Life is nothing if not unpredictable. We have no way of knowing what decisions we'll have to make, or how our choices might shape our future. When we reflect back on everything that led us to where we are now, it's also very human to wonder just what might have happened if we'd done things differently. What would I be doing now? What kind of person would I be? And if you had the chance to do it all over again, would you change anything? In Where the Heart Leads from developer Armature Games, these are the kinds of questions I can't help but think about in the shoes of protagonist Whit Anderson. As a surreal narrative adventure, you navigate through Whit's past, present, and future, where you'll have to make a series of choices that shape and alter his life.
With big decisions as well as smaller choices, everything you decide to do could affect Whit, his loved ones, and the residents of the small town of Carthage in some way. Just as we never quite know where life will take us, it's impossible to predict just how your decisions will affect Whit's life or the lives of those around him. With all manner of possibilities to explore and moments to experience, Where the Heart Leads opens up a window into one man's life and lets you shape how each moment plays out.
What is and what might have been
It all begins in a rather unusual way… In a bathtub down a sinkhole, to be exact. When a storm hits, your dog Casey runs off and falls into the sinkhole, which leads Whit to head down underground to try and rescue the family pup using a bathtub and rope as a makeshift platform. This is where the surreal nature of Where the Heart Leads first shows itself. As you try to navigate your way out of the depths below to return to your family, Whit begins to start reflecting on his life, and it's not long before you're transported to a moment in the past that will go on to shape his future.
As these key points in the protagonist's life play out, all of the people who are present appear as reflections of themselves instead of physically being there - Whit is the only person you can see clearly. This artistic direction adds to the surrealist edge of the game, but it effectively seems to illustrate how we're looking back on these moments in time from Whit's perspective. From the get-go, you'll be faced with plenty of decisions to make and start to get a better understanding of some of Whit's relationships. From his complex and often fraught relationship with his father, to his attitude towards his rebellious, artistic brother, and his love for his girlfriend Rene, all of the interactions you have are left up to you. How you handle and develop these relationships will also alter Whit's story and could lead to different consequences in the future. What makes Where the Heart Leads so interesting is how difficult it can be to decide what to do and just how much of an impact your choices make - it really feels like you have a big part to play in each and every outcome.
Come Whit may
The writing of Where the Heart Leads also presents some very relatable moments, which makes it all too easy to become invested in Whit's journey and the lives of those around him. Throughout each chapter of his life, you'll come across letters and unlock different memories in document form that get added to a notebook you can read at any time. These tell you more about the people in Whit's life and the effects of the choices you've made, which adds more depth to the story.
Throughout our lives, things happen that take us by surprise. You have no choice or control over them, they just happen… Often unexpectedly. At one stage, Whit receives a phone call that delivers some heavy and difficult news. Leaning into the surreal side, telephone boxes fall from the sky and surround him. The phones keep ringing until he answers, which really impressed upon me how memorable this phone call was to Whit, and how he had no choice in taking the call and dealing with the aftermath. I was reminded of a call I took this year concerning unfortunate news about a family member, and I found myself really resonating with Whit in that one memory in particular.
When I reach the end of this person's life, I find myself reflecting on everything I decided to do, and how I might have done things differently in the game. With so much choice and so many decisions to make, there's lots of replay value in Where the Heart Leads, and I immediately want to dive right back in and see what path I could take to alter the overall outcome. It really is easy to connect with the characters and relate to the story of Whit's life, and the wealth of choice keeps me invested. Playing on the butterfly effect idea in an interesting and engaging way, the journey of Whit's life is one worth exploring.
Where the Heart Leads is out now on PS4.