Games have always been around to to serve a higher purpose, and from the very beginning that was to entertain. An addictive diversion from modern-day living. A place where you could be anyone you want, whether that be a space captain wandering the universe, a crack commander of the everlasting war, or just an adventurer looking for treasure. Lately, though the whole gaming experience has become much more complex with many genres competing for space; narrative adventures, sports, multiplayer, and most recently the relaxing zen type experience. Games like the Aery series are meant to relax your mind, taking you to faraway places without any fear of dying or needing a goal. From Earth to Heaven is the latest addition to this growing market and I got the chance to leave my worries at the doorstep and step in.
There is a story in From Earth to Heaven which follows the protagonist who, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun and fell from heaven back to Earth. The task then is to make it back up to heaven through some otherworldly environments. The story has a very light touch and the developers declare that from the start. In fact, the main focus is to just experience the pleasure of the levels and the light gameplay which is involved.
You have a series of dreamlike locations, like a city or outer space, and are then left to navigate through them at will, looking for an exit. There are around 5 or 6 levels per location, yet the very first thing you need to do is delve into the settings. You see, by default From Earth to Heaven has a camera that swings around so madly that it is like it was in a hurricane. You need to make that less sensitive or, frankly, you’ll find yourself in a world of trouble. Once fixed, you generally get thrown into a level or a platform where if you turn left or right quickly you plummet off of the platform to oblivion. For a game that dips into that of relaxation, I was stressed, to begin with, but soon got in the swing of things.
You jump around the levels, yet the mechanics are quite floaty in their jumping movement. You soon get used to it and work out how to time the jumps, as you explore the world in the first person; it’s like you’re in a dream, jumping through surreal landscapes that feel infinite and mysterious. It’s a pleasant experience and for some, they will relish the very serene experience of just being in the worlds created. I struggled a little with this concept, much like I did with Aery. You see, whilst the controls feel okay, they aren’t great and this takes some getting used to.
And whilst the worlds look good, they aren’t amazing enough to inspire. In other games, things like Life of Fly, at least you have a sort of narrative voice-over running constantly through, allowing the game to become the backdrop to the story. In From Earth to Heaven it feels a bit aimless, but if you are after a relaxing stress-free experience then this might be perfect for you.
As I said the visuals are good, but not amazing. I have however loved the different environments you travel through and the strange abstractness to them; it feels like you’re moving through a painting rather than a realistic world or place. There is a tendency for the levels to be fairly bright as well, without a subtle lighting state, but at other times it all feels a bit majestic and beautiful. It’s a mixed bag really.
Then there’s a sort of relaxing soundtrack playing through the levels and worlds. It’s like a piece of music you might find in a department store on a Sunday whilst you are out shopping for sofa beds. Some of us – and we’re not judging here – will love it, but others might well want to put their own music on while playing. There is some good voice-over as well, helping bring together fragments of the story throughout.
I wanted to completely zone out and enjoy the zen-like peace that From Earth to Heaven promises. And at times it allows this, but in other moments it frustrates, with basic controls and floaty jumping at the heart of it. I think the lack of purpose is what the game is aiming for, but some will need more from their games. If you love to sit back and relax then From Earth to Heaven will be for you, but just be aware that it won’t suit all.
Travel From Earth to Heaven by visiting the Xbox Store