Where the Heart Leads on PS4
Where the Heart Leads is a victim of its own ambition. Trying to create an experience where you feel as if the choices you make really matter, the game hooked me up with its intriguing premise, but failed to keep me interested throughout its duration. It has a myriad of endings, but the narrative drags its feet at times, making the story engagement more laborious and a “one and done” chord, rather than something I want to play over and over again.
The principle here is simple. You take control of Whit Anderson, a loving father and husband who always tries to do his best for his family. Waking up in the middle of the night to a strange noise, Whit and her family travel to their land to find a huge sinkhole and their dog somewhere inside.
As you survey the chasm and try to formulate a plan on how to reach your beloved pooch, Casey, Whit has the option of saving her on his own or speaking with his wife Rene about her plan. This initial decision gives you an idea of the kind of choices you will be making throughout the game. Those that are not necessarily clear in their obvious outcome, but rather play a role in shaping your relationships with your family and those in the background. surround you, which in turn affects how the elements of the story play out.
Alas, Whit manages to save Casey, but at his own expense, falling to the bottom of the hole. You are then tasked with guiding Whit out of the hole, to the tub he used to winch himself down in the hopes that he can use it to reunite with his family.
From that point on, Where the Heart Leads oscillates between the current Pentecost as it travels through the various “levels” of the chasm and continues to emerge from it, and flashback scenes that recount important milestones in its history. childhood, young adulthood, parenthood. , etc.
In fact, I really enjoyed getting to know Whit and shaping him into my own vision of a good father and husband. He left the past behind when it came to his wife working with an old flame (confidence is the key!) And did his best to provide for his family while keeping the kids happy. He took care of his brother and always put the needs of others before his own.
Even getting to know Whit’s immediate family and friends was quite intriguing. His daughter, the ever-curious soul, or his brother – the stoner Dosser trying to get his life back in hand, or René, his rather demanding but well-meaning wife. Each of them had a distinct personality which became more and more evident as I navigated through these memories, and thanks to the strong writing, I felt like I knew each of them at the time. where the credits rolled.
It is in these conversations that Where the Heart Leads truly engages you with its insightful commentary on life. It is a story of sacrifice and compromise. The idea that some dreams are worth giving up to allow someone else to pursue theirs, or just pursue another.
Much of the fun here will come from following the story, as the gameplay is quite light. You make decisions and often walk around town going from place to place to talk with someone or interact with an object. Sometimes you’ll be building things, but it just comes down to pressing and holding Square until the wheel fills up.
Since the tale is quite interesting, with a few unexpected twists throughout Whit’s life that will keep you on your feet, I have no complaints about the tale itself, more about the way it is executed.
Overall, the pace just feels a bit off. While it’s clear the developers have spent time trying to stress the importance of Whit’s relationship with his immediate family and beloved wife, it winds way too often, slowing the pace. It often made me wonder what was the significance of something as insignificant as repairing a tractor in the bigger story. Of course, this helped smooth things over with the neighbors (and René’s parents), but there was no immediate consequence to my decision, leaving it a little pointless at the time, and made me questioning the importance of future choices that I would need to make as a result.
It’s not just the lack of immediate consequence, but the time spent on conversations that have no other reason than to supplement the execution time. I often found myself rolling my eyes as the game asked me to go talk to someone else, only to end up in a few minutes’ conversation about a random event in town.
The chapter with the tractor during Whit’s early years, for example, lasted over an hour, only for a scene that followed showing Whit and Rene reuniting after being away from college, which lasted a few minutes. .
All of this to say that Where the Heart Leads felt like there were some places that needed to be cut in order to make the narrative feel more natural throughout. Doing so would also help alleviate one of my main issues with the game – that its main selling point, the different endings and consequences of your decisions, can only be experienced by starting the game multiple times.
The amount of choice and branching paths for the story is certainly impressive, but it only made me realize how slow and laborious the game can often be. It took me about 9-10 hours to complete a single game, interacting with a few optional people along the way, but am I invested or interested enough to play for an extra 9-10 hours to see the benefits of doing different the decisions? Currently none. Who knows if I will feel any different in the future, but I have no high hopes.
This is what disappoints me the most about Where the Heart Leads. The consequences of your important decisions often don’t appear until the very end of the game. The final chapter which goes over your decisions and the conclusion of the various family members and storylines is fascinating and reminded me of it, but it all felt too late. If things had been condensed a bit more into the middle chapters to make that payoff a bit earlier, it would make the experience a lot more replayable and enjoyable overall.
Where the heart leads frustrates me. There are some really moving and stimulating dialogues. The kind of conversations that will stick with me and maybe one day make me a better dad and dad than the one I’m probably becoming now. But they’re washed away by a sea of unnecessarily lengthy conversations and dialogue, and it’s all presented in a way that makes the game so difficult to sit down and follow for long stretches of time, which I’d say is the best. way to experience the story so that everything is fresh on your mind.
Whit talks to his son on the phone about the issues he goes through after leaving the house, for example, after finding out he’s talking to Rene’s old flame, Robert, instead of him about them. The fact that Whit took the moment to absolve her father of his worries and regrets about their upbringing, or to explain the harsh realities of life in a child-friendly way to her daughter Katie. They were beautiful emotional conversations that not only resonated with me, but also allowed me to put my own mark on the story by letting me decide how I approached them.
There were also some minor issues with the presentation. For some reason, whether it was an issue when playing on PS5 or just a design choice, all glass surfaces emitted a blinding white light at night. It obstructs your view of doors you may pass through, collectibles that may be on the floor, or simple onscreen prompts to speak or interact with someone. It didn’t add anything to the look of the game and was just an annoyance from the start.
Since the game is also very rich in dialogue, the typos and grammatical errors were a bit disappointing to see, and they appeared a bit more frequently than I would have imagined. While we’re on the subject of dialogue, there are a few moments when during a conversation the camera will zoom out to give you a more grandiose glimpse of the surroundings.
This is a good idea, except for the fact that the game does not increase the size of the speech bubbles and the text they contain from the current conversation. Sometimes I could barely make out part of the text, and other times I had to physically get close to the TV to see it. These are only minor issues that I’m sure could be fixed in future updates, but they’re still disappointing.
Where the Heart Leads is a compelling and heartwarming narrative story. This cannot be disputed, but what can be its pace and runtime long enough for a game designed to be replayed and experienced multiple times. What you have left is a game hampered by its own lofty ambitions and CYOA’s desire to provide you with as much context – both needed and not – to Whit’s world. Glad I got to experience it for its intriguing portrayal of life, but it might not be a journey worth taking again.
- Strong writing makes Whit and her family endearing and likable.
- Emphasizes the tensions and stresses of family life in an insightful and empowering way.
- The number of branching paths and choices is impressive.
- The pace seems a bit off, and the consequences of your decisions don’t really kick in until the end.
- It had to be a bit shorter to accommodate its multiple endings and replayable nature.
- A few small presentation flaws and some text issues tarnish the experience a bit.