The last time I wrote an actual game review was when I took a little look at a made-by-1-person, first-time indie release. This was a little title called ‘Riverhill Trials’; the game itself was nothing to write home about, in fact in many ways it resembled the kind of product people in my course hand in as project work, not a commercial product. And so, I opted not to write a traditional review, per se, but an article about what comes from making your first game, what your goals are, and how to succeed in growing your skills.
The number one piece of advice I game was to put aside ambition, and instead focus on making something suited to your skills and resources.
HEVN was clearly made by people who had given that a go, but ultimately failed and let ambition get the better of them.
HEVN has the exact same floaty, amateurish feeling that often comes as a result of first-time game projects, and even though the game’s engine doesn’t seem to be publicly available (That is, from a very quick google search), I’d bet my bottom dollar that it’s built using what effectively amounts to default Unity settings.
It’s an amateurish project, through and through – The lack of development resources is often very obvious, what with low-detail models, janky level geometry that left me stuck on more than one occasion, a UI that could maybe have used another go on the drawing board, level layouts that left we walking in circles confused, and interactive details that straight-up didn’t work half the time.
The game, for me, just didn’t come together, and I can’t say I had an engaging experience – So let’s go back and recount my experiences, step by step. The game starts up fairly slowly – An opening consisting of text on a screen to get us immersed in a world, and not even in a cool creative way. Straight-up, front-loaded exposition that completely killed my interest in the story, with buzzwords and information being crammed straight into my eyes from the word ‘go’.
For future reference – The number one rule of ALL creative writing is “Show, don’t tell”. Suffice to say, I entered the game proper remembering none of the dronings I’d just been told. Apparently, people on Earth are all ill and we’re mining on a foreign planet? Who knows, man. Anyways, my character gets up off of the ground, where he’d presumably been napping through the intro, and I find myself in an empty room with a broken door at the end, next to said door is a keypad which requires a four-digit code.
“Cool”, I think. “Guess I’m looking for a four-digit code to get me out”… But no, it’d seem, because after a good ten minutes, I’ve found no code and was scratching my head. Am I supposed to throw something at the door? Am I meant to guess the password? No, the solution was apparently something far less obvious. Turns out, one of the pieces of debris lying around the room was a defibrillator, and apparently if one holds the defibrillator, then holds down the mouse button for over a second, you can electrocute the keypad, opening the door.
This was the first room. We hadn’t even been taught what kind of game we were playing here.
Anyways, we proceed down the corridor – There are some strange creatures dangling from the ceiling, which damage me when I touch them. Some hammy exposition spews out of the mouth of the protagonist, and then I arrive at a corridor and hear a voice, which tells me to stand on a circle so I… Can be scanned, or something? Apparently, I have treatable radiation poisoning. Great news.
And then, I realise that the voice wasn’t disembodied at all – In fact, there was a robot following me around. The issue was, the robot was so strangely designed and so inconspicuous against the identical background that I legitimately hadn’t noticed it following me around.
The next few rooms introduced an actual objective, as a woman on the radio explains that the facility we’re aboard has been affected by some kind of biohazard and we’re to track down eight fragments of code so we can power up a ‘Quantum Radio’ and signal for help. That’s right, a quantum radio. The calibre of writing we’re dealing with here is stellar.
The characters then proceed to talk about someone I’ve never heard of, starting with the line “There’s a lot you don’t know about Blake”.
Too right! This is the first time I’ve heard their damn name!
I enter a room and find another disembodied robot voice talking to me – This one clearly using a modern-day text-to-speech program. I won’t lie, this made me laugh. Congrats. But there was a ladder in this room, and I couldn’t climb it – So ok, we can’t climb the ladders in this game. no worries. I continued onwards.
The next few rooms did some actually pretty effectively worldbuilding, as I went around exploring… And then I had a power cut, because I live in the countryside and we were having a thunderstorm. Welcome to Yorkshire. So I had to restart from the beginning! Huzzah!
So I quickly blasted through the game up to then again. Remember that second robot, the one with the disembodied voice, with the audio that followed you around the room rather than being in a place you could locate using your headphones? Yeah, uh, he wasn’t talking over the intercom, he was sat on a table, and I was supposed to pick him up and bring him with me – Again, because the robots just look like random environment clutter, I just straight-up didn’t notice him. This robot dude was effectively my guide throughout the game, spewing out the occasional line dialogue… And yes, it was all through a text-to-speech program and I loved him.
Along the next few rooms, all that seemed to be the core ‘gameplay’ was a short microgame, which involved me now using a small device to ‘hack’ those keypads we talked about earlier. All I did for the next half-hour was wait for a number to turn green and then click. That was all I did. Fast forward a few and I’ve finally arrived at an exit from my section of the base, out onto the surface of the planet Naik. “Finally”, I thought as the game’s name appeared on my screen, “The game can get started”…
…Hoo boy, I was wrong.
Is spent three hours wandering around the completely barren face of this planet. Three hours, with nothing to entertain but the occasional terrifying sound effect blaring from the sky – Which I’ll admit, was at least a start of an atmosphere… But three uneventful hours it was, and in that time, two things happened.
Firstly, I was wandering around a corner when I turned face-to-face with a rogue mining robot, the game’s first enemy and my introduction to the game’s combat – The robot chased me around the dustbowl some, firing a laser at me – I, meanwhile, was panicking while I scrambled around looking for some kind of weapon until finally, I see something sat behind a rock.
Some grenades! Fantastic! How do I equip them?
I… I can’t? Right.
So, these grenades had their pins pulled the moment you pick them up – Which, by the way, means they’re right in the middle of the screen, blocking my view, and what I can see behind it is obscured by a dark, blurry filter. Essentially, my job was to guess where the robot was and throw the grenade like a physics object.
I managed. Thank god. But at this point, my patience was wearing thin. Along my travels, I’d encountered ladders that straight-up didn’t work – Turns out, they were supposed to, as one or two worked fine – Pits I could fall into and then have to climb out of Skyrim-mountain-climbing-style, and on one occasion a 3D model of a scorpion dead-ass floating three feet off the ground, for seemingly no reason.
The last straw for me came when I found the entrance to a new building, but the door was boarded up; after wandering around looking for an alternative entrance, I ended up backtracking all the way back to the first building, past loading screens and all, thinking I must have missed something. But alas, I came back empty handed. Actually, that’s a lie – I found a fire extinguisher.
…The solution to the puzzle was “Spray the planks with the fire extinguisher”.
I wish I was joking. What logic was setup here? What skill at the game are we testing? Was this supposed to be a logically derived conclusion? This was it, the last straw – As I finally gave up and closed the program, a single question filled my head.
Was there meant to be a game here?
HEVN’s an odd one. It’s got ambition, I’ll give it that – But I can’t play ambition, I’d like something actually fun or interesting next time.