Heaven's Vault Review
Release Date: April 16, 2019
Publisher/Developer: Inkle Studios
Platform: Steam, PlayStation 4, Windows (reviewed)
Heaven’s Vault is an impressive piece of software, both game and graphic novel from Inkle, the developer of the well-received 80 Days. It follows the adventures of a young archaeologist on a sci-fi adventure set in an open 3D world.
It's also very different from most other games. It doesn’t feel like a game at all; more like one of those old-school, chose your own adventure books I used to read in grade school. In short, it’s more an interactive novel than a game. That’s not to mean that there aren’t game-like elements. You have to pilot your ship, uh boat, uh craft, uh thing along the various gaseous rivers of the Nebula and you can control the viewpoint to look around the beautifully drawn world that your character inhabits.
Your point of view is that of young Aliya 'El' Elasra, an archaeologist who along with her robot assistant “Six” explores The Nebula, before returning home to share her findings. You can follow up leads, ask other characters for advice or break from the beaten path and see what you can find.
The game mechanics themselves are straightforward and a bit repetitive. You guide your ship along “rivers” through the nebula visiting “moons” small chunks of matter that contain ruins or current human habitations. Here you will try to acquire clues to first find a missing roboticist and later to ward off the sci-fi cliche of impending doom I mean “the darkness” to do this you’ll have to decipher a dead language know cleverly as “ancient” which has its own grammar and semantics. The problem is that through most of the story this is about all you do. You fly from point A to point B and either talk to someone or find an artifact with yet more ancient inscriptions. You use these to expand your ancient dictionary, and then you do it again, and again gradually moving the story forward. I do have to tell you that the sailing gets old pretty quick, as does the piecing together of ancient texts. By the end, if “ancient” weren’t a dead language, I would have been happy to kill it myself.
The artwork is innovative, not gorgeous, but engaging, your 2D character moves through a 3d world inhabited by other 2D drawings. The overall effect is rather like paging through a book. This bugged me at first, but it works. Likewise, the whole progression is almost all text inter-spaced with voice acting that is used to emphasize important points. It gets a bit exhausting, but it works. But where Heaven’s Gates strength lies isn’t in the game mechanics; it’s in the story. As a Sci-fi story it leaves quite a bit to be desired. I feel as if I should be reviewing the story instead of the “game,” but I decided I shouldn’t do that, it would give too much away, and in the final evaluation, the story does work. I did have trouble getting invested in the main character. Aliya feels like parts of other characters who were combined to make a sort of Frankenstein. It’s like you shoved Indiana Jones, Laura Croft, and Gabriela from High School Musical into one character then drained off the personality. There are also problems with the setting and the technology that drive my inner nerd crazy, but despite this, it actually works, and I spent about 20 hours reaching a conclusion. What’s more, I’m about four hours into my second play-through trying different paths, and aside from some central character and world building issues, it's better the second time.
Bottom line, it’s not a game, it’s a playable book, and if you like science fiction or fantasy it’s a good, not great story, presented in an interesting and reasonably engaging way and its worth a look.
· Good Art
· Interesting Story
· A bit repetitive
· Somewhat tedious puzzles
· Uninteresting main character