Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PC

On the surface, The Quiet Man certainly looks like an intriguing game. Developed by Human Head Studios and published by Square Enix, the game seeks to immerse players in a world of criminals and strange cults from the perspective of a deaf anti-hero. Human Head also chose to utilize a storytelling format which shifts between digital 3D graphics and live-action footage.

The various ways in which The Quiet Man breaks away from established gameplay and visual norms are more than enough to draw curious onlookers in. Sadly, what those onlookers will ultimately find if they scratch below the surface is a shallow, disjointed, and sloppily-assembled gaming experiment. Really the only redeeming aspect of Human Head’s latest is its mercifully short runtime.

The sound of silence

It’s hard to explain exactly what The Quiet Man’s story is about, and believe me when I say I really tried to understand the story. One of the oddest artistic decisions Human Head made was to purposefully omit all of the game’s audio, all of it. I’m sure this was meant to “immerse” the player more fully since the main protagonist, a strikingly handsome young man named Dane, is deaf, but it just came off as more confusing than clever.

Dane can’t actually hear anything, but he can at least read lips so he’s able to communicate with other people he meets. However, no subtitles are provided for the player. This results in long cinematic sequences where people are clearly seen conversing and yet the player has no idea what they’re saying. From visuals alone the player is supposed to glean what exactly is going on, and because of that I spent a lot of time being utterly lost.

Some details are pretty easy to pick up on. Dane is apparently working for a childhood friend of his who runs a popular nightclub and also dabbles in criminal rackets on the side. The two men share a childhood trauma which the player slowly learns more about, and they’re also in conflict with a local Latino gang called the Savages. Yeah, very imaginative there.

Dane’s friend is romantically involved with a singer named Lala whom Dane is also infatuated with, but only because she bears a striking resemblance to his dead mother (the same actress plays both Lala and Dane’s mom in childhood flashbacks).

Other details aren’t so easy to discern. There’s a weird cult figure wearing a bird mask who kidnaps Lala for some reason, spurring Dane into a furious quest to rescue her. There’s also a police detective poking around, creepy cult symbols, and vague hints that Dane is haunted by some sort of nightmare bird creature. To say that The Quiet Man’s narrative is all over the place is a gross understatement. And like I said before, what little about the game’s narrative which could have made sense doesn’t because there’s no audio to frame what’s happening.

Violence begets violence

Apparently the only way Dane knows how to solve problems is with his fists. Gameplay in The Quiet Man consists of little else other than meandering through linear environments and fighting any generic thugs you cross paths with. The game’s martial arts combat system is extremely barebones, with players wailing on the same stock bad guys with the same basic punch and kick combos, occasionally adding in a grapple or a dodge.

The combat controls are never explicitly outlined for the player, you’re just supposed to learn on the fly. There is a controller scheme you can refer to in the pause menu, but instead of text prompts it relies on poorly displayed neon imagery to “show” what each button does.

You’re apparently able to perform advanced techniques like dodge-based counterattacks, environmental finishers, and one-hit-KO takedowns. However, I only ever performed such feats purely by accident since the game never once provides any clear prompts on how to consistently pull them off.

Combat is also further hampered by the lack of a proper lock-on system, causing Dane to flail about wildly if he’s facing more than one adversary. Severe clipping issues would also routinely cause my strikes to pass harmlessly through my opponents, though oftentimes the same would also happen when enemies tried to strike me. Some new enemy types are eventually added in but they do little other than make the combat more mind-numbingly frustrating. The handful of boss fights you encounter are no better since they force the player to find very specific win conditions, again without bothering to provide any sort of hints or clues as to what those conditions are.

Broad strokes

The live-action cinematic segments seem serviceable enough (at least visually), but I actually laughed out loud when I saw how much Human Head chose to cut corners. A small series of stock models are used for the various thugs Dane encounters, and it doesn’t help that most of those models are of Latino and black men.

In one particularly hilarious scene, Dane finishes beating up a group of thugs and then the police arrive and knock down the door. However, the models used for the police officers are the same exact models used for the thugs! It’s like Dane beat up a bunch of guys only to have those same guys bust down the door dressed as cops not two seconds later.

The game is completely devoid of any meaningful gameplay growth. There are no new skills to learn, no progression elements to unlock, no puzzles to solve, you just move to a room, beat up any guys you see, move to the next room, rinse repeat. Thankfully, The Quiet Man is only about three hours long, as if Human Head could predict that players wouldn’t be able to stomach too much of what it offers.

In another bizarre twist, Human Head will apparently release a free patch for the game next week which enables audio for the entire playthrough. Supposedly the audio will make some grand revelations and encourage players to play through the game again, but I’m honestly confused why Human Head didn’t just enable audio from the beginning.

Falling on deaf ears

I want to commend Human Head for its desire to focus on a deaf protagonist, but the incredibly insensitive ways in which it depicts Latinos quickly spoils that good will. Even with its short length and small price tag, The Quiet Man’s clunky combat, dissatisfying narrative elements, and confusing artistic decisions make it very hard to recommend. Next week’s audio patch might give the game some added story appeal, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

With The Quiet Man, Human Head Studios made its desire to think outside the box quite plain. Unfortunately, a desire to think outside the box doesn’t mean much when the actual execution is so sloppy and haphazard.