Heaven’s Hope Review

 Score 65Heaven’s Hope is a mediocre game at best.  It really doesn’t have a ton to offer veteran players, and the challenge is almost non-existent. Worst of all, the game feels like one of those Christian pamphlets you get on your car window.  Given the subject matter, it is refreshing that the game condemns zealotry while promoting rationalism.  I enjoyed the spiritual and moral aspects of the storyline, but it isn’t enough to convince anyone to sit through the whole game to its lazy conclusion.  It lacks the charm to keep kids interested, or the identity to invest grown-person hours into either.  It is however technically impressive, besides a few patchable problems, and has some stunning visuals and memorable moments that may be worth checking out.

WHAT WE LIKED
º Your character’s narrative arc, as he tries to balance morality with desire.
º The soundtrack, artwork and animation are some of the best the genre has to offer.
º The diary with visual notes and fast-travel map expediates gameplay.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º It feels like religious propaganda at various points throughout the game.
º The Hope must be for a new writer to jot down a better story with more jokes.
º Layering issues and glitches the forced me to restart several times.
There’s always an excuse for sin- but maybe never this bizarrely specific…

It wasn’t until I, a wingless and desperate angel, was confessing my sins in a small confessional that I realized how earnest Heaven’s Hope was trying to be.  Before that, the game had left me going through the standard motions of a point and click adventure game- but at this moment, I felt the developer’s intent with the game.  I fully realized the allegorical nature Mosaic Mask Studios was trying to harness; that of an altruistic person making mistakes in his pursuit of righteousness, and the feeling of being a flawed human.  Heaven’s Hope does an excellent job of making you question your ideals- but in many ways falls short of more exceptional adventure games.

 
The game starts by telling the story of a fallen angel named Talorel, a character who sadly is too vapid and boring to be engaging as a character.  He’s thrown out of heaven by a mysterious and malevolent force, only to wake up on a small English farm in the 19th century.  Sadly, his wings have been broken off, and his halo is without any spiritual power.  Upon speaking to the owner of the land, he discovers that the town of Heaven’s Hope is under the ever watchful rule of Nun Greta, who is currently overseeing an inquisition with all of its citizens.  You must recharge your powers, discover a way to fly back to heaven and save the town from a tyrannical and fascist patriarch.
 
If this sounds a little heavy handed, it is.  A dark tone that unfortunately tries to throw in random jokes along the way.  Besides some standard Monty Python, Back To The Future and Ghostbusters references, the rest of the story takes itself very seriously, and any attempt at humor is as edgy as a kid’s joke at a bar mitzvah.  Jokes about tax write-offs, unreasonable rules and what one of your angelic partners from heaven call ‘Cherobic Stereotypes.”  Some of these jokes are just- strange.  Like a red herring on a wall in a bar- one that has no purpose or is ever mentioned again.  I guess it’s trying to play into some of those Monkey Island tropes, but non-sequitur is the hardest nonsense to make work.  Dialogue is way too on the nose for it to be enjoyable for those who like subtlety, and the story doesn’t do an exceptional job of introducing the characters in the game.
 
“They speak with the dead.  They fornicate with ghosts.  And some, I assume, are good people.”

Walking through Heaven’s Hope, I didn’t realize how focused the Abrahamic (mostly Christian) messages were going to be.  I thought I would be playing a goofy but lovable angel, falling from ‘heaven’ in a very non-descript, non-divisive way.  The game, however, makes it very clear that ambiguity was not in their plans.  Perhaps it’s just me, because I’m an atheist, but I prefer my stories to not be as preachy as Heaven’s Hope gets on occasions.  It doesn’t get as bad as some religious games can- it’s no Captain Bible- but it does wear its heart on its sleeve.  They don’t demean others with their game, so I can at the very least say that it’s good natured.

 
I enjoy many of the stories inside of the gospel, and the developers have done a wonderful job of harnessing many of the bible’s tales to demonstrate moral stories.  The game embraces change and the use of science to achieve goals- something the Inquisition tries desperately to stop.  The game looks down on Greta’s “Zealot twaddle,” while encouraging you to seek out technology and chemicals to help a scientist build you a flying machine.  The game has a very sensible and practical look at the modern world while deploring the major crimes we can all stand behind; violence, theft, and lying.  Because of its rational embracing of mythos and pathos, I can say it’s one of the better religious games I’ve ever played- but to be honest, that’s not saying much.
 
In pursuit of getting back to heaven, you end up in a drug den getting even higher than that.

Sadly, that doesn’t mean it was the right choice to embrace a soul religion for the game’s narrative, and it doesn’t add anything to the lackluster tale.  The story suffers because of its particular use of religious imagery and symbols.  Sure, there are clever moments where you antagonize a statue of St. Peter to get him to electrocute you from above, all while under the gaze of a weather vane with a rooster on it.  My problem lies with the motivation of the angel, which is bizarre given his Christian background.  For example, Talorel doesn’t understand anything about Human life, even though he should’ve been one at least for a little while in his previous life.  He questions activities the citizens do to honor God; including the previously mentioned confessional.  I enjoy the idea of someone from Heaven confused by humanity’s worshipping practices, but to be blind to the struggles of being a (said like an alien invader) “Earthling” is simply tone deaf and doesn’t fit in with what an ‘angel’ is.

