It’s been an hour since I finished The Quiet Man and sat down to write this review. I have no idea what I just experienced. I’ll start off by saying this: nobody should actually play this game. But I do think everyone needs to see this game. It’s an experience that, from a story perspective, doesn’t make sense from beginning to end and, gameplay-wise, isn’t just rough around the edges. It’s rough around the inner parts, outer parts, and parts that aren’t even a part of the game.
The Quiet Man is a three-hour half-FMV, half-CG beat-em-up from Square Enix that takes beats from games like The Bouncer and Dynamite Cop, in order to deliver a more story-focused and cinematic take on the brawler genre.
The game takes place in a modern New York City, where your main character has a smartphone. That’s about as far as the modernity extends. There’s a club with a lounge singer straight out of the 1950s. There’s a group that I can only describe as “what an 80s action movie thought gang bangers looked like.” There’s a detective that walks around in a trenchcoat like he’s Dick Tracy. All of your option selects are stylized like a neon bar sign. Nothing in this game gels together. It’s almost remarkable how incoherent it feels.
And that lack of cohesion extends to every area of this game. Dane, the titular quiet man (or TQM as I’ll refer to him from now on), is deaf. Which is great! Games don’t often feature deaf character in lead roles (I can’t think of a single one). There are even moments where TQM uses sign language with another character, but they’re so few and far between, in such a short overall experience, that it’s a wonder they’re included at all.
The Quietest of Men
The game has subtitles, but even then the captions only appear twice in the game: once in the beginning, when TQM is threatened by the aforementioned “gang bangers,” and at the very end while the credits roll. Every other part of the game is entirely silent. Yes, characters speak. But the game just plays some kind of weird harpsichord noise whenever they do. The only other sounds you hear are thuds from footsteps, combat, and a glass breaking noise when you disrupt an enemy’s guard.
After completing the game and watching the credits, I was treated with a cutscene. TQM held a buzzing phone with a message about the “real story” and a countdown to Nov. 7th, 2018. Looking into it further, Square has announced it will release a patch that adds spoken dialogue back into the game. Without this patch the story is barely comprehensible. The fact that it’s silent makes no sense. Not every cutscene is from TQM’s perspective, it’s obvious he can read lips, and he even speaks or screams in some scenes. What is happening?
Visually, The Quiet Man is all over the place. There’s a lot of full-motion video, but there’s also plenty of CG that doesn’t use the in-game models. But there are also scenes that do use the in-game models.
Looking Bad and Feeling Worse
None of it looks good. Our hero, who already looks like the bassist of an early 2000s screamo band, looks like a knock-off of himself in every cutscene. During fights, his face is frozen into a creepy rictus. Both NPCs and TQM often clip through the environment or jitter around—even during boss fights. Sometimes they even jitter and clip through one another. Character models are reused over and over to the point of fighting shadow clones of the same guy in a single fight. The whole game feels held together by cheap school glue and hope.
As I said before, the game is a beat-em-up. But I wouldn’t describe it as bad one. Instead I’d say it’s downright broken. There is no indication of which buttons do what to whom. At least that’s what I thought. Once I paused the game, a neon graphic of a controller flared to life with whatever button I pressed. Doing so produced a second neon image of TQM performing the button’s corresponding action. Although its still unclear what those actions actually do, even with the infographics.
Regardless, it’s just a lot of mashing. You can dodge, dash, grab, and kick, but unless there’s a boss fight, it’s much easier to just punch everything. That isn’t to say the game is particularly hard. The boss battles, while sometimes annoying, are more repetitive and boring than anything else.
The Fullness of Time
Whenever you enter a combat area (typically very small rooms) the camera laser focuses onto your character. It’s not entirely clear how many enemies are around, where they are, or if there are any in the room at all. So, without any sense of the foes around me, I did battle with the camera instead. The camera doesn’t follow if you wander into corners and I usually couldn’t see where I was. Possibly to escape this spatial nightmare, TQM sometimes randomly dodges backwards… directly into off-screen enemies’ punches. Sometime during my playthrough TQM just got stuck walking backwards. I love video games
As I sit here trying to piece together everything I just willingly put myself through—from the baffling gameplay and visuals to the anti-story—it’s almost impossible to coherently put my thoughts into words.
The game itself is incoherent. Story beats just happen. TQM shows up in places that seem totally disconnected from one another. Time stretches and compresses, so the events of the game seem to happen both in a single night and over the course of a week. There are flashbacks to things that happened five minutes ago. There are further flashbacks to TQM’s childhood that try to connect the past to the present. Except there’s still no audio. So there is no exposition actually connecting the two timelines.
Avoid at All Costs
I have never hollered at my television the way I did at The Quiet Man. It’s offensive in the way it portrays all violent “gangsters” as brown-skinned, Spanish speaking men. Its relationship with women is vaguely oedipal and problematic in a “damsel in distress” sort of way. There is nothing said about or done with TQM’s deafness besides making the game more confusing.
Let me be absolutely clear: Do Not Play This Game. It is a series of linear events brought through a taffy puller with bizarre controls and an even stranger story. It’s like all the worst parts of a David Cage game combined with the year 2000 PS2 launch title, The Bouncer.
But this game needs to be seen to be believed. It needs to be shown at midnight screenings like The Room or Rocky Horror Picture Show. People need to throw bags of fake hot dogs at the screen. This needs to be studied and then shot into space for aliens to continue studying after the human race is dust. Do not play The Quiet Man, but please find a way to experience it.