Review: Heaven (PC)

Heaven
Genre: Adventure
Developer: GenesisWorks
Publisher: GenesisWorks
Release Date: 09/15/2009

When I was told I was going to review Heaven, I was told that it was a Christian game. The name kind of gave it away, but this game is really deeply attached to its religious message. While it might be putting some people off, I am not here to judge anything of that nature. My mission as a Diehard Gamefan staffer is not to review the game’s message, but simply its merits as a video game.

This is really unfortunate, because while the game does a great job of conveying Christianity’s main message, it really isn’t that good as a video game.

Oops. I just gave away the punch line, didn’t I?

Still, there are some positives to be found within this game, so if you ever thought of using Heaven as an interactive tool to learn more about the bible, you might want to keep reading. As for everybody else… just keep reading anyway. We know you like this kind of stuff, or else, our own Mark B. wouldn’t have such an audience with his “Playing the Lame” series.

STORY/MODES
You start the game as an astronaut on a spaceship where everything is going wrong: Everything is beeping and screaming for your attention. This serves as your menu screen, as this is where you will enter your name in one of the available slots, and you will have to come back here each time you will reload your game. As far as menu screens go, this is one of the most original I have come across. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most annoying.

Once you really start the game, you are treated to a cutscene in the first person where you are standing in front of a grave, in a flashback, telling your grandmother that one day, you will be an astronaut. It’s nice to see that your character at least achieved his dream, but look at how well that turned out.

When you wake up, you are in Heaven, where you are greeted by a pretty-looking blonde with blue eyes, pouty lips and ample bosoms. I know what you are thinking, but wait a minute. This lady is actually your grandmother, who apparently regained the shape of her 20’s as she entered Heaven. Oh yeah, grandma also wears strippers boots now.

Your grandmother goes on to explain that you need to pass a series of puzzle that go through different parts of Heaven, such as the Golden Streets and the Crystal Forest, in order to make it to the Pearly Gates. She doesn’t specify what happens should you fail at this task.

The rest of the game goes on with little interaction and explanations. You just know that you are here to solve puzzles if you want to enter Heaven, or else. There is no real dialogues to be found or any cutscenes that actually advance any kind of story. These scenes only show what happen once you solve a puzzle and that’s it. I hope you weren’t expecting any kind of real mystery to solve, as you would usually see from other classic adventure games. The introduction is the only story advancement you are going to get.

Story/Modes Rating: Poor

GRAPHICS
The graphics are actually the best part of the game. The game’s case even says so. “The graphics are simply phenomenal”. While it is true that the game is very, very pretty, it is not even near the best looking game I have played this year.

Let’s start with the positives. First of all, everything is shiny. There are reflective surfaces everywhere, which really showcase the wonderful lighting effects. The characters are well animated, and the models are usually realistic-looking, except for your grandmother who looks like a pimped up doll. Everything in the game is painstakingly detailed, and more or less depicts Heaven as you would imagine it. In a word, you could say that the visuals are sharp.

On the other hand, I have seen some unusual graphical glitches occur from time to time, especially when the game tries to overlay tutorials of some puzzles over the background, which have a tendency to disappear into buggy mosaics. The main graphics are extremely clean, but the cutscenes tend to be a bit more blurry, with jagged edges sometimes appearing on the characters, even though I have played this game on a brand new gaming rig.

I also need to mention that loving the colour gold will really help your enjoyment of the game. I cannot really score this against Heaven, because this is just the way the place is supposed to be. However, let’s just say that gold is to this game what brown and grey is to most gritty shooters these days.

Graphics Rating: Incredible

SOUND
I will start with the voice acting, as it is one of the most aggravating parts of the entire game. The actress portraying your grandmother has troubles showing emotions, and the delivery is about as robotic as the Keenu Reeves impersonator on SNL’s Celebrity Jeopardy sketch. Her voice makes the monologues tedious and laughable. If only she only spoke during the monologues…

Your grandmother also happens to be your guide, and her voice stays with you even while you are busy solving puzzles. You will be constantly bugged with her cries of “Take a look at that!”, “Just a little further!”, “You’re going the wrong way!” and, “I think that’s good!”. I think these the only four pieces of advice that she bestows upon you for the duration of the game. So much for variety. This “help” will come often and will most likely make you crazy before the end of the first hour. If anybody thought that Navi from Ocarina of Time had the most annoying line of all time with her iconic, “Hey! Listen!”, just wait until you hear grandma telling you you’re doing it wrong for the hundredth time in half an hour.

The soundtrack is mainly ambient music that tries to sound pleasant and soothing but which actually falls into creepy realms sometimes. Heaven doesn’t really offer anything memorable to hear.

Sound Rating: Bad

CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
At its core, the game is a classic adventure game, but played in the first person. You can look in any direction, but only some parts of the map are clickable. Moving is done by clicking on some of these parts, which then makes you jump a couple of feet forward. You can also interact with switches or objects by clicking, and that’s about it. All you will ever need is your mouse. The keyboard has no purpose here. There are no inventories, as you can only transport one object at a time. These objects are necessary to go on, so there’s no way to use the wrong object on the wrong switch.