 
Not to mention, this the game doesn’t let you go off a very narrow path they’ve carved for you.  You can’t respond with snarkiness or harness any rebellion in the game.  Obviously, I’m a little bias there- but when I was asked by a priest if I would continue being virtuous, I wanted desperately to bring some levity to the situation.  The game only allows you to choose “absolutely”; so if you’re a fan of gritless dialogue options, this one might be for you.
 
The game’s opening and only cutscene is simply bizarre in both structure and visual style.

And finally, the game just feels rushed in some spots.  I mentioned before how much I loved the confessional because it confronted deep problems with the human condition and various decisions you made throughout the game.  While this moment shined in a heavenly glow, the ending might be the worst I’ve ever seen in a point and click.  I laughed at how lifeless and unceremoniously it just ends, leading to a denouement where the screen is completely black being held up by a hysterical one-sided conversation.  It’s a shame that the ending was so rushed, lacking any effort at all.

 
Outside of the religiously inspired script that’ll surely trigger those with thinner skin, your P.C. alarm might also go off over some culturally insensitive characterizations.  These include crudely performed accents, an Arabic merchant with a giant turban, and an Asian woman who has a secret den where they do drugs.  While they’re cringe-worthy, it feels more ignorant than culturally insensitive.  I didn’t get the sense of mean-spiritedness, and perhaps I’m just being too politically correct.
 
You’re also treated with two friends who speak to you from heaven throughout the game- friends they game tells you about rather than show you their connection.  Salome and Azeal are your constant companions, with Salome providing insightful guidance, and Azeal helping by setting his snark levels to over 9,000.  If at any time you get lost, they can give you some help.  Unfortunately, the game has a journal system as well, which does the job better job of illustrating the next mission by keeping drawings and checkmarks of what needs to be done.  These two Navis become rather annoying only after a short while in their ever watchful gaze.
 
Along with the journal, the game also has an easy to read and memorize map of about 20 locations.  You can fast travel between them, making navigating the game much easier than most adventure games.  One negative thing about these screens is that it can be very hard to identify exits.  You have to move your cursor to the absolute right spot to click on new levels, which makes things very frustrating.  One of my biggest faults is that some locations have almost nothing to do in them, with characters who offer nothing to the gameplay.  Is that why that red herring was in the bar- because there’s nothing in there for me?
One of the game’s many puzzles- if you can call it that.  Honestly, this is just lazy.

Puzzles are without a doubt the easiest ones I’ve done since I tackled the child placemat at Olive Garden.  There’s a puzzle where you move logs of bile to get to something (ala one of those car parking games), a puzzle where you have to put together a four piece jigsaw, and one where you replace gears in a door.  Thankfully, the items are all interesting, and using your supplies in ingenious ways does help bring some credibility to an otherwise mind-numbingly easy experience.

 
Everything in this game is absolutely visually stunning.  The character animations, while overused, are fantastic.  The designs feature a nice blend of realism while projecting a storybook feel.  I must say, I think it’s one of the better-looking adventure games I’ve played in awhile.  There are however some glitches, including your character walking in front of foreground objects or your mouse simply disappearing and becoming non-interactive with the screen.  I had to shut down and restart my game over five times.  There has been an update since my playthrough, so perhaps these problems will be fixed before launch.
 
Meanwhile, voiceover might be some of the worst I’ve heard in awhile.  It sounds like every character just went down a list of lines, reading each with the same tone and tenuous enthusiasm.  Sometimes there are single words, like “whatever”, that instead of being delivered with uncertainty, the actor decides to go all valley girl.  There’s also wrong character VO in certain places, with the same actor responding to themselves.  It’s not overly surprising, considering the game features several items and subtitles that are still in German.  I will say, however, the subtle and mindful soundtrack is quite refreshing in a genre where soundtracks can start to grate on your eardrums.  The music is top notch and whimsically charming.
 
So, I know I might’ve talked a lot about religion in this review- but how can I not?  Every adventure game should be evaluated on its story in my humble opinion, as that’s these games’ main draw.  What can I say- if you’re religious you might find some relatability to it.  Sadly, I can’t recommend this to fans of the genre.  It’s too simplistic for veterans, and the storyline is very vanilla.  I appreciate the developers and their drive; given this is their first game I look forward to what the future has to offer.
 
·      Publisher – EuroVideo Medien GmbH
·      Developer – Mosaic Mask Studios
·      Genre – Adventure, Point and Click
·      Release Date – February 25, 2016
·      Version Reviewed – Mac
·      PEGI Rating – N/A
·      Multiplayer – No
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