Portrayals of super-natural figures from the Christian mythos tend to be uneven: there’s often a heavy bias towards the superstars, with Jesus and Lucifer getting the lion’s share of attention (sorry, Daniel). Heaven’s Hope takes a different approach, telling a story centered around angel-in-training Talorel.
The introduction sequence leaves you wondering just how much more training Talorel will need before he can join the assembly of angels. Baited by angel-wannabe Umarel to attempt a foolish aeronautical stunt, Talorel finds himself the victim of a calculated trap. Talorel had intended to show up his rival and plummets to Earth instead.
On Earth, Talorel finds himself facing a serious predicament: his halo is gone, and his wings are burned down to stubs. He needs to get back to Heaven, but to do that, he needs to be able to fly. To fly, he needs his wings. To utilize any of his angelic powers on the mortal realm, he needs his halo. These are serious problems for any stranded angel-in-training, even moreso for the somewhat hapless Talorel.
Talorel’s naivete, lack of common sense and overall ignorance are on full display from portrait art-work, cut scenes, and exchanges with other characters. And it’s a decent conceit for a point and click puzzle game and a light-hearted look at a type of character that is often treated with more gravitas in other narrative mediums. Talorel’s dim-witted but well intentioned actions and dialogue tend to lessen the frustration that can come with trying to solve absurdly illogical puzzles.
Fortunately for the player, Talorel has assistance from a variety of sources. His wingmates, Salome and Azeal, appear at help fill in the gaps left from Talorel’s mediocre analytical abilities and lackluster education. Salome plays the straight-man to Talorel’s good-natured buffoon while Azeal’s cynical, sarcastic wit gives a voice to the exasperation you feel as Talorel bungles his way around the environments and puzzles of Heaven’s Hope.
The ironically named Heaven’s Hope presents additional obstacles for Talorel. The Inquisition has seen a revival in this 19th century rural English village, and the leader, Gretta, has fostered an atmosphere of fear, distrust and paranoia that pervades the village and compromised the inhabitants. This toxic cloud creates additional layers Talorel must find his way through so he can return to Heaven.
Navigating the various personalities, tasks, quests and puzzles is a mixed affair. Heaven’s Hope features a number of screens representing various areas in Heaven’s Hope. The backgrounds and overall style of the game are beautiful, with small touches in detail and animation that make the game a visually engaging affair. Characters in the game are drawn as exaggerated caricatures: Behold the innocence and idiocy of Talorel through his vacant, almost-empty eyes. Feel the menace and potential violence from Heaven’s Hope’s constable and Inquisition enforcer, with his oversized shoulders and angry, bristling eyebrows! There’s a Thomas Kincade meets Monty Python feel to environments, where the pastoral and idyllic are fused with ridiculous elements, adding to the whimsical and ludicrous tone of the game.
The writing is not as noticeable as the art, but it’s still well done, and most people will find themselves engaged in Talorel’s quest and the people and places he encounters on the way. There is a fair amount of spoken dialogue, which is above-average voice acting and also includes options for English and German audio (developer Mosiac Mask Studio is based in Germany). Early into the game Salome is rummaging through the Heavenly Library, trying to assist Talorel in getting his bearings on Earth and comes across a book with the advice “Don’t Panic.”
Fans of Douglas Adams would instantly pick up this unsubtle reference as an indicator of a similar absurd sense of humor at play in the game, and they wouldn’t be wrong. The only major shift from this atmosphere are some digs at figures in Christianity and the faith in general, which comes across as tone deaf and will probably alienate a small group of potential fans.
But the most problematic issue with Heaven’s Hope are the puzzles themselves. As a genre, point and click games have seen a resurgence in the past few years, a welcome return to fans of classics from the 80s and 90s. Remember when Sierra had the same popularity as a publisher as Ubisoft does now? Heaven’s Hope doesn’t break any new ground in a design format that was established decades ago with fan favorites such as the King’s Quest series or middle-period titles like Monkey Island. It could be argued it has taken a step backwards. The art is grogeous, the writing solid, the characters and situations are humorous, and then there are the puzzles.
The puzzles, to be blunt, are often arbitrary, illogical and frustrating to the point of making the the game feel like a chore, not a stroll through a light-hearted story. For hardcore puzzle grognards and point and click veterans, this is probably an expected, nay welcome, feature. To someone looking for a more casual, easy-going experience, it is almost a given that they will find their progress thwarted by inexplicable item combinations and usages. It’s rewarding to overcome an obstacle with through your wits; it is fatiguing to march back and forth between areas and loading screens, using trial and elimination with items in your inventories and repeating dialogues with NPCs over and over, hoping you will stumble onto a solution and be allowed to continue the journey. And the story.
Heaven’s Hope will appeal to two sorts of groups: those that are there for the puzzles and those that came for the story, and those that came for the story might find getting to the end not worth the time invested. If you are in the former group, this is a must buy. If you are in the latter group, be forewarned: not is all as it seems, and you might feel the hopeless as Heaven’s Hope blocks your progress with its brutal puzzle gateways.