NOTE: The following “review” was done as a 2019 April Fools joke. A real review will be forthcoming once the embargo lifts on April 16.
Heaven’s Vault (inkle studios) will be available to play on April 16, but I was granted early access to the game for the purposes of reviewing it. Yes, reviewers are embargoed from posting reviews until the release date, but the game was so good that I wanted to tell you everything about it, complete with words and pictures. Embargoes be damned. Please note that my screen capture software is glitched so I had to supplement with other images.
In Heaven’s Vault you play an archaeologist named Zarya who needs to go on a mission to uncover the power of reading. It is highly unusual for PhD archaeologists to get so far in their academic careers by being illiterate, so Zarya’s department chair tasks her with finding LeVar Burton on the far side of the Rainbow Nebula who will teach her how to read an ancient language.
As Zarya continues on her adventure, she is joined by the robot Marvin, who always seems to be in a bit of a funk. Though smart and helpful to Zarya, no question comes without a snarky answer, which may be selected from a palette of choices ranging from snarky to very snarky.
As Zarya and Marvin make their way through the Rainbow Nebula, they stop on various moons and planets encountering the remains of lost civilizations, talking to hermits who still live there. On the moon Guildford they encounter the monk Sean Murray who tells them that the secret to the ancient language Zarya has been trying to translate is that the words are all procedurally generated. This means that algorithms create an infinite number of glyphs, phrases, and sentences that no one could possibly hope to master over many lifetimes (but they look cool).
Following this revelation, Zarya and Marvin begin to translate every inscription they find and then rearranging them like some sort of William S. Burroughs cutup, certain that the random nature of composition yields universal truths.
By the time Zarya and Marvin arrive at the end of the Rainbow Nebula, they have collected roughly 1,000 ancient words that when rearranged still look pretty much like the original 1,000 ancient words. What are written words anyway but a bunch of lines linked together? They could say anything really. Here is an actual sample of the ancient language as found in the game:
At the end of Heaven’s Vault the pair meet LeVar Burton who gives Marvin a heart and agrees to return Zarya home in his steampunk airship. “But what about learning how to read the ancient language?” Zarya asks as they leave a depressed Marvin behind surrounded by Oompa Loompas. “Maybe,” LeVar Burton says dreamily, “maybe the knowledge of reading was inside you the whole time.” Zarya is pretty sure that it isn’t, but is too tired to argue. Her department chair welcomes her back by giving her a Funk & Wagnalls primer on the ancient language, which really would have fucking helped her during the game. If Infocom taught us anything, it is that players should buy the game guide in order to expedite play and cheat players out of a rollicking good time toying with palaeolinguistics for a few weeks between school terms.
In short, the gameplay is great. The art is great. The plot and characters are great. And there is even a fantastic soundtrack, all of which you can stream here for free.
Read an interview with the game’s writer, Jon Ingold, who is a great guy and whom I hope has a sense of humor and is willing to forgive.
—Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming
PS: April Fools