It’s difficult to say exactly what genre else Heart.Break() falls into, containing as it does elements of text-based adventure games, RPGs and even a little hint of The Sims. With such an impressive cocktail of styles it’s impossible to fault developer Erik Svedäng and his ambition.
At the front end, the visual style of Heart.Break is extremely impressive. Blocky pixels and blinking lights make it feel almost like, in a purely aesthetic sense, a dystopian version of the Pokemon games. Heart.Break uses this visual style to underscore the generally uneasy atmosphere of the game to great effect. There can be few other games that make players feel so unsettled in such subtle and unintrusive ways.
The in-game universe is described as a “place where bits have replaced atoms” and from the moment you arrive in the city of Dorisburg you can feel and see the truth of that statement. But this description is not simply for additional flavour, it also cuts to the very heart of the game's mechanics. By interacting with computer terminals throughout the city you can reprogram the in-game reality. This might initially seem like a daunting prospect to anyone without a background in computing science, but many of the friends you make in Dorisburg are hackers as well and will happily take you under their wing and tutor you in the ways of the digital pirate.
However, those friends are more than simply tutorial aides. The game is keen for you to integrate with the city of Dorisburg and part of making that convincing is having the inhabitants of the city live their lives around you. One of the central meeting points in the game is a cafe and you’ll likely spend much of your time in there, but as you do, people will come and go and carry on living without any need for you to drive their existence forward through interaction.
This does, however, lead to one of the game's key weaknesses in that it disrupts the pacing. The first hours can feel aimless as you attempt to make your mark on the environment. While this is clearly a positive artistic choice on the part of the developer, designed to emphasise the feeling of being in a new city, there is a thin line between thought provoking isolation and simple tedium. This problem is compounded by the restrictive dialogue options. The fact that the game allows you such freedom in some ways and yet is so dictatorial in others can at times be frustrating, particularly in those slow early parts of the game where you have little to do but try and make friends.
However, despite these problems it’s hard not to be taken in by the beauty and originality that's on offer. It was never going to be to everyone’s tastes, and the occasionally monotonous parts of the game certainly won’t help endear it to a wide audience, but those who are willing to embrace the quirks and peculiarities of else Heart.Breaks() will be taking part in one of the more interesting releases of the year and for that reason alone it merits investigation.