Where The Heart Leads
At some point in our lives we’ve all reflected upon the choices that brought us to that moment. It’s probably fair to say not many of us have done so while at the bottom of a giant sinkhole, having attempted to rescue the family dog during a storm by winching ourselves down inside a bathtub. Such is the lot of foolhardy everyman Whit Anderson, who uses his predicament as an opportunity to look back as he tries to make his way back up – imagining how things might have panned out had he made some different decisions.
This whimsical premise kicks off an ambitious sixto seven-hour thirdperson narrative adventure, which gives you the chance to shape the existence of an ordinary guy – and by extension, those of his nearest and dearest. As Anderson, you explore a small handful of stylised, handpainted environments, talking to friends, family members and work colleagues and interacting with a variety of objects, steadily accumulating a scrapbook of memories big and small as you go.
Occasionally you’re prompted to make choices both obviously pivotal and apparently incidental – though even some of the smaller ones have significant consequences. An early vignette, for example, centres on a mundane argument between two stubborn farmers about who’s responsible for a broken tractor, while a decision to withhold the truth about Anderson’s brother’s involvement in a fire doesn’t pay off until several hours later. Elsewhere, there’s a strong focus on architecture, with your choices having an impact on the local environment, from an early art project with thengirlfriend Rene to the house you choose to bring your kids up in when the two marry.
Gratifying though it is to see your decisions produce such tangible results, Where The Heart Leads is consistently let down by its storytelling. The ability to tackle the many sub-stories during each section in any order leads to moments that don’t fully add up, while the passage of time is frequently disregarded, and some fanciful subplots are difficult to swallow. Like Anderson, it makes some odd choices throughout: the impact of an absentee father on his two sons, hammered home in the dialogue, might have carried more weight had we not spent a good chunk of the game in his company. And it’s not just its thirdperson camera that keeps you at a distance. We spend our time interacting with iridescent figures without faces, the looping ambient soundtrack completely flattening the drama: when everything feels as if it has equal weight, nothing has any impact. The idea of reimagining a life to make brand-new memories is an alluring one; alas, Armature’s game doesn’t generate enough unforgettable moments of its own.