SEATTLE – After spending half an hour with The Quiet Man, I'm not exactly sure what to think of it – except that I've never played anything quite like it before. This action/adventure title from Square Enix is one of the most experimental titles the publisher has fielded lately, and if absolutely nothing else, it deserves credit for trying something new.
I went hands-on with The Quiet Man at PAX West 2018, and in all likelihood, it's going to be a polarizing title. You play as Dane, a deaf man obsessed with a woman called the Songstress. Since Dane is deaf, you as the player won't hear much, either. There's very little music. Every other sound in the game – from the thumps of punches and kicks, to the voices of other characters, to your own footsteps – is either muted or absent completely.
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As such, the game is atmospheric and a bit abstruse, relying on visuals and character actions to tell a purposely vague story about abuse, love and obsession – maybe. From what I could tell, the story has multiple possible interpretations, and that's just judging based on half an hour of it. The whole game will be about three hours long – short enough to play in one sitting, Square Enix representatives pointed out.
What I can say for certain is that the game seems split evenly between controlling Dane and watching cutscenes with live actors, something I haven't seen much of since PC games in the '90s. When you take control of Dane, you'll wander around a handful of environments in New York City, interacting with objects that shed some light on the story. During my demo, I explored a dressing room, a city street, a nightclub, a subway station and a few back alleys.
However, Dane's explorations don't go unchecked. Members of a violent gang, decked out in green, periodically surround and attack him. Dane – whom I interpreted as a violent individual by nature, although this will probably vary per player perspective – can fight them off with a variety of punch and kick combos. It's a pretty decent battle system, although Dane's feet kept clipping through enemies during kicks, taking me out of the experience a bit. Enemies can also take a frankly ridiculous amount of punishment before going down for good, even if you use Dane's occasional "focus" attacks for extra damage.
Combat did get fairly interesting when Dane faced off against the titular Quiet Man: a strange man in a mask and a black robe who seems to follow Dane wherever he goes. The Quiet Man was much better at blocking Dane's attacks, making combat a little more demanding and strategic – before it dragged on a bit too long, anyway.
Still, combat is mostly just there to break up the flow of the strange story. Aside from the robed Quiet Man, the plot seems to concern three major characters: Dane, the Songstress and a handsome man in a suit who seems involved with the Songstress in some way. Since you can't hear any of their dialogue, you'll have to fill in a lot of the blanks yourself.
For example: The simplest interpretation of the story is probably that Dane was in love with the Songstress, until the handsome man promised her something better and stole her away. Fair enough, but then why do the handsome man and Dane share an intimate, seemingly friendly conversation – and why does the handsome man drive Dane and the Songstress to a nightclub, leaving them alone in the back of the car, where their hands briefly touch?
Furthermore, Dane seems to have suffered some kind of abuse as a child, in addition to tragedy. A woman close to him died when he was a child – but the woman looks exactly like the Songstress. Is Dane projecting his past onto his present, or is there something weirder going on? It's hard to tell, and I feel that the full game will probably raise more questions rather than give definitive answers.
A lot about The Quiet Man works, and a lot about it doesn't. The combat is solid, but clunky. The story is intriguing, but sometimes crosses the line from "abstract" into "confusing." The sound design is inventive, but often choppy to the point of distraction.
In the end, the game will cost $15, and take about three hours to play, so it may be worthwhile just to experience something aside from the usual action/adventure gaming fare. The Quiet Man will be out in 2019 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.