Where the Heart Leads Review (PS5)
- Score - 8/108/10
When it comes to narrative storytelling videogames, Where the Heart Leads is a great example of how a development team can create a mechanic that keeps you engaged.
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Platforms: Playstation 4; Playstation 5
Developer: Armature Studio
Narrative storytelling games are not for everyone. In a world filled with shooters, platformers, and action-adventure games, narrative storytelling avoids large action pieces that some gamers enjoy. Yet there is an audience that yearns for narrative types of games due to the emotional journeys we go on. Where the Heart Leads is another great entry in the narrative storytelling genre, giving you the opportunity to see what you would do if you could relive key moments in your life.
Your journey starts on the Whit Anderson farm, where a ginormous sinkhole opens up on your property. After the initial shock of the event, Whit realizes that the family dog, Casey, is stuck in an unstable, lower part of the sinkhole. From here, you make your first big decision, which was an absolute no-brainer – I chose to get Casey to safety. The mission is successful, but Whit, unfortunately, falls into the depths of the sinkhole. From here, Whit’s journey becomes much more mystical.
As Whit is looking for a way out, his memories become an ethereal reality. He begins to relive memories from childhood to adulthood; pivotal moments that shaped the man he is today. The art design involving these memories is very interesting. The environments seem realistic, but the people you talk to appear as ghostly apparitions. Not like you would see in a horror movie, but more like an ethereal, haunting outline of people from your past. It’s a pretty neat art design element.
As you relive your life’s most important memories, you have decisions to make. Basically, this is an opportunity to relive key moments in Whit’s life and help him make choices that will affect his future life. I don’t want to get into too many details as I try to keep things spoiler-free, but your decisions are very much family-based.
And don’t think you will make a few decisions here and there. You are basically making hundreds of decisions that could set your life in a variety of different directions. If you are a fan of multiple potential timelines or outcomes based on your decision-making, then this game is for you. With only two choices per decision, you can replay the game and choose something else that could potentially affect Whit’s life. There is a good replayability factor with Where the Heart Leads. And don’t worry, your decisions are basically tracked in a book that you can review in case you need to note what decision you want to change on your next playthrough.
The struggle I had with these decisions was the lack of information I knew about Whit’s current life (as in his life pre-sinkhole). As the game starts, we see his farm with his wife and 2 kids. But how was his life? Was he happy? Was his family happy? What did daily life look like? I get that leaving this information up in the air helps the gamer make decisions based on what he or she feels is appropriate. But I think it could have helped make early decisions in the game a little more impactful. I think it would have helped if we had a daytime scene at the start of the game where we saw a few interactions between his family before the sinkhole turned their world upside down.
I enjoyed the music and art design for Where the Heart Leads. As I mentioned before, the ghostly outlines of the people you interact with are a really cool choice and fit really well with the fact that you are in an otherworldly experience. The game is very colorful which I really enjoyed. The camera angles can be a little wonky at times, especially in parts where my progress is being blocked by something and I couldn’t quite figure out how to get around the object.
When it comes to narrative storytelling videogames, Where the Heart Leads is a great example of how a development team can create a mechanic that keeps you engaged. The opportunity to relive Whit’s life and make hundreds of decisions for him is an engaging way to keep the players involved in Whit’s journey. Again, this narrative is light on action, so be ready for a lot of reading while playing Where the Heart Leads. But it’s worth the time and effort as you become emotionally involved in making decisions that could affect Whit’s life forever. If anything, Where the Heart Leads shows us how our choices can change the path we are traveling, so choose wisely.