Kate Harrold reviews Where The Heart Leads…
There’s a reason Hollywood has been turning its attention to the gaming industry lately. Whether it’s a cultural juggernaut like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us series or Quantic Dream’s ambitious and consequential tale Detroit: Become Human, gamers want so much more than to point and shoot and these games prove that. They want something deeper and more heartfelt and in a period of time where we’re all looking for a narrative escape, Armature Games’ latest entry Where The Heart Leads is a great tonic.
The game follows family man Whit Anderson who falls down a sink hole during a storm whilst attempting to save his dog. When he eventually lands on the ground, Whit finds himself transported to a surreal landscape where he wanders lost and alone. Before long, he’s whisked away on a journey through time reliving key moments in his past, present, and future. As the player, your decisions affect how Whit’s life pans out.
The script for Where The Heart Leads is reportedly over 600,000 words long – an incredible feat and something that becomes evidently clear when you start playing the game. There’s plenty of choices for the player including what to say, who to speak to, and in which order. In fact, you may find yourself an hour into the game before you even realise just how consequential each decision you’ve subconsciously made can be. The game cites Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain as an influence and you can see that here. In a similar fashion, one of Where The Heart Leads‘ greatest selling points is its replayability and the promise of alternative endings.
Unlike many other narrative titles out there, Where The Heart Leads feels relatively wholesome. Whilst the game is grounded in reality, there’s an almost whimsical surrealism to the world and now more than ever, we all need to take a step away from heavy action-shooters for something far more warm and inviting. This feeling translates over into the game’s art style which is stunning. The developers have created a beautiful world that feels almost like a Hayao Miyazaki Studio Ghibli creation thanks to its picture-perfect intangibility.
If you’re used to playing games with constant cinematics and cut scenes, you may be in for a shock here. Environments aside, Where The Heart Leads is detached in much of how it visually tells the story. As the player, we seem to hover above each scene, always feeling just slightly too far away. The characters we interact with are little more than hologram-like silhouettes. Surprisingly, the way in which these characters respawn across the landscape to signify movement and emotion is fairly effective but it feels like it could be more so if we were just granted slightly more inclusivity in the scenes.
Due to this, it can be difficult to delve into the narrative as there’s no voice acting here either. Where The Heart Leads is a slow burner and the emotional connection to the story relies on the fact that players will take the time to read through the onscreen dialogue. It’s definitely worth it and your loyalty to the narrative pays off but there’s no denying it takes a while to get going. There’s a lot of read-and-click at play here which may lose the interest of some gamers.
The lack of control on the camera is the game’s most basic nuisance. There’s very limited movement in terms of the angle and so oftentimes when you’re playing as Whit, the character is obscured by an element of the environment and there’s nothing you can do about it. It can make navigation harder to point where you end up running around just to try and find the next right turn. It’s a shame because the environment is one of the game’s selling points and we wish we’d had the freedom to view this better.
Overall, Where The Heart Leads has plenty of charm and appeal, perfectly suiting the post-pandemic world it’s being released into. The swooping narrative offers hours of warmth and ponderance and whilst the gameplay can be both clunky and detached at times, the lush environments will be sure to distract you from any grievances that temporarily cross your mind.
+ Engaging narrative.
+ Good replayability.
+ Beautiful world design.
+ Perfect for any level of gamer.
– Repetitive gameplay.
– Hard to wield camera.
– Visuals sometimes detach you from the story.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5, Where The Heart Leads is available to purchase on PlayStation 4. A review code was provided by the publisher.