that out the sameway), and he is your childhood best friend and current boss. He runs some shady business, and it frequently finds you in the middle of trouble. Taye is also the boyfriend of a woman, and for some reason, Dane is really infatuated with this woman. The cause of this attraction is eventually revealed, but I’m going to try not to spoil anything about The Quiet Man. I can tell you now, it’s definitely worth playing, and the price tag of $15 is pretty fair for only six hours. I’m keeping it as spoiler-free as I can because the twists and turns found in playing the story two different ways was truly mind-blowing. Dane and Taye are fairly straightforward in their stories, both silent and fully-voiced. But the other characters?They’re all mysteries that are better left unsolved in this review.
Before I go any further, I should address this whole “two ways to play” dynamic. As a deaf protagonist, you cannot hear a thing, obviously. Nearly every bit of dialogue in my initial playthrough was met with jingling sounds in my ears. I even played with headphones on, which made the experience more intimate, but certainly more annoying. Alas, I continued on and was told this completely silent story from beginning to end, save for a few minor words in the beginning. I was really fascinated by this gimmick as I started, but it quickly became a nuisance, as I foundmyself either sitting there getting bored, or trying to read lips and failing miserably. Things really got upsetting when Dane Started talking and I wasn’t even told what my own character said! I was completely left in the dark. That was a huge misstep on the developers’ part. All in all, though, I understood why the game was completely sound-free. Even punches dealt to enemies are met with loud muffled bangs over music-less fight sequences. It may have gotten old real fast, but I have to give Human Head Studios props for sticking with their vision all the way through.
Imagine my surprise, however, when I was met with a countdown clock at the game’s end. This clock ticked down in real time for the next three days until I was met with something new entirely: The Quiet Man “Answered.”Square had actually patched in all of the game’s dialogue, which could be heard by playing the game from a new section of the chapters menu. I didn’t love my first experience with the game, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to jump back in. Boy, am I glad I did because I kid you not, I was greeted with an entirely new plot.Characters were completely different than I thought they were; the action on screen was happening for a much different reason than I had envisioned; hell, the whole second act of the storyline was given a purpose, whereas I was completely puzzled by what was going on in my first playthrough. It provided a meaning for everything Dane was doing, and finally getting to hear his words added a level of depth to his character that was previously unknown – or rather, unheard– and it was honestly very helpful that the developers added that in.
The unfortunate thing about The Quiet Man Answered is that upon starting the game for the second time, I was met with a cutscene that instantly gave away the game’s twist. This was incredibly disappointing, as I would have loved to learn this on my own. But there was a certain allure to the opening montage – full of clips I had seen before, now with interspersed dialogue – that gripped me and compelled me to play it again, even having known what was going to happen. My only hope is that newcomers who have both options (dialogue and silent) available to them are not shown this cutscene at the start. In fact, I hope Answered is only offered as a new game plus; unfortunately there’s no way for me to see. I still feel like any new player should start with the silent version of The Quiet Man. It’s kind of brilliant, in a sometimes confusing and sluggish way. The story can be downright alienating, what with Dane being able to read lips and sign language, and respond to other characters with you sitting there thinking “what did I just say to them?” You may be able to readsome lips, and having the majority of the game be full motion video is helpful for reading body language and uncovering some of the story. Overall, though, it feels like watching a movie through a telescope for the duration of the game. That being said, it’s a unique experience that I really don’t know why I enjoyed so much. It’s hard to wrap my head around this feeling. It’s as if I didn’t want to like The Quiet Man –or rather, I shouldn’tlike it – but ultimately I did.
While the story may have been an emotional roller coaster, the combat was much more black and white.The game basically starts off with a fistfight, and it’s here that weare first introduced to The Quiet Man‘s seamless transition from live action to video game. Simply put, it’s beautiful. So much of this game is beautiful. From the lighting effects in alleyway puddles to the stunning accuracy of Dane’s real-life leather jacket in computer-generated form, The Quiet Man is truly a gorgeous game. Its animations, on the other hand, can be sloppy and weird a lot of the time. Characters frequently glitch into their surroundings and look as though they are slipping around the floor. Hair and eye effects leave a lot to be desired. When I first started The Quiet Man, I believe my exact words were “I could’ve played a PS1 game with the sound off for free.” I realize now that was incredibly harsh for a game I ended up enjoying, but at the time it felt justifiable. The animations are simply unacceptable for 2018 at times, especially when the game is trying to be modern and pleasing to the eye. You can’t just straddle that line like it’s nothing. Same goes for the camera in this game, which is nearly static and annoying as all hell. It wasn’t appreciated in Detroit: Become Human and it certainly isn’t here either. Leave those archaic camera angles in Dino Crisis and step into the 21st century. Seriously though, the FMV-to-CG transitions are simply breathtaking sometimes, and it definitely gets me ready for action. Unfortunately, the action itself can be quite hit or miss.
After playing the game twice, I have come to appreciate The Quiet Man‘s combat system. This took a lot of time, as it is simultaneously extremely basic, and unnecessarily complex. First off, I must inform you, readers, that the only combat tutorial given is hidden in the pause menu, and never mentioned. Furthermore, it is only explained through cheesy neon light illustrations, and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even learned it all by the time I put my controller down. Another helpful tidbit is the inclusion of focus finishing moves, which are earned by building up an invisible meter – marked only by the changing of colors on the screen’s border from red to blue – and allow for enemies to be put down much quicker. These finishers are even required to defeat some bosses, and the damn things are never referenced in any tutorial. I literally only learned about them by reading the trophies list! Once I “grasped” this horrendously complicated system, however, I grew to love The Quiet Man‘s fight sequences. Some enemies are clumsy and don’t even acknowledge you until they’re punched in the face, while others carry toothed machetes and kill you very, very easily. Dane only fights with his fists, and his punches feel heavy and powerful. This, blended with a fairly satisfying dodge move and the aforementioned focus finishers, made experimenting with the fighting mechanics genuinely fun. While I may have died several times during that “experimenting,”I can’t say it wasn’t a delightful romp.
Will The Quiet Man be regarded as a “hidden gem” of 2018? Sadly, no. When asking around amongst friends, nobody seemed to even remember its reveal at this year’s E3, and nobody really seemed interested once I described it. I’ve heard some people complain about its lack of dialogue and basic combat mechanics, as I have above. I personally found a way to love those things in time, and instead found myself harping on rather minuscule issues, like the overly repetitive final boss fight that goes on for what felt like a half hour, or the poorly balanced audio that would reduce cutscenes to whispers until the sound effects and (albeit blood-pumping) music of fistfights would blare in my ears when I least expected it. One thing I didn’t find myself hating, fortunately, was the acting of the live action cast, which was fairly entertaining to watch. I really felt connected to these characters by the end, even if I was making up the story as I went along, for the most part. The Quiet Man may not be everybody’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. It’s not necessarily a“good” game, but it does have a lot to enjoy in the weirdest way, which makes it quite a few steps up from “bad.” At only six hours, it’s not going to make you feel like you wasted your life away playing it, and perhaps you’ll learn something about the struggles of being a deaf hitman in an extremely audio-reliant world.