In the introduction to his short story collection Skeleton Crew, Stephen King describes the difference between a respectable short fiction and a long novel: “A short story is a different thing altogether – a short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.” A good short story should leave you with a little thrill, perhaps some sense of apprehension, and end with a little bit of mystery; just enough mystery to keep you thinking and wondering.
Square-Enix’s The Quiet Man is several things: a throwback to Full Motion Video games, a brawler, and a psychological thriller. It is also a short story running at only about three to four hours. It is meant to be taken in with one sitting. But, short as it is, the journey feels much longer due to unsteady pacing and a series of repetitive and lackluster brawls.
The idea behind The Quiet Man is promising on paper. You play as a deaf protagonist and are therefore forced to do your best to figure out what characters are saying and what interactions within the game mean. This gives The Quiet Man an air of mystery.
FMV sequences are well shot though sometimes a bit melodramatic, and the cinematography is on par with anything you will see on television. Characters convey emotions well without the ability to hear them speak. However, if you are like me and lack any competent ability to lip read, you end up staring at the screen for a good five minutes at a time during these scenes wondering what on earth is going on. While this fits well into the story, it left me feeling a bit wearied during dialogue-heavy scenes.
The gameplay element is where The Quiet Man falls apart. While the visuals are more or less on par with what you would expect from a Square-Enix title, it is noticeably buggy. During a boss fight, my opponent got stuck in a corner while I stood and watched him run at me to no avail. During another fight scene toward the end, several thugs clipped through a wall. The game will noticeably stutter at times and transitions between the CGI and FMV sequences, though sometimes smooth as silk, were more often jarring and poorly executed.
The camera angles also leave you in vulnerable positions. I can’t count how many times I was placed in a room only for the camera to settle on a side view shot that kept me from seeing exactly how many opponents were in the room with me and how far away they were. The camera moves slowly and almost unwillingly, limiting your ability to explore your environment.
Of course, the game never really requires you to do much exploring. Most of the time you are in control of the protagonist, you are engaging in combat. This seems like such a waste of this game’s design, particularly when it is so centered on story. A little more direct interaction with the characters, as well as the environment, might have elevated The Quiet Man above a movie intermittently interrupted by fights.
Brawls are rarely fun or even challenging. Most of the time you will run across the same set of gang members and mobsters over and over. These guys serve as nothing more than punching bags. There were only a handful of times where I felt like I had to pay a little more attention. This is especially true of the few boss battles you will come across. While you are equipped with a standard subset of moves (dodge, punch, kick), you will notice that it is really only during the boss battles that carefully timed dodging makes a significant difference. A majority of the time you can get away with button mashing and a little bit of luck.
In the end, The Quiet Man will leave you with more questions than answers. But, perhaps even worse, it leaves you not really wanting to explore the answers to those questions. What was a promising premise quickly succumbed to what feels like a rushed project, at least when it comes to the gameplay elements. The Quiet Man is not like a good short story. It is not like a kiss from a stranger in the dark. Rather, it feels like a great idea lost inside poor execution.
Editor’s Note: Since the writing of this review Square-Enix has released a version of The Quiet Man with sound and words with subtitles. The reviewer’s score is based on the overall experience at the time of release.