Since hearing about it at this year’s E3, I keep asking myself one question: what the hell is the The Quiet Man? Developed by Human Head Studios and Square Enix, every new trailer for the game was more confusing than the last. Now that the game is out, I finally have my answer. It is an FMV game. It is a brawler clumsier than any of the worst PlayStation 2 games. I’m glad I played it, but I also wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy.
You play as a very quiet young man in The Quiet Man. He’s deaf, and he stoically roams the streets on some kind of revenge mission against the criminals who took important people from his life. It’s the type of straight-to-DVD premise that might make for a good game with a few twists. The Quiet Man has a lot of ideas to spice up the simplistic story’s presentation, but they don’t quite pull together into anything coherent.
If you want to see what I’m talking about, the video above contains the first 20 minutes.
The first idea is that the player only occasionally hears the game world around them. Only few pieces of dialog are rendered as subtitles; the game says these lines “are intended to be heard or understood.” So there’s this split between the game audio being mostly muffled and sometimes undercut by the slightest of audio feedback during fights, and then the sudden, inexplicably chosen bits of dialog.
It’s never consistent enough to place me in the main character’s shoes. At times, the silence achieved what I assume is the intended effect, which is grounding the player in a soundless world. But other times, the rules are unclear. The protagonist can clearly read lips, so why am I only hearing some of the spoken dialog? Why don’t I just see subtitles all the time, for example, to signal that my character is lip-reading? Who’s to say why it’s this way instead of some other way?
The Quiet Man does whatever the hell it wants, and the results are equally spellbinding and frustrating.
There’s another strange decision besides the audio design. The Quiet Man shifts between full-motion video cutscenes with real actors and a brawling mode that feels like if PlayStation 2 cult classic The Bouncer was drugged up and its characters had to fight with sedated noodle arms. The FMV scenes look fine, no more or less different in quality than the cutscenes in 2016’s Quantum Break.
It’s like watching a shitty version of Gotham with a faulty TV speaker. But when the cut-scenes shift into the video game action, everything becomes stiff and otherworldly. Everyone looks emotionless, and the lighting blooms outwards until you’re fighting in a hell world of action figure people.
Occasionally, the game will toss live-action footage over the action in a sort of two-layered effect that’s more confusing than cool. Sometimes, enemies will get knocked out after a few hits. Other times, you can grab them and punch them dozens and dozens of times and they’ll still get up. There’s no logic to any of it. You just hit buttons, the Quiet Man flops, and somehow you survive.
I have no idea how this game exists, although I’m glad that it does. Nothing about this experiment is working, and I have no clue what the game wants to really communicate or say. But, often, it’s entertaining enough in its bungling to hold my attention. Each new room, far from being the dangerous combat challenges the game’s creators probably wanted it to be, is a kind of Gang Beasts flop battle scene.
The FMVs last for extensive amounts of time and tell a story in which implication is king, since full conversations play out without our understanding. That could be interesting — I certainly paid closer attention to these scenes than in other games, since I was confused and didn’t want to miss anything — but the plot remains muddy to me. There’s a jazz singer? OK, now some type of bird theme killer maybe? I don’t know. I just know that this is game isn’t afraid to be what it is. Whatever the hell that actually is.