Also on: PS5
Publisher: Armature Studio
Developer: Armature Studio
I love a good walking simulator. Whether it?s Gone Home, or Firewatch, or one of my all-time favourite games, What Remains of Edith Finch, there?s something deeply affecting about games that can draw you in with their stories as you walk through the world, uncovering its secrets.
Where The Heart Leads shows what happens when you have a walking simulator where the stories and the secrets aren?t that interesting.
To be fair, of course, that?s sort of the point of the game. You play as Whit, a man who plunges deep into a sinkhole as he tries to save his family?s dog and has to find his way out. As he slowly makes his way back to the surface, he explores his past, and you see all the major — and not-so-major — decisions and events in his life that have brought him to where he is. This can be as major as his courtship with his wife, or as minor as him gossiping with an old woman on a bench. Along the way, you get to know all the people in his life, from his family, to his friends, to his acquaintances.
It?s also worth noting that those decisions and events have stakes, at least to a point. Where The Heart Leads apparently has dozens of possible endings, all stemming from the ?thousands” of choices you make over the course of the game. While some games make a big deal about player choice and agency, it?s rare to see one that commits to it to such a big extent.
Here?s my problem, though: I didn?t care about any of it.
Or, at least, I wasn?t able to get invested enough in Whit?s life to really care where my choices were leading him. Maybe it?s just conditioning from years and years and years of playing games where you?re expected to save the world or commit some equally big act of heroism, maybe it?s my own personal preferences for fiction that don?t skew towards the introspective, but reliving the more mundane moments of someone?s life just didn?t have much appeal for me. I barely have the inclination to dwell on my own past and think about what might have been, so doing that for a fictional someone else held little appeal for me.
I mean, if that is your thing, I can see why you might like Where The Heart Leads. On top of the decisions, the game gives you ample opportunity to explore most facets of Whit?s life via lengthy conversations with everyone he knows, from his family, to his friends, to his acquaintances. If you?re the sort of person who likes speaking to every single NPC in a game, this is the game for you — and, on top of that, you?ll get the bonus of many of those characters having interesting things to say beyond one or two canned lines.
So, really, the question is: how much — and what kind of — drama do you want in your games? If you want loud and flashy, then look elsewhere. But if it?s quiet, introspective, and intrapersonal, then Where The Heart Leads should be right up your alley.
Armature Studio provided us with a Where The Heart Leads PS4 code for review purposes.