The Quiet Man review: Less isn’t always more

Square Enix
Square Enix /

For better or worse, The Quiet Man is an untraditional take on efforts to marry video games and movies that experiments heavily with sound design.

Title: The Quiet Man
Developer: Human Head Studios
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), PC
Release Date: November 1, 2018

Chasing the cinematic experience in video games is no longer a particularly remarkable idea, but rather than just doing so aesthetically, The Quiet Man goes a step further and attempts to create a compelling game in the literal form factor of a three-hour film. Its ambition is even greater still, employing deafness as a narrative conceit through limited sound design, completely upending the way most people consume both video games and movies.

In The Quiet Man, the player assumes the role of Dane; a regular in the underworld of New York City who also happens to be deaf. After what seems like a routine night of brawling with a local gang, Dane suddenly finds himself embroiled in tracking down a nightclub singer who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious masked figure.

Disappointingly, but also the least of the game’s concerns, things don’t step much outside of the tired damsel in distress trope with some by the numbers “trust no one” intrigue sprinkled on top. But what’s different about The Quiet Man is how it presents itself through the perspective of someone who’s deaf, removing almost all voices, sounds, and music from the game. There’s even purposely no subtitles, leaving the player to figure out what is happening entirely based on what they see.

Going to such an extreme length to put the player in the shoes of the protagonist is as admirable as it is risky. Unfortunately, the novelty wears off almost instantly. Not because the lack of sound is distracting or frustrating but because in both the story and gameplay it completely fails to use this aspect of itself in any meaningful way.

Presumably through lip reading, and occasionally sign language, Dane can clearly understand everything that is being said to him. Several scenes even have him speaking directly to other characters. Yet, for some reason, nothing he thinks, knows, or says is passed on to the player, creating a pervasive dissonance between what is happening and how it’s presented.

There’s not a single plot point or moment that would be significantly different if Dane wasn’t deaf, diminishing the purpose of focusing the game so heavily on his condition in the first place other than to artificially keep the player in the dark. This breeds a disingenuous experience that’s no different than any other game with the volume turned down.

There’s not a single plot point or moment that would be significantly different if Dane wasn’t deaf…

Things only get more puzzling from there, because a week after the game launched, a patch was released adding a new mode that features full audio and subtitles. Finishing the game initially even provided a post-credits stinger and countdown teasing the patch.

This means that rather than building a narrative that thoughtfully incorporates the game’s most unique feature, The Quiet Man instead deliberately befuddles the player, only to shamelessly fling the answers in front of them with a second playthrough. When viewed as separate entities, the updated version is actually a marginally better game. But as an addendum meant to enrich the experience, it instead lays bare just how convoluted the full story is.

Getting into a fight
Square Enix /

The gameplay of The Quiet Man is comprised solely of 3D brawler style melee combat with semi-fixed cameras. Encounters take place in relatively confined arenas where the player faces off against at most a couple of waves of three to five enemies that are usually nice enough to throw punches or swing their baseball bats in an orderly cadence.

To fight back, you can punch, kick, grab, dodge, dash, run, and occasionally do mildly entertaining special takedowns like launching someone into the air and then slamming their head into the ground. However, it’s difficult to describe in too much detail, because the game does nothing to explain or demonstrate its mechanics, immediately throwing the player into the fray and having them make sense of it.

Since the combat never really evolves or expands throughout the game, it feels more like a way to mask just how shallow it all is.

This hands-off approach might be more rewarding if there was some incentive to actually learn the nuances of the combo system, how to reliably perform counters or the most efficient way to build up what is presumably a hidden special meter. Since the combat never really evolves or expands throughout the game, it feels more like a way to mask just how shallow it all is.

Even up to the end, you can generally mash your way to victory, occasionally kiting enemies around rooms to bait out attacks that leave them exposed. It’s not a system completely devoid of fun nor is it fundamentally broken, but it’s missing any personality and seems to be an excuse to give the player something to do between cutscenes.

Bosses tend to mix things up ever so slightly in the sense that they’re somewhat competent at defending themselves. But like their cookie-cutter underlings, they’re generally fairly mindless and refuse to find clever ways to get the player to engage with their full suite of abilities. Thanks to the characters’ and the game’s overall lack of identity, they aren’t even satisfying to finally bring down.

Streets of New York
Square Enix /

In another attempt to boldly forge its own path, The Quiet Man uses a mixture of live action footage and traditional video game cinematics to tell its story. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to which is used for any particular scene, and the inclusion of live-action footage provides no discernible benefit to the narrative, structure, or game as a whole.

If anything, the juxtaposition and frequency at which it switches between the two make it difficult to settle into the game’s world comfortably. There are even a couple attempts to seamlessly transition from live action scenes to gameplay without possessing the finesse or graphical prowess to pull it off, utterly shattering any sense of immersion there might be.

Between repeated nonspecific exterior establishing shots, close-ups of characters vacantly staring into the distance, and excruciatingly long scenes of lethargic walking, The Quiet Man is unable to develop any hint of a distinct or appreciable stylistic voice. The game also relies so heavily on bizarrely misplaced flashbacks and dream sequences that they’re quickly stripped of any value.

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  • But worst of all, The Quiet Man seems to want almost every scene to have dramatic reveals without taking the time to earn them, leading to an incoherent string of TV episode ending-like moments mashed together that fall totally flat.

    Some of the game’s story and presentation issues could be tolerable if the characters themselves were less stereotypical and more sympathetic. But with the breakneck speed at which The Quiet Man moves, characters don’t have arcs as much as information about them is occasionally dispensed.

    Dane apathetically wanders through most of the game, with his most distinct characterization being that he’s an uncharismatic jerk. And surrounding him is a supporting cast that’s equally as banal. Not a single character is able to carry the weight of the story, resulting in nothing to root for or against.

    Unfortunately for The Quiet Man, its staggering lack of polish further does nothing to help its cause. Characters clip through nearly everything and awkwardly snap into predetermined poses mid-animation, encounters end and scenes transition with stunning abruptness, there’s a heavy dose of environment reuse, and lifeless interstitial cutscenes bring back memories of early 3D games. As if inexplicably shoved out the door halfway through development, it feels simply unfinished.

    Like a late night inebriated sketch on a napkin, The Quiet Man has the makings of something special in theory but is completely squandered by a story that fails to say anything of note and repetitive, barebones gameplay. It doesn’t capitalize on any of the things that are supposed to set it apart, leaving the player with nothing to hold on to or take with them. It’s an honest shame because sincerely exploring heroes with disabilities and providing an approachable antithesis to the ever increasing scale of modern game design are both immensely worthwhile pursuits.

    3.5. Despite showing signs of a strong vision, undercooked mechanics and a nonsensical story propel <em>The Quiet Man</em> to miss the mark in just about every way, causing its best ideas to deteriorate into forgettable gimmicks.. Human Head Studios. . The Quiet Man

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.