this game as a NASA astronaut named Joshua. You are in a small
shuttlecraft maneuvering through an asteroid field. A control panel inside
the craft serves as a main menu – clicking on “New Game” brings a blinding
light and then a flashback to a scene in a cemetery. Upon awakening you
find yourself on Paradise Island, an exotic garden ringed by sand with
ocean waters plummeting down into an abyss. Here you greet Axis, your
grandmother who now looks (presumably) far different from when you knew
her twenty years earlier.
Grandma Axis wholeheartedly wants two things: to help you through a series
of pattern/mechanical puzzles at the gates of heaven, and to briefly
revisit Christian lessons she once taught you. Why these things are so
urgent is never explained (though the ending contains an implied answer).
No information is ever offered about the character you are playing, and
you don’t learn much about Axis either – the focus is all on completing
the tasks you are given.
Religion and Games
I’ve purchased religion-based games before, including Adventures in
Odyssey, the Veggie Tales games, and children’s games based on
Bible stories (Daniel in the Lion’s Den, for example).
Unlike the games I’ve just mentioned, though, Heaven is a game for
adults, not children. It’s desperately tricky, combining Christianity with
contemporary art, storytelling and gameplay in a synthesis that can be
appreciated by believers and nonbelievers alike.
Games ought to be able to address deeper issues. But most gamers don’t
expect a game to preach to them. And even gamers who welcome a bit of
doctrine or the strategic mention of scripture in their games will have
varying opinions as to what is appropriate. You have to admire developers
who are willing to walk this particular minefield and give adventure
gamers something spiritual and out of the common way.
A Bright, Shiny Place
The graphics in Heaven are dazzling -- literally. Most of the
surfaces are reflective, and as much attention is given to detail in the
reflections as to the rest of the structures. Saturated color is
everywhere, sometimes augmented by tiny points of light. So many
mirror-like surfaces shine that the objects made of carved gray stone
become rock-solid focal points.
The viewpoint is from a first person perspective, with 360 degree panning
and point-and-click movement. On my widescreen monitor, the graphics were
ever so slightly blurry – but only when I looked at a specific object
It’s surprisingly easy to get lost in Heaven. This is partly due to
its elaborate detail and attention-grabbing effects like lens flare and
sparkling showers of light. Also, within each separate location,
architectural elements are symmetrical or repeated: multiple alcoves,
arches, spires, carvings, gardens, and pools. The Golden Streets location,
for example, contains six control stations, six sets of double-tiered
statue rings, and several crystal bridges that must be raised. If (like
me) you are "blessed" with a bad sense of direction, this can be
perplexing unless you consciously keep track of where you're going.
At first I just wandered around these structures, gawking at them. The
background music augments the sense of awe with orchestral and choral
melodies. Late in the game, a rendition of “Amazing Grace” fills the air.
Ambient sounds are mostly those of mechanical devices as you go about
solving the puzzles.
Cut scenes show the results of puzzle completion triumphs, and some of
these are magnificent. I especially enjoyed the winged beasts and the end
Axis Will Be Your Guide
So Heaven is a series of gorgeous environments and cut scenes that
alone are nearly worth the price of entry (which, at $34.99, is pricey for
an Independent game). Character animation, including facial animation and
lip sync during dialogs, is very good. But “character” is exactly where
the game’s drawbacks set in.
Heaven has a childlike sensibility because Axis, even though she
looks nothing like an overprotective grandmother, acts like one. She tells
you that you’re going the wrong way. She nudges you to look more closely
at things. She lets you know each time you’ve failed. Her tone is that of
a kind, very patient teacher. Axis can transport instantly all over
heaven, and when she isn’t doing that, her voice is present in your head.
Let’s face it -- sublimely perfect characters tend to be off-putting. (I
suspect this is why people still read Dante’s Inferno, but fewer
read Paradiso.) I think the developers were right to make Axis look
different than the traditional image of a saint. She may be pious, but at
least she isn’t dull. Providing more story background -- particularly
Axis’ story before her death -- would have aided this game significantly.
Seeing her struggle in the past with doubts or failures would have made
her much more appealing. With no way for the player to become acquainted
with Axis as a person, her omnipresence becomes a frustrating annoyance.
At one point, Axis quotes scripture describing an image of Holy Jerusalem,
which clearly influenced the developers when they were creating the
environments in the game. I thought this was effective and fit the tone of
the game better than her short sermons, which seemed a bit contrived.
Can You Puzzle Your Way Past the Pearly Gate?
