Most video games are not surprising. They may be good, bad, or something in-between, but surprising? That’s unusual, if only because, to cut through the noise, games these days have to announce themselves early—and loudly. That’s not, and I swear I didn’t mean to set up a pun, The Quiet Man. The Quiet Man is the most surprising game I’ve played in a long time, and for that reason alone, whenever this very weird game comes out, I’ll be paying attention.
How I ended up stanning for a game most people haven’t heard of is...well, it’s a story. So.
One of the strangest games at E3 this year was The Quiet Man, a Square Enix collaboration with Human Head Studios, a developer best known these days for its work on an abandoned but impressive-looking take on Prey 2. The E3 teaser didn’t show much, but what it did have was important: full motion video. In fact, The Quiet Man seemed to be promising not just a little full motion video, but a lot of full motion video, mixed in with some kind of street brawler.
Most people didn’t take note of The Quiet Man because they were too busy being perplexed at Square Enix using gaming’s biggest stage to announce almost nothing of consequence. Nothing new for Final Fantasy? No Avengers news? It was a massive waste of everyone’s time, but there were a handful of unexpected games, and one of them was The Quiet Man.
It was a baffling trailer at the time, and since then, Square Enix has said basically nothing about it. There was no indication how it played, when it was coming out, or why they were making it. I’d largely forgotten The Quiet Man even existed—until I was walking around PAX.
While killing time after lunch, I stumbled through a mixture of line-loving Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy fans, and found myself in front of four kiosks for The Quiet Man. Huh. Again, this is a game Square Enix has largely kept in the dark since its announcement, outside of dropping random, less-than-a-minute-long trailers on YouTube, or hosting livestreams in Japanese. Now, it’s randomly on the floor of PAX? I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.
If you want to follow along, GameSpot captured a bunch of gameplay from the PAX demo:
The game opens similarly to the E3 trailer, with a Squall Leonhart cosplayer walking down the street, doing his best tough guy impression—and failing. He stops off at a food cart, wherein the vendor, upon handing over a bag, warns him “the savages are out tonight, kid.” Those “savages,” it turns out, are some latino dudes, who are clearly supposed to be The Bad Guys because reasons? They’re yelling, drinking, and making jerk off motions, a clear sign that people are up to no good and require an ass whooping from a random white dude.
Soon, the camera pans from the alleyway gangsters to a smirking wannabe from the PS1 classic Final Fantasy VIII, and quietly, confidently transitions from full motion video to real-time gameplay. “Hell yeah,” the game seems to communicate. It would be impressive if it wasn’t so cheesy and self-serious and bad, which describes the erratic tone of The Quiet Man. This is not a self-aware game winking at the audience. There’s no fourth wall breaking.
The full motion video part is bad. The brawler part is, somehow, even worse! It’s not super clear here, but enemies are constantly clipping through the world, and you don’t have to do much more than randomly tap at buttons on the controller in order to make any progress.
After 20 minutes or so, I considered putting the controller down, figuring there were better ways to spend my time, as entrancingly weird as The Quiet Man was. I could probably text a friend and meet up for a drink. But...I wanted to see the end. Most PAX demos are only a few minutes long, a way of keeping lines moving throughout the day, so if I’d made it 20 minutes in, the finish had to be in sight, right? Okay, I told myself, I’m going to beat this whole demo.
At this point, I text Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann, the kind of person who I know would appreciate a game like this, and tell him he should come check this demo out. It’s weird!
60 minutes—a full hour. Jesus, man. What’s going on here?
By now, I’ve told Jeff I don’t know what’s going on, and maybe he should send help.
It’s important to remember how demos for PAX, or any gaming show, typically work. They are specifically programmed for the event, either pulling a short section from the game or running on a timer. Either way, you’re meant to be kicked off in short order, and when the demo is over, there’s usually some information about the game’s social media, platforms, and release date. The kind of thing you want to tell people who might want to buy the game.
This, weirdly, hadn’t happened yet, and it only furthered my curiosity.
I wasn’t going to let this game beat me. There was just no way this demo could keep going, and I wasn’t going to admit defeat. Friends could wait. I had a date with destiny, a destiny that meant seeing this The Quiet Man demo all the way through, no matter the cost. If they were letting people play this much, maybe something unexpected was around the corner.
I took a death breath, picked up the controller again, and pressed on. At this point, though, I was checking my watch every five minutes, trying to keep tabs on this very extended demo.
An hour and five minutes.
An hour and 10 minutes.
Then, something happened. At an hour and 15 minutes, not long after what seemed like a pivotal boss fight, a trophy popped. I can’t remember what it was for, but it didn’t matter. And that’s when it hit me: “Holy shit, the whole game is here on the show floor.” I mean, I can’t say that for sure, but if I’ve ever seen a trophy pop in a game demo before, it’s rare enough that I can’t remember when it happened. It’s a pretty clear signal of a finished game.
Someone must have noticed when this happened, too. Soon, I got a tap on my shoulder, and someone informed me my—I shit you not—”15 minutes were up.” It took everything in my power to stop myself from bursting out laughing, but I was polite, said thank you, and left...
...and then immediately started telling everyone I knew they had to play The Quiet Man.
(From what I understand, they got strict about the 15-minute rule in the days after. Oops.)
I’m left with so many questions, too, not the least of which are about gaps in logic, like: Why is nothing subtitled in the game, even though the main character can clearly read lips?????
The Quiet Man shouldn’t exist. We live in an age when so many games, especially ones funded by big publishers, are slam dunks. They know what they’re building, we know what we’re buying. Rinse, repeat. The Quiet Man is inexplicably weird for all sorts of reasons, the kind of thing where it should have been clear long ago it wasn’t going to work, an idea that didn’t translate from paper, and yet it continued apace, and soon, it’s going to be released.
It’s the kind of thing that needs to be experienced—celebrated, even. And I’m here for it.
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