Research facility hidden in a secret location! A mystery formula tested on human guinea pigs! Zombie outbreak about to destroy humanity! All sounds familiar, right? This is the backdrop of most zombie horror games. So when another indie title used this clichéd theme, I was a little worried. Still, I’m a sucker for anything zombie related, so I asked publisher indienova and Monster Couch for a copy of their latest game Heaven Dust.
Developed by One Gruel Studio, this single-player puzzle based zombie mystery looks to stand out amongst a crowded room of games by offering something slightly different. Unlike many of its peers, Heaven Dust doesn’t rely on cheap jumpscares and darkened passages to fill you with dread. It uses suspense, audio and environment to do all the work.
Many great influences.
Whenever I think of zombie games, a few franchises spring to mind. But the lead influence has to be Resident Evil. I can see how the developers have taken key ideas and mechanics and merged them with their unique approach to create a mentally challenging game that feels familiar in so many ways.
You control a survivor who awakens in a locked room. A diary entry has been left and you must read it to gather clues on how to move on. This is the core concept that One Gruel Studio relies on throughout. Text based information must be pieced together from the documents you find hidden in this spooky mansion. Objects will need to be collected and used in specific ways to solve the logic-based puzzles you locate. Not one room can be overlooked, and vital clues will be found under boxes and in locked cupboards.
Not only is this a puzzle game, but it also demands that you survive your ordeal. You must craft items and scavenge herbs to create medical supplies. Red and green plants must be combined to make a medicinal powder (*cough, Resident Evil, cough, cough*.) Other craftables must be considered such as; gunpowder and shells to make ammo. Zombies don’t kill themselves, and no ammo means they’ll eat you alive.
Classic old-school zombies.
These brain munchers are your classic Dawn of the Dead sluggish creatures, opposed to the demonic agile 28 Days Later abominations. Their meandering approach allows you time to plan how you will kill them. Shooting each of them in the face is wonderful, and it doesn’t get old.
Decimating the undead population is fun, but it’s not the best part of this game. No, that accolade is reserved for the many tantalising puzzles you will have to solve. The fantastic combination of; number problems, hunting for objects and codes to decipher worked brilliantly in this scenario. You will scour every inch of the map, trying to make sense of every clue you are given. Some problems will jump out at you, and others require a Eureka moment. Either way, it’s extremely rewarding as you slowly move through the mansion, exploring restricted areas and uncovering the reasons behind the outbreak.
Unlike some games where your pockets seem to hold unlimited items, this one plays the survival card well. Limited inventory space forces you into juggling items all the time. Storage boxes must be used and this requires items to be shuffled about like a deck of cards. It may be a little tiresome, but it adds another layer of challenge that I think works.
We’ve all been in a mansion that has its own vending machines, right? No, not until I played this. These machines require tokens located around the map and scavenged from the many zombies. You can then purchase; materials, maps, and perks that help you on your journey. Not all items can be brought, so you must weigh up what is nice to have, and what is a must have.
Easy on the eyes.
The isometric viewpoint allows you a fantastic opportunity to see all the action. Usable objects sparkle with a silvery glimmer, attracting you to their locations, and anytime that you venture behind a solid object your silhouette is lit up with a white hue. The ease with which you can explore for items was a credit to the developers and made this much easier to play. The cartoon art style may not be for everyone’s liking, but this combined with the earthy palette and depressing tone gave this a retro look. The character models contained enough detail to be of interest, and the level of gore was correctly balanced. This was a superb example of a simple concept well delivered.
The oppressive nature of the art style was one thing, but the haunting audio was something else all together. The slow, ominous music keeps you on edge throughout. In your mind you know nothing will happen, yet the audio constantly kept you in a state of anxiety and concern. It was horrific, but that’s why we all play horror games and I loved it. Like the zombies, the sound effects were classic and clichéd. A good range of sounds were used that were suitable for the job at hand. They were enjoyable, but they are at about the level I expect from a decent indie game.
Odd controls and re-runs
I always find it a little strange when developers experiment with much loved button layouts. An odd combination of the bumper buttons for using your weapons makes this a bit fiddly to get used to. Once you are over this hurdle, the rest is a breeze. Drag and drop is used for most things alongside a simple combination option. If you worry that you’ll struggle, a step-by-step tutorial is available to help.
Every time you play this, it follows the exact path. Does this make it; repetitive, boring, lacking originality? No, it’s one of those rare games that challenges you with a speed run task. Only the best gamers will complete it in under 2 hours. If this doesn’t interest you, it may lack replay value. Thankfully, your first playthrough has plenty to do, so you’ll keep coming back for more.
Does it stand out?
It’s a brave move trying to stand out in the zombie market. With so many games and clichés, it’s easy to make a bland and mediocre title, but that definitely isn’t the case here. Heaven Dust is a brilliant game that epitomises everything that is great about the genre and I recommend you buy it here! Can you survive this viral outbreak and make it through the mansion? Search for clues, find items and kill zombies while solving every puzzle you encounter.