Heaven contains puzzles for which you will observe patterns, take
notes, pay attention to symbols and colors and (at least in my case) read
a few verses from the Book of Genesis. If you’ve played Sentinel:
Descendants in Time, you will have a general idea of the type of
puzzles found here, though Sentinel’s puzzles are more difficult.
In Heaven, the second location, The Golden Streets, plays like a
tutorial -- and a rather long one at that. A pattern to the rings across
from the control stations on the Golden Streets may exist, but if it’s
there, I couldn’t discern it. The only way I could complete the challenge
was to keep clicking until Axis said: “That’s better.” Problematically,
the long Golden Streets tutorial makes up a significant portion of the
game, leaving only four puzzles to wrestle with on your own.
The remaining multi-stepped mechanical puzzles are more difficult (and
more satisfying) if you shift your view up slightly in order to eliminate
the compass at the bottom of your screen. This compass doesn’t function
like an ordinary compass. Instead it works as a hint feature, pointing you
toward the next place you need to go to continue with the puzzle. So if,
for example, the challenge is to access “switches” in a certain pattern,
the compass will show you where to go, even if you haven’t figured out the
pattern. To complete the puzzles on your own, you’ll also need to ignore
Axis’ hints that you are going the wrong way. The compass and Axis’ verbal
directions permit you to complete the puzzles quickly, but you will
probably not fully comprehend the logic behind them.
Doing the puzzles on your own involves a bit of trial and error -- for
instance, figuring out, in a ring of Hebrew letters, where to start the
sequence. There is some back-and-forthing involved in the remaining
puzzles as you observe your surroundings and gather clues. You’ll need to
orient yourself frequently to work in the right place among
similar-appearing structures. And sometimes you’ll still need Axis – not
for hints, but to operate machinery for you.
I’ve never before had to “fight” a hint system to make a game sufficiently
challenging. I can’t help thinking that Heaven was originally
designed as a challenging puzzle game, and that the compass and Axis’
hints were added to aid gamers who aren’t experienced adventure gamers.
The ability to adjust difficulty levels is important in a game aimed at a
wide range of players, including those new to gaming or to the genre. In
this case, however, the result is rather clumsy for those who would like
to take on the challenge without the direction and hints.
It took me about seven hours to journey through Heaven. Late in the
game there’s a flyover which was lovely and helped orient me – I wish I
could have done this earlier in the game, and seen more of the place from
the air. Instead of the compass, I would have preferred a map to help
analyze where the locations are in relation to one other.
Back Down to Earth
The game autosaves, unfortunately, so you can’t go back to a previous
point in the game unless you start all over again using another name.
Occasionally the cursor seemed a bit sluggish, and the exit hotspot near
the spinning alphabet rings was surprisingly difficult to locate. Sound
volume sometimes varied. No problems with installation and no glitches.
Options at the bottom of the initial screen allow you to select the
setting for a widescreen monitor, and to disable some of the effects if
you are playing the game on an older computer.
After enjoying the ending Axis worked so hard to bring about, I went back
to the autosave and tried to lose the game to see if there was a second
ending. I couldn’t find one, but there is one strange hotspot on a rock on
Paradise Island whose purpose I never discovered. Perhaps, if I could
return there, I’d find a hidden passage leading away into darkness.
Quick List for Heaven
An intriguing effort to envision Biblical descriptions of heaven in the
context of an adventure game. Gorgeous environments with breathtaking,
opulent vistas. Dramatic cut scenes. A barebones story. You assume the
role of an astronaut who has to prove himself at the entrance to heaven
through patient mechanical puzzle solving. Your guide is shapely,
statuesque, and ubiquitous. You can sometimes click through the dialogs.
You can’t click through the Christian doctrine.
First person perspective, 360 degree panning, point-and-click movement.
Pattern based, multi-stepped challenges involving colors, letters, images
and musical tones. No mazes, but you can easily get lost in the
environments unless you use the compass function, which also reduces the
difficulty level. No sliding tile puzzles; a couple of very easy timed
challenges. The hardest puzzle involves musical statues that are played in
a specific sequence.
No glitches or problems with installation. About seven hours of gameplay,
which is short, considering the $34.99 price tag.
Aimed at Christian gamers, adventurers who enjoy lustrous graphics, and
anyone who has ever imagined what heaven might be like.
Final Grade: B-
Heaven is an Independent production of Genesis Works and can be
purchased at the game’s website
My Computer Specs:
Windows XP Professional
Pentium 2.80 GHz
2.00 GB RAM
Direct X 9.0c
512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX
SB X-Fi Audio