What is with adventure games and their obsession with lovable idiot Guybrush Threepwood-esque characters? Yes, Monkey Island is seen by many as the pinnacle of the genre, but that should not mean that every game must follow it down this over-beaten path. In Heaven’s Hope, an adventure game from German developers Mosaic Mask studios, you find yourself guiding fallen angel (more of a literal plummet than a biblical evil sense) Talorel back to heaven. Unfortunately in the fall his wings have been destroyed and his halo lost, making the task at hand that much more difficult.
Talorel for some truly bizarre reason is a dunce. He drawls in this moronic, monotone voice that forces you to mute the speech right from the beginning. Everything he says makes your eyes spin with despair and you begin to wonder how God made such a mistake in his creation. Shouldn’t this be theologically impossible? Ignoring such dogmatic criticisms, you quickly discover that Talorel has landed headfirst (perhaps that’s an explanation?) into a deeply puritanical land, hell-bent on burning any signs of demonism and witchcraft to the ground. Not a good time to be claiming to be an angel who has had the misfortune of losing his wings and halo. Particularly when there seems to be an actual demon chasing his tail as well.
If all that sounds rather dark and religiously disturbing, do not worry, it’s not. Think of Heaven’s Hope as more of a comedy, only rather missing the laughter. It’s not that it does not try, as with many games in the genre it’s constantly trying to humour the player with comic descriptions of items or adventure clichés, but it so often misses the mark. There’s a section early on when you discover that there is an inquisition in full flow and with the announcement of that ‘I’ word, you suddenly get hit with a tirade of (yes, you’ve guessed it) Monty Python quotes. ‘Ho ho ho’ you titter to yourself presumably, ‘that’s from Monty Python that is’. Instead of understanding and using that infectious and bizarre style of humour that made that group successful it simply repeats it. It’s just cringeworthy.
That being said, other times it manages to gather a few giggles. There’s a scene where Talorel accidentally gets a little high and starts seeing duplicates of himself and has to argue with himself which version of himself is the real him, meanwhile the screen spins around changing colour creating an odd mini-game of trying to click in the right place. Also it wins points for never hitting the homophobic, disabled or misogynistic button, which certain recent adventure games seem to have a peculiar fondness for. Although, given the nature of the plot, Christians fare slightly worse as their religion comes under fire at times, particularly in one odd polemic with a statue of Saint Peter reminding him of his denial of Jesus.
As far as adventure puzzles go Heaven’s Hope deviates very little from the tried and true road. The player will collect items, combining them in their inventory and using them on the environment to progress the plot. Most of the solutions usually make some form of sense, which is quite refreshing given the genre’s issue with illogical and impossible solutions so progression occurs at quite a pace. It also doesn’t sprawl across hundreds of scenes, tightening the puzzles to barely a couple of dozen backgrounds. Of course this means it is rather short, but over its five hours of playtime it does not outstay its welcome.
The mini-games that are half-baked into the story however are not welcome at all. Without exception they are either so broken beyond any form of entertainment or simply a frustrating excuse to slightly prolong the game. It’s a common factor in adventure games built on engines that are simply unable to handle what the developers wish. Early on Talorel is tasked with throwing stones at a chimney to knock his halo down and the screen displays this golf game powerbar but the result of each throw seems completely unrelated to your actions. It is so bad that eventually you may give up and assume that something is missing, reminiscent perhaps of that seemingly impossible caber toss section in Monkey Island 3. Only it’s not. It’s just the game. Many throws later you get it right and you can continue. And then the same mini-game appears later, only this time you have to hit the target three times. It makes you want to scream!
Despite all that has been said here, there’s clearly a lot of love put into this game. The backgrounds are wonderfully painted, each with details that bring a smile to the face and the animated characters are presented in a unique style that while still being computer generated, almost gives them the lovely claymation feel similar to The Dream Machine. The presentation was certainly what kept me going through the mini-games and bland narrative that almost drove me to the brink. It may also have one of the anti-climatic endings of any game I’ve ever witnessed. Let’s not ruin it, but it made me (and someone watching at the time) almost cry in disbelief as the credits suddenly appeared, as if the developers gave up on the game as well.
If you’re really in the need for an adventure and enjoyed games of a similar Germanic ilk such as the Deponia series or Night of the Rabbit you might just squeeze some entertainment out of Heaven’s Hope, but it doesn’t have the epic scope of the former or the playful childhood wonder of the latter. Otherwise there’s really not much to recommend. The presentation is wonderful, but it is let down by pitiful vocal work (in the English version at least), lazy writing and a host of unbelievably frustrating mini-games. If this is Heaven’s Hope then God has a real uphill battle to win.