Armature Studio’s Where the Heart Leads is a very special game that hits home hard depending on where you are in your life journey.
Where the Heart Leads is not a traditional game and if I had played this 10 years ago, I’d have put it down within 15 minutes and gone back to shooting something. That was my level of maturity at the age of 21.
Release Date: July 13th, 2021 (Digital) July 16th (Physical)
Developer: Armature Studio
Publisher: Armature Studio, Perp Games (Physical)
Availability: PSN (Digital) Retail (Perp Games Store)
When this review goes live, I will have been 31 for a week, a father for five years, and a man for an indeterminable amount of time. For me, Where the Heart Leads strikes every chord I’ve got because of the life I’ve lived so far and my fear of the great unknown: the future. It was way less scary when I watched Marty McFly tell me what 2015 will look like.
If you’re a spotty youngster who only has to worry about whether their favourite hair-gel loving chav gets voted off of Love Island, you will not get this game. If you’re childless, you’ll also struggle to feel the full weight of the game, its themes, and the narrative nails it hammers home. But if you’re a 30-something parent who hasn’t made their mark on the world yet, and you fear that you never will, welcome to the club. This game was made for you and me as a reminder that we’re not the only ones who look out the window every morning and question our lot in life.
Where the Heart Leads follows Whitney, a married man with two kids and a dog. Average is as average does until there’s an accident and Whit falls through the massive sinkhole that has opened up on his property. Dazed, confused, and wanting to get back above, Whit explores the underground passage while reliving his childhood, his teenage years, adulthood, and even beyond. Yes, beyond. Go with it. I kind of knew what was coming very early on, as will many others, but it doesn’t take away from the story at all, and come the end, I guarantee that all who are human will get a bit of a shaky lip.
A slow start with Whit and his older brother, Sege, lays the foundation for Whit’s life and the events you’ll lead him through. Whit is a bit of a blank canvas and it’s up to us, the player, to make choices for him. I really liked being able to project a bit of myself onto Whit, even when the decisions I made weren’t all the great. They were mine we (Whit and I) had to live with them and go with the flow. That’s kind of the game’s central theme – choices, decisions and their consequences. It’s perhaps the most relatable game I’ve ever played.
As I’ve gotten older, and as this pandemic has brought death to the door, it’s forced me to think a lot more about life and death. If I go tomorrow, will I be remembered? If I manage to hang on for another ten years, will I do anything that matters? Will my family be proud of me? Will my son remember me as a good man? What will be my legacy?
Where the Heart Leads puts these questions front and centre, not just for Whit, but the rest of the small cast, too. Everybody has their own stories, struggles, trials and tribulations, and Whit is the vessel we see this through. His wife, Rene, struggles with being a stay-at-home mum when what she really wants is a career – a balanced life. Aldwin, Whit’s father, battles his pride to keep the family afloat. Sege, the older artist brother, faces roadblocks at every junction in life due to his free-spirited nature. Your choices influence all of these people and many more, whether you realise it at the time or not. Every decision changes the future, and that’s something we can all relate to in some way.
The game is a little long, but so is life, and whether it’s a happy accident or by design, the pacing of the story captures what life is. A quick start as you find your feet. A slow plod through the middle with a lot of filler, and then a quick burst to the end.
Somewhere around halfway through, I did start to feel like I was going through the motions and that it was crawling along at a snail’s pace. Then, when I got to the final chapter and knew what lay ahead, I wanted nothing more than to be back in the middle, dossing around town with all the time in the world. I imagine I’ll get that feeling again in about 20 years.
This is a game though and that means you can do it all over again. And I could. But will I? I don’t think so. There are so many different paths that you could send Whit on, and convince others to follow, that I don’t think we’re supposed to see them all. Again, this is the game holding a mirror up to real life; you get one shot and that’s it. You have to live with your decisions and the consequences – the good and the bad.
Where the Heart Leads PS5, PS4 Review
Overall - Must Play - 9/10
Where the Heart Leads is a one-of-a-kind experience that will stick with me for a very long time. It’s not often that a game can reach beyond the screen and get me to look around and think about my place in the world and what I could do to be a better man in it.
- Brilliantly written story and characters
- Simple but elegant art style
- The music is fitting
- More thoughtful than your typical video game
- The camera can sometimes be a little wonky and get in the way of the dialogue
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested: PS4. Reviewed using PS5.