Where the Heart Leads is not a game about the end of the world. There’s no villain to vanquish, no score to settle. It’s simply about what matters to us in life. What it means to be a spouse. A sibling. A member of a community. Who we are as the child of our parents, and who we want to be as parent to children of our own. But more than anything, it’s a story about the questions asked by the critical moments that shape us.
As the boundless possibility of youth starts giving way to the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood, will you struggle against the tide, clinging to your freedom and aspirations at the cost of stability?
Can you set aside your dreams and choose the hardship of sustained mundanity in service of reliability to others? Will you thrive on the quiet dignity of this choice or buckle under the feeling of a life compromised?
Where the Heart Leads poses and explores these questions through a series of vignettes, each progressing through formative moments in the life of protagonist Whit Anderson. In an effective touch, scenes feel shorter as Whit gets older, instilling later portions of the story with a sense of what it is to reckon with the runaway flow of time and swim in the melancholia of uniquely middle-aged reflection.
Has your role as lifeline to your troubled, misunderstood brother caused friction with your wife and children? Should you have sided with the family you were born into, or the family you made?
The sensible job you took paid well and provided for your family, but would your kids have been better off with a father who was happier in his work and around more to guide them?
As Whit’s story unfolds, critical decisions like these come to him at a fairly steady pace and the game takes great care to make sure you’re informed when making them. Exploring the surprisingly expansive environments brings Whit into contact with supporting cast members, whose own motivations and desires bring welcome nuance when it comes to your deliberation in those pivotal moments.
Your choices shape the lives of not just the Anderson family, but people in the town of Carthage too. In some cases, they’ll even literally shape the town itself. The number of possibilities and branching paths on offer is impressive and there are plenty of locations in the game you may not even see if your choices don’t lead you to them.
Though the impact of those decisions on the lives of others can be significant, the story rarely lingers on the interpersonal ramifications of their fallout long enough to skew the tone towards heavily dramatic. Instead, Where the Heart Leads maintains a firm grip on a hazy, dreamlike, and surrealist presentation that serves to support the story’s framework as a trip through Whit’s memories and keep the mood one of pensive reflection.
With no voice work, music is another key component in furthering this tone. There’s an ethereal, almost underwater feel to it, mostly floating in the background as atmospheric soundscapes. When presented with the biggest choices, the camera slowly pushes in and a subtle filter desaturates the environment. A particular piece of music washes over and expertly captures the feeling of time stopping, adding a sense of weight and inviting eerie stillness to your measured rumination of the many questions in play.
Do you trust your daughter enough to handle her troubles, or will you involve yourself and risk pushing her even further away? Will asking your wife to step in just sour their own relationship and cause friction in your marriage?
Is the advice you give your adult son genuinely what’s best for him, or are you just steering him down a path that eases your own regrets?
The relatability of these deliberations, and the pause you’re given to linger with them, made the questions Where the Heart Leads posed to me even more memorable than their outcomes.
When your adult children finally move out, can you sacrifice your newly returned freedom to provide full-time care for your elderly mother?
Has your focus on the problems of your immediate family blinded you to the needs of the wider community? Will your loss be mourned by the many or the few?
In capturing what it is to linger in the stillness of self-reflection, developers at Armature Studio have created an experience that not only tells Whit’s story, but invites you to take stock of your own. The quest for answers can easily consume but sometimes, it’s worth taking time to just sit quietly with the questions.