The point and click adventure genre was once one of the strongest in gaming, combining attractive gameplay, engrossing visuals and sharp, confident dialogue that pulled no punches to make players laugh. After some recent bad experiences of churned out, formulaic adventures and hidden item games on mobile, it’s a relief to discover a story within the genre with a little originality.
Heaven’s Hope, a newly released point and click adventure from German developers Mosaic Mask Studios forges its own path.
Set in 19th century England, the player’s introduction to the world is from high above, following the exploits of the young and inexperienced angel, Talorel. Tricked into performing dangerous aerobatics near the boundary which separates Heaven from Earth, Talorel ends up crashing through it, landing near the small town of Heaven’s Hope, under control of the Inquisition (yes, there are plenty of Monty Python jokes). With no halo or working wings – which are clearly the bare minimum requirements to pass through the pearly gates – there’s quite a struggle ahead to return Talorel home.
The characters for the most part are very distinctive (or stereotypical, to be fair) with varied, usually positive performances. The standout voice actors are also amongst the most prominent: Talorel's angelic companions Salome and Azeal, who phone in from heaven. They’re a good double act, with Azeal representing the fire and brimstone end of the ethereal spectrum, often happy to cause harm so long as it gets his friend closer to home. Salome on the other hand urges mercy and caution when dealing with the odd mortals he encounters and matches Azeal’s barbed comments with sympathy and patience.
Unfortunately, the voice talent has its detriments, and these happen to represent spome major characters, including Talorel himself. The lead’s lines often feel out of context with the story, with disproportionate surprise at mundane issues one moment, utter deadpan inflection the next, not to mention that the consultation of encyclopaedias on human affairs (highly inaccurate of course) is an overused skit. Worse still, the pacing is excruciating throughout. With subtitles enabled it takes forever for the spoken word to catch up. This renders some particularly long speeches frustrating, simply because there are other things to do. Many of these could have been played in the background, but every piece of dialogue in Heaven’s Hope pauses the gameplay.
Furthermore, and more of a personal observation of the genre than a critique of this game in particular, but Heaven’s Hope persists with the exceedingly convoluted solutions present across the genre. Regardless of twisted logic behind some solutions, extra audio cues for why the ‘obvious’ answers won’t work would be highly appreciated, as opposed to the same line repeated endlessly.
It is, however, a pretty game, with beautiful painted areas and a static camera to show them off at their best, while the animation has a charming stop-motion vibe which gels perfectly with the pre-rendered imagery. The items blend well with the scenery, admittedly too well at times, though the space bar highlights points of interest. Were there more variety to the animation, the visuals would be spectacular, but actions which were wonderful first time around end up overused, and as no one seems able to run (Talorel just teleports when you double click to change position), any sense of urgency is lost to the antagonists' plodding walk.
Yet the main draw for most point and click games are, naturally, the puzzles, and those in Heaven’s Hope are disappointing. Aside from the staple of the genre, finding items and using them in odd ways, Heaven’s Hope has a few distinct puzzles. Noteably, a block puzzle which takes 30 seconds to solve mentally and ten minutes to solve using the clunky controls, one based on cogs which seems obligatory in these games, and a puzzle that entails making six dead people happy with their burial spots. The voice acting for the latter makes it a treat until it becomes clear the audio tracks are bugged and players simply have to bruteforce through the puzzle using trial and error. The cogs were much the same. Rather than switching to a proper puzzle screen, the player has to work in a tiny corner of the screen with cogs that measure a few pixels across.
All these flaws add up, and while the serious bugs are likely to get fixed (the developers have patched a number of issues since launch), Heaven's Hope remains a bit of a disappointment given its promise. Once the remaining bugs are fixed, it’s a worthwhile game for fans of this genre, who will doubtless appreciate its quirky characters, original story and convoluted item puzzles. Newcomers to the genre would be better off trying the classics first.