When does a charming love letter to a game of old stop becoming a throwback and just become a blatant rip-off? This was the question I asked myself almost instantly after starting Heaven Dust, a “love letter” to the original Resident Evil game.
At first glance though, these games couldn’t be further from each other. Resident Evil features the classic survival horror fixed camera angles; Heaven Dust opts for an isometric point-of-view with chibi-styled character models. Herein end the differences.
You play as an unnamed character who awakens in a room in a strange labyrinthian mansion. The room you are in turns out to be one of only a few ‘safe’ rooms and is indicated by soft plinky piano music playing whenever you enter the room. There is a storage box where you can store items, as your inventory only accommodates for six items at a time.
It is however immediately apparent that things aren’t quite right in this mansion.
That is because dead bodies litter the rooms and hallways; only they don’t stay dead for too long. Worse, they have a hankering for the taste of human flesh, and they will not stop until they have fed on your corpse. Your only option is to escape as quickly as possible.
In Heaven Dust, whoever designed the layout of the mansion needs to have a serious look at themselves. As complex a layout as it already is, certain rooms will only be opened with elaborate puzzles or by inputting the correct codes found on notes dotted about the place.
Oh, and it also houses a secret scientific facility investigating a virus found in a primitive tribe in New Guinea, believed to be the key to immortality.
Exploration in Heaven Dust should feel very familiar to anyone who has ever played a classic survival horror game. Items and puzzles help guide you through the maze-like mansion, and for the most part things remain somewhat logical. Certain puzzles however make little to no sense at all. One in particular has you locked out of rooms unless you have the correct fingerprint. This fingerprint is found attached to a dove that you must call down using a whistle.
But this dove has another use, and if you want to receive a ‘good’ ending you must then give it something later on down the line. Heaven Dust does feature multiple endings, plenty of secrets and even multiple ways to defeat the final boss.
Without giving too much away – though you can see the final boss in the game’s title screen – it is the icing on the cake for Heaven Dust being an almost complete rip-off of Resident Evil. The green and red herbs, Nemesis-esque boss, mansion setting; it is all here. Hell, it even name checks Resident Evil in the end credits and features a Resident Evil 5 poster in one of the rooms. There isn’t much that hasn’t been copied here.
Heaven Dust also includes plenty of collectibles in the form of emails and diary entries. These work two-fold: they provide decent worldbuilding as you begin to understand the origins of the virus and some of the more dubious activities the company known as StarDust have been performing. But they also contain the clues to unlock doors and computers with some not so subtle diary entries.
In fact, there isn’t any real difficulty to Heaven Dust. As soon as you have the pistol equipped, you are never going to be short of bullets, and most zombies go down within four shots. In classic style, you can’t move whilst you have the pistol held up, but there is an auto-aim so you never actually miss.
One thing that separates Heaven Dust from its inspirations is a lack of any real horror. Due to the isometric viewpoint, enemy zombies can be hidden from view until you get close enough, but the accompanying musical crescendo is so cliched it loses any real emphasis on trying to scare you. Even after a few minutes you can confidently predict where any zombies will be lurking; that’s if their groans don’t give it away beforehand.
Those zombie groans also sound like they were recorded in the ‘90s, such is the poor quality of the sound effects used in Heaven Dust. Footsteps, opening doors and gunshot noises are all something you will hear frequently yet sound worse each time you do.
And yet, if you are a fan of the old survival horror games, there is an undeniable charm to Heaven Dust. It is clearly a love letter to the old PlayStation games – though maybe a little too on the nose – but it is a decent take on them. And one that doesn’t take too long to complete. There are a couple of speedrun achievements for completing Heaven Dust within two hours or, if you are feeling confident, within 30 minutes.
Bear with this analogy: rather than breaking the mold of Resident Evil games, Heaven Dust on Xbox uses the exact same mould but also a lower quality kiln to cook in. In the end, we have a pretty good copy of the survival horror games of old, but with an unusual chibi art style. That art style doesn’t help the lack of horror, however.
For existing fans, there is some joy to be had in this Resident Evil love letter. For those that never played the originals though, Heaven Dust isn’t a patch on the games that inspired it.