So, where does the heart leads? In case of Armature Studios, it leads them away from gameplay heavy Recore and Arkham Origins Blackgate to the narratively heavy, Where The Heart Leads. WTHL (What The Hell?) is a game about choices, and how your entire life is a result of them. It’s also a reminder that even though all paths may lead to the same door, it’s the journey and not the destination which matters.
Going Down The Rabbit Hole
The game starts off on a stormy night. Whit wakes up to find a large sinkhole right in the middle of his farm, his dog has fallen down the said sinkhole, while his family is looking on anxiously. Whit bravely and/or foolishly head down the sinkhole, in…wait for it… a bathtub to save the aforementioned dog, and to the surprise of no one, save the dog but fall down deeper into the hole.
What follows is a psychedelic walk through the memory lane. It’s not explained very well, but I like to think that Whit damaged his head while falling down the hole, and is now hallucinating while making his way back up. Anywho…Whit relives and ponders the choices that he has made throughout his life which has led him here, and that’s where you come in.
Walking & Talking
You play as Whit. And as you carousel through the polaroids of his memories, you will make decisions for him, shaping his future as you go on. Do you help your father upscale their farm to pay off a big loan or do you tell your mom about this secret? Do you help your estranged, artistic, and misunderstood brother into an expensive condo downtown, or do you convince him to move into a downtrodden rodent-infested room which at least he can afford? You know choices like that.
You will cycle through various phases of Whit’s life, his teenage years on his dad’s farm, as a young couple making it out in the city, and then as a family man laying down his roots. All of these phases are represented by, what I can best describe as Snow Globes. Small enclosed spaces, lacking a lot of peripheral details, but containing the most important ones, kind of like memory works in real life.
Another is the scope of the story. While there is a certain weight to every decision you make, they are never black and white or should I say good and evil. They closely align to decisions you make in real life, and in that way, you can project what you think and how you think into Whit himself. I don’t know about you, but not having the fate of the entire town, or the cyborg race in my hand, was kind of a relief. What I am trying to say, is that the story is relatable. So Kudos to Armature.
What I can’t commend Armature on, is the technical aspect of the game. Given the scope of the game and the isometric point of view that they have decided to go with, the lack of polish on various aspects of the game is appalling.
Almost every character model except Whit himself, major or otherwise appears as a shining shade, a silver silhouette. With no defining features to distinguish them visibly, and no voice acting (Armature claims there are more than 3000 lines in the game), it’s difficult to identify where each character is.
It doesn’t help that the speech bubbles have no consistency to them. The bubbles stay on the screen depending on how long they are, so bubbles with monosyllable responses disappear from the screen faster than when they are giving you a detailed answer. However, each bubble also comes with a prompt to skip it and move on. With the inconsistency in the window and no way to make bubbles visible until you skip them manually, what happens regularly is that you skip something relevant when you were trying to skip a buffer line. It’s partially mitigated, with a log of your entire conversation that you can access at any time, but it’s particularly annoying since those bubbles are your only indicators of what you need to do next.
Then there is this weird bug, where the windows and doors of buildings in the game increase in shine as the game goes on, until the entire game looks like a scene minutes before an explosion. The same bug affects the character models too and makes them look like ghastly ghouls bursting with energy.
There is a distinct lack in background music as well with Armature resorting to simple tones, that could have been produced by a college drop-out.
All of this makes you feel like Armature cut a lot of corners on this one. By all means, this game was made on a tight budget, but with such a small scope, the things that they have done should have been done really well.
Where The Heart Leads offers a relatable story with multiple choices and a few different endings. It’s not edge of your seat, as much as it is a daily soap opera. But that’s about the only thing going for it. There are a lot of bugs, which impede the game, and while the dev team is pushing out patches and updates frequently (there was one that added an option to increase the Text Bubble size), there is still a way to go, before I can recommend it to anyone. Maybe 3 months from now.
FINAL RATING: NOT RECOMMENDED