It is undeniable that writing is held to a lower standard in gaming than it is in comparable mediums. This is not to say that telling a stirring narrative in a video game is impossible, this year alone has offered numerous titles that break new ground regarding the unity of established narratives and player interaction. However, video games remain a media form where the explicit decision to prioritize telling a narrative serves as a novelty in of itself. Titles like Detroit Become Human and A Way Out have been singled out for having the audacity to expect players to focus on their narratives above all.
Both respective tales carried hackneyed writing at points, but elevated their stories with structural innovations that made players feel like they were engaging with an interactive cinematic experience. Overall presentations were refined enough to place emphasized exposition and reigned-in player input on the same plateau, cohering to make for decently intuitive pieces of interactive media.
In regards to this approach, whatever the antithesis of having its cake and eating it too is, The Quiet Man accomplishes it. The Quiet Man is a swing for the fences that connects about as often as your main character’s perpetually clipping fists do with their surroundings. A disaster in its own league of ambition gone haywire. Its story furiously evades players only to reveal itself through subsequent playthroughs as containing the narrative scope of a public service announcement. The present gameplay becomes instantly monotonous in the moments it’s not withheld from players entirely. For what the game takes away from players, it offers little in return with the exception of unfulfilled intrigue. The Quiet Man is the most heartbreaking sort of failure, an experiment that’s as unprecedented as it is unplayable.
The Quiet Man calls to a far gone era of full motion video and aims to seamlessly meld it with gameplay and in-engine cutscenes of the same technical caliber. This attempt pans out successfully in one ultimately futile regard, deceptively slick transitions from FMV to gameplay via artificial tracking shots and coherent lighting between mediums. It’s impressive, nevermind the fact that the game just as regularly opts to leave scenes entirely unconnected, dismantling what threatens to legitimize The Quiet Man as an interactive cinematic experience. It ultimately greater resembles a stilted interactive DVD, or an old licensed game for a film that never came out, shoehorning in live-action film clips where digitized graphics wouldn’t suffice. It’s an early example of The Quiet Man shooting itself in the foot, but is nonetheless a step forward for interactive cinema.
A step forward and a leap backwards appears to be the model that the entirety of The Quiet Man was built upon. You play as Dane, a deaf protagonist with a vengeance. It’s a noble character nuance that ought to be explored more. It’s also where the title begins to truly unravel. Dialogue is withheld from you for the entirety of your first playthrough. The presence of subtitles or sign language are completely absent. Written text is rarely provided and often obscured. Players are perhaps expected to rely on lip-reading to piece together conversations, but characters cannot be counted on to face the camera much of the time. Natural body language conceals speech perception, and dialogue can be filmed from a distance making the multi-faceted comprehension impossible. These cutscenes often run for ten minutes or longer and are shot plainly, rendering what occurs on-screen an out-and-out void of expression. If it intends to be a commentary on the persistent lack of subtitling in media, it succeeds with its story and actors pinned as the martyr. If it intends to entertain and provide any form of catharsis, it fails miserably.
More bizarre still are the lapses in logic that engulf much of its characters. At one point, Dane engages in conversation with another character while both in the backseat of a taxi. The secondary character shares much of her dialogue facing the opposite direction of Dane. This obviously doesn’t hinder Dane’s understanding, who offers the perfectly cryptic response to every syllable he certainly can’t read. The Quiet Man trounces over its own narrative constraints at its own convenience, but never in ways that benefit the player. Dane frequently exhibits behavior that does not translate to his supposed experience as a deaf man, instead it’s the player who bears the brunt of it.
This is not to imply that the title offers much in the way of coherency when the story can be deciphered either. Soon after its abrupt discharge into digital storefronts, The Quiet Man was swiftly patched with the ability to hear all dialogue, sound effects, and stock music upon subsequent playthroughs. It was a commendable decision in spirit, one that promptly confirms the experience as being more muddled than any withheld information could have foreshadowed.
Dane carries with him a tragic past, constantly relayed to players through flashbacks, pieces of the same incident searing themselves into the player’s conscious in cutscene and gameplay alike. The dried out Elmer’s glue attempting to keep the narrative together is the death of Dane’s mother. Casually stumbling into a fight over a pair of shoes between Dane, his friend Taye, and aspiring gang cronie, future gang leader Isaac, Dane’s mother Lorraine is accidentally shot by Taye with Isaac’s gun. Dane reasonably considers Isaac to be at fault, not least of which due to Isaac taunting Dane after the fact.
Years down the line, Taye and Dane nonetheless remain partners in crime, drug trafficking to be exact along with terrorizing other gangs and running the reportedly swanky Club Moonrise. Taye has an implied significant other, a pianist named Lala who Dane has some sort of nebulous affinity for, because she looks like his mom. Coincidentally, Isaac (now the leader of rival gang Sol 33) feels awful bitter over Dane stealing a briefcase of cocaine from their hideout, so he kidnaps Lala. This is the second maternal figure of Dane’s (no matter how projected) whose life has been put on the line by Isaac, this aggression will not stand.
