Review code supplied by IndieNova.
As a gamer, I find Survival Horror a terrifyingly engrossing genre. I am simultaneously too terrified to continue, but hopelessly engrossed to stop. It’s a dichotomy that led to countless nightmares and late night pondering as a fledgling human. The genre has unfortunately strayed from its traditional roots, specifically those laid down by the legendary PS1 Classic – Resident Evil. Heaven Dust shambles onto the scene, ready to scrawl a messy, yet intricate, love letter to the series.
As I’ve aged, I’ve began to realise classic Survival Horror was not necessarily about being scary – instead, they were about solving a string of interconnected puzzles…with a smattering of zombies. Heaven Dust also came to that realisation, as the whole game is one, bite-sized, linear puzzle. Your goal is invariably to get from point A, to point B (wherever that may be…), uncovering the solution to whatever obstacle is in your path. This could be finding a key to a door, deciphering a safe combination, or even pushing a box to reveal a hidden passage. It is satisfying stuff, all knitted together by clues not-so-subtly relayed through various diaries and logs in the nearby area.
Those same clues, often go about expositing all sorts of worldbuilding goodness, normally in quite a humorous way. Various staff members berating their peers, or expressing general distaste towards various things going around the facility. Considering the game starts with minimal story, the amount that can be gleaned from these snippets is not only impressive, but surprisingly engrossing. The only thing holding it all back, is the occasionally poor localisation. Certain sentences don’t flow particularly well, or are flat out wrong. A little bit more time ensuring the otherwise great dialogue was correct, would have done wonders.
When you are not puzzle-solving or reading, you will be encountering zombies. Zombies are initially a threat, as you have no means to defend yourself. Once you get your gun however, that slightly unnerving experience fades away, and never really comes back. Enemies are typically quite slow, your pistol packs packs a punch, and thanks to an auto-aim system, you don’t even have to be accurate. Zombies become a nuisance more than anything else, especially when you consider there is an overabundance of ammo on hand. This ultimately results in frequent exploratory delays, due to regular, fleshy, hindrances.
Similarly hindering, is the inventory system. Managing a limited inventory is a classic trope, however Heaven Dust takes this a bit far. Each area requires a fairly substantial number of puzzle components to overcome. You can only hold six items, four if you are packing a gun, three if you have decided to bring healing. This results in constant backtracking to your storage container. It was initially quite a nice throwback, but it quickly devolved into something that felt a lot like padding. I was never a massive fan of inventory management as a bairn, and seeing it return after all of these years, has only cemented that general dislike.
What makes the system worse, is the missed potential. Defeating enemies will occasionally reward you with tokens. These tokens can be spent at various vending machines to receive a number of RPG-esque buffs such as increased movement speed. Had they included a way to purchase a larger inventory, it would have made the whole thing less gruelling. That being said, the system that is here, is a nice addition that gives a nice sense of statistical progression.
Despite the horror themes, story and zombies, Heaven Dust never really comes across as a horror game. This is in-part due to the lack of challenge, but mostly due to the art direction. Heaven Dust went for an almost chibi style, that makes everything look surprisingly cute. Needless to say, it is difficult to feel the pangs of fear, when you are being assailed by a miniature monstrosity. The characters feel even less suited to the game, when placed against the rest of the presentation. Environments look perfectly suited to the genre, with sterile laboratories and dilapidated offices etc. The soundtrack is suitably ominous, the sound effects are low-budget and dirty instilling lots of horror nostalgia. The game is also quite ugly, with low resolution textures. Had the game had a more cohesive style, the rough-and-ready visuals could have actually aided in pushing a classic horror experience.
Heaven Dust may come packaged with a fair number of flaws, however this is undeniably a game made with a love for a subgenre long considered dead. It comes with an interesting story, satisfying puzzles and boatloads of nostalgia. Heck, they even included some Easter eggs. The game isn’t especially long, and what it brings to the table is enough to keep you engaged till the end. I enjoyed my time with Heaven Dust, and would recommend it to anyone interested in a laid-back, nostalgia-fuelled stroll through a zombie-infested mansion.
Have you played Heaven Dust? Are you planning on giving it a try? Let me know in the comments below!
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