The puzzles themselves are boring and repetitive. There are only about five puzzles in the entire game, but each of them is multi parts. Still, these parts can be resumed in “find what works, then do it again five or ten times to move on”. The challenge is nearly non-existent, as your grandmother’s voice is accompanying you at all time. She tells you if you are going the wrong way, if you haven’t placed a switch in the right position, if you didn’t rotate a wheel enough, etc. There’s just no way to be wrong in this game. This is why Heaven quickly degenerates into mindless clicking because the game will just tell you if you are clicking in the right place or not. The game really seems to think that you either are four years old or that you have the shortest attention span in medical history.

The sad thing is that the repetitive voice is almost necessary because the level design is mostly bad. Nearly everything is big and very symmetrical. When navigating these huge worlds, there’s no real way to be sure which of the six identical shiny fountains you are actually facing, so you just keep on clicking until the omnipresent voice says that you finally made it to the right place. Sure, the worlds are beautiful, but highly impractical.

This game took me about eight hours to finish, but could have been done in about half that time if it wasn’t for the random quotes from the bible and advices on Christian values that the guide keeps spouting at random moments. You will hear them when you finish a puzzle, when you get told what to do next and basically whenever you interact with your grandmother. These feel tacked on, and don’t really serve any real purpose in terms of gameplay. It just ends up artificially lengthening the game.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor

REPLAYABILITY
There really is nothing to keep you coming back after you are done with this game once. I thought there might be an alternate ending, but the game saves automatically over the same file that you started with, so finding out would require going through the entire game again. There’s no way I am doing that.

Otherwise, there are no unlockables, no collectibles, no galleries of images or videos. This is pretty much a one-shot deal, and not even a good one at that.

Replayability Rating: Dreadful

BALANCE
The guiding voice strips away any kind of challenge this game might have had. You are told where to go, what to do and when to do it. You are reminded again when you are not doing it right. There’s even a compass that points you in the right direction if you play the game with the sound down because you simply couldn’t bear hearing the same lines over and over again. You might not really know why you are doing something, but you won’t have a hard time doing it. Having difficulties with this game would imply that you cannot follow simple instructions.

Balance Rating: Dreadful

ORIGINALITY
I will at least give that to Heaven: I have not played a lot of Christian-themes adventure games. The theme itself is not often exploited in the genre, but on the other end, the way the genre is exploited has been done time and time again. The puzzles are unimaginative, and if you have played more than one adventure game before, you will recognize the patterns at work here: switches to flick in order, symbols to identify on different objects, and so on. Nothing here will blow your mind.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

ADDICTIVENESS
I really had to force myself to keep going through this game. With a complete lack of challenge, Heaven amounts to nothing but mindless clicking. I can do that on YouTube too, and there’s at least a chance that I will be entertained. It’s not enough that I will say that about a video game, as I usually manage to find positives even in my most boring gaming experiences, but this game was almost painful to play.

Addictiveness Rating: Dreadful

APPEAL FACTOR
I can see two kinds of people being interested in this game: adventure gamers and Christian people. The first group will stay away from this game if they take the time read just a little bit of information about the game. The second group will find better ways to fill their Christian-themed entertainment quotas. Unless you want to learn more about the bible and Heaven, and you really need to do it in front of a computer, there’s really no way why somebody would want to subject themselves to this.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

MISCELLANEOUS
Heaven sucks as a game, but at least gets the Christian parts right. However, at $34.99, there are better, more efficient ways to get what this game has to offer. How about buying a Bible? A book is only barely less interactive than this product. The parts where your grandmother/guide goes into sermon mode are boring and if you know anything about Christian values, they won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. Heaven doesn’t really have any value, be it as a game or as a tool to teach about Christianity.

Miscellaneous Rating: Dreadful

The Scores
Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Incredible
Sound: Bad
Control/Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal: Bad
Miscellaneous: Dreadful
Final Score: Pretty Poor Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Heaven is simply painfully dull. The game is beautiful to look at, but offers nothing but boring and repetitive puzzles. These puzzles are then rendered even more boring by the fact that you are not really solving them, but simply obeying a voice that tells you how to solve them. That is also a problem because the voice acting is atrocious, which doesn’t really make you want to boot up the game to listen to it for hours on end. I think this game would have been better served if it played itself, simply letting you watch the pretty graphics while it did its own thing, but then, it wouldn’t be much of a game. Playing through this was a chore, one which I wouldn’t even wish upon my enemies. If you are looking into trying this game because you like adventures, don’t do it. If you wanted to play this game because you want some Christian-themed entertainment, don’t do it. There are better alternatives to both. Actually, I am not an expert on Christian-themed entertainment, but there has to be something better than this. That’s how much I am certain that this game sucks.

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