So Dane punches a lot of people, and by proxy you punch a lot of people, normally for about five-minute intervals. The combat in The Quiet Man errs on the side of mind-numbing where the narrative remains persistently mind-boggling. Evaluating at the level of intent, combat unfolds like it does in the Yakuza franchise or Urban Reign. You’re kept within a static 3D environment, always outnumbered by the same bunch of bandana’d grunts, each ready to take a half-hearted beating. Strategy extends to backing more difficult enemies into a corner and pressing whichever button you’re willing to mash until success. You can grab a single enemy and punch them repeatedly for a good few minutes if you’d like, the eventual final blow manifesting in slow-mo and maybe a flashback with more prominent colors than your gameplay screen. This display of stylish incoherency is merely an example of how the game intentionally disorients. On other occasions, the camera would linger away from my character entirely, momentarily making combat impossible when all it needed to do was stand still.
Animations are ridiculous, Dane moves like a defective T800 when he’s not auto-gliding to the nearest enemy before a previous animation can finish. He also manages to clip through every single enemy he faces, truly complementing the lack of impact deflating the combat system throughout. The confinement players are forced into during every isolated combat sequence grates due to its omnipresence across the entire game. The continuous display of New York City panoramas during live-action cutscenes (punctuating combat encounters) ring hollow as you’re hardly able to travel between doorways, let alone explore the city you are said to occupy.
This sweeping city manifests itself in the form of… subways and gas stations primarily. Level design is truly a non-variable in-game, and unable to rest on a sophisticated brawling system to compensate. With the exception of occasional environmental takedowns, the level designs on their own are mere window-dressing, as lifeless as the umpteenth landscape shot of the Club Moonrise. Across all live action and digital environments, the cinematography reads as a desperate attempt to pin a location to a series of disjointed, anonymous backdrops.
The rare cutscene that allows for traversal between locales spotlights how few frames appear to be devoted to each robotic animation, but they nonetheless offer the sort of ambiance sorely missing from the bulk of the world presented here. The Quiet Man unloads its subtext relentlessly, but gives it no coherent dynamic to stick to or context to enhance.
The Quiet Man crumbles under analysis and fails as a passive experience, introducing frustrations in its last leg that make combat encounters near unplayable. An underfed combat system becomes something more sinister when enemy counts rise, the only elevation of stakes that gameplay design this sparse can seem to offer. The lumbering lack of groove characterizing each combat animation from the start of the game soon enough becomes outpaced by the enemy count on-screen. Takedowns can be interrupted by other opponents, often merely a single member of a brainless mob who can’t even offer you the respect of a one-on-one.
The Quiet Man becomes an out-and-out hassle to play in its final stretch due to flaws in design that transcend difficulty settings. The ability of enemies to parry your attacks does not translate over to you. Defense instead manifests in an adirectional dodge mechanic that more often than not places you in the vicinity of the next enemy before your animation can finish. Enemies can only be met face-to-face and default to impenetrable parries that are only surmounted by gradually building up your focus meter, which in-turn deploys scripted finishers that effectively handle encounters for you.
With The Quiet Man lacking in any sort of HUD display, this focus mode is tracked instead by a lens flare that travels up the side of your screen. The effect is artful in isolation but is never directly explained to players and proves as distracting and out of place as the conventional HUD system The Quiet Man opted away from. Presentation is less subversive in other respects, as canned alt-rock templates dominate the soundtrack (with the exception of an elegantly performed credits song that truly ensures the best moments of the title are kept to the end) and are inexplicably mixed to be nearly inaudible.
The Quiet Man additionally paints its actors into a corner with its initial silenced playthrough. With dialogue and musical cues absent, the characters’ exaggerated expressions are largely the only signifier of the emotional tone of contextually vacant scenes. With dialogue present, the performances pivot towards revealing a laughable lack of nuance further undone by uneven vocal recording quality and dialogue that fails to penetrate the surface level. The Quiet Man’s failings take on a more rote quality when the full picture is unveiled. Confoundment gives way to astonishment that a game could be hiding this little narrative profundity or technical stability.
The Quiet Man begins as a mystery of the cheapest accord, flaunting a refusal to give players an entry point to its story or any payoff in return. The revelations present in your second playthrough are only about the troubled development the game appears to be a casualty of. From top to bottom, the title can only exhibit the structural command of a student project, mustering up the presence a few clever ideas and no idea how to deploy them.
The Quiet Man wants to vault over barriers before it’s learned to crawl. For all the interest it aims to stoke across a slow-burn of multiple playthroughs, it only leads to a step backwards for narratively-inclined video games. Respectively incompetent gameplay and narrative are merely delivered in abnormal proportions as a hopeless attempt to downplay the inadequacy of each. The Quiet Man’s failure as a narrative cannot be chalked up to “being a game”. Its failure as a video game can’t be chalked up to “being a narrative”. Its failings overall can only be chalked up to it being the bare minimum across the board.
This review of The Quiet Man is based on the PS4 version of the game.
For all its pomp and pretense, The Quiet Man fails across the board as a narrative and a playable experience, making it nothing more than a shhhhh-allow experiment.
Enjoys paying less than 20 dollars for a game, especially when it is one people have forgotten about. Wants to be a character in the next Jet Set Radio and hopes you enjoy the site. Has a pet rabbit he nurtures and takes photos of. Still pushing for a Stuntman Ignition remaster 11 years later. Still hasn’t played Fortnite.