Welcome Back To The World Of Survival Horror Tributes
HIGH The Titan boss fight.
LOW Every other boss fight.
WTF Nautilus is different enough from Umbrella that we won’t get sued, right?
Two years ago the game Heaven Dust dared to ask the question “What if Resident Evil 1 had a top-down camera?”
The answer was a perfectly serviceable action-adventure which was considerably easier than its inspiration, because the zombies were never out of view. Now Heaven Dust 2 has come along to ask a follow-up question — “What if Heaven Dust had taken place in a bigger mansion?”
As a consequence, it is considerably less charming than its predecessor.
Heaven Dust 2 takes place shortly after the first installment. Steve, the main character, wakes from the cryo pod he was placed in after being abducted by corporate goons, and finds himself in another mansion where zombies run wild. Anyone hoping that the second HD would take place in a city in the midst of a zombpocalypse (ala RE2) will likely be disappointed.
While the map’s layout is new, the action is identical to the previous game. Steve will shoot zombies, find weird keys, and have to decode strange clues to figure out door codes. It’s all the classic survival-horror stuff that has been enshrined for decades now, with only the cartoony art style and top-down camera setting it apart from the crowd.
Mechanically, one of the biggest changes is that HD2 goes heavier on crafting and modding than HD1. There are four types of weapons with an accompanying four types of gunpowder to craft, so deciding which to focus on is a surprisingly important question since the player can have a ton of pistol ammo or a handful of magnum rounds, but not both.
With different weapons being more effective against different enemy types, there was more strategy in arsenal management than I had expected. Likewise, it’s always worth it to dig out every possible secret area, as the gun mods that are invariably hidden in them can prove vitally important against hordes of zombies.
Heaven Dust 2 also does a solid job of streamlining the puzzle system, taking care to mark each locked door the player finds with a sign indicating how it can be opened, and even marking important (but currently out-of-reach) items so that the player will remember to check back on them when they’ve acquired a new key or ladder.
Sadly, this feature is woefully inconsistent — while it marks the locations of strange emblems, it won’t mark the places where they’re supposed to be used, which can lead to frequent backtracking. I was, however, particularly pleased with the decision to never hide a keypad code more than a few meters from the keypad it opens. Obviously the developers were sensitive to how frustrating certain sections of the first Heaven Dust were, and they’ve done a good job of addressing some of those issues.
What’s notable, however, are the big issues — backtracking and item management — that they couldn’t bring themselves to fully deal with.
Steve begins the game with a small inventory that can be expanded via ‘side packs’ which turn up during the campaign — they’re one of the few direct swipes from Resident Evil 2. However, every key or ammo type takes up space in the inventory, so I was constantly forced to go to one of the game’s storage boxes which (as is tradition) let the player access their whole cache from any one of the trunks. This means backtracking is an inevitability, but the developers tried to cut it down a little by scattering boxes all around the map to an almost absurd degree.
There’s nearly no area where a special key or item is required that doesn’t also have an item box nearby — and often in the very same room! It’s convenient, to be sure, but it raises the question of why the developers didn’t just do what so many other games have done and made it so that key items don’t take up inventory space? The devs get incredibly close to truly streamlining the experience, but just wind up with weird half-measures.
Heaven Dust 2‘s combat is generally satisfying. After holding down a button to go into aim mode, the player moves their thumbstick to lock onto an enemy. Then, they can either shoot or wait until the lock moves to the enemy’s weak point. They’re free to keep moving during the process, so the whole thing feels much freer and more modern than classic survival horror combat. Zombies can have three different kinds of special protection — bone, wood, and flesh growth — so a decent amount of combat flow is about identifying what kind of zombies are in an area and quickly deploying the right tool.
Sadly, Heaven Dust 2‘s boss fights just aren’t as functional as the rest of the battles. Most of the bosses are unusually agile for the genre, bouncing around stages and keeping pressure on the player. Steve doesn’t have a dodge or block button, so he has to spend most of his time sprinting full speed away until they get tired, at which point he can take a few shots at their weak point before the cycle restarts. The one good boss — a giant monstrosity — demonstrates an understanding of the kind of combat this game should have thanks to powerful, slow, well-telegraphed attacks that the player can learn the pattern of. It’s leagues better than running in circles and waiting for the enemy to decide to do the one attack that leaves them vulnerable.
Overall, Heaven Dust 2‘s biggest drawback is how similar it is to its predecessor. It’s the better of the two, to be sure, but it’s basically the same experience, and that’s a problem. I’d recommend this above the first to anyone who hasn’t played either, but I don’t know that it offers anything new or different enough to make it worth a play for someone who’s been through Heaven Dust. It’s another good tribute to the early days of survival horror, but beyond that, it’s nonessential.
Disclosures: This game is developed by One Gruel Studio and published by indienova. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game was rated T by the ESRB for Blood and Violence. Heaven Dust 2 is violent as all heck, but other than that there’s nothing objectionable here. No drinking, no swearing, yes, there are naked zombies, but they’re all smooth as dolls. It’s fairly safe, depending on your teen’s tolerance for graphic head explosions.
Colorblind Modes: there are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game features no spoken dialogue, and all information is offered via text and subtitles. Text cannot be altered or resized. Audio cues are necessary in letting players know when there are monsters hidden behind foreground elements, which is a frequent occurrence in the game. You’ll have a better experience playing on Casual, where surprise attacks won’t immediately kill you and send you back to your last save. I played the entire game without sound, but it is not fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.
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I really love both games, and hope there is a third. But I think the first is the better of the two out there now. It has it’s own charm and a story that is surprisingly touching. II is more action oriented, the narrative a bit scattered, but what is cool about it is there are a lot of items you can miss. At any rate, I can see Steve becoming a bit of a cult hero; both games are beautifully rendered; the music for both is great and the mechanics work very well. Played first on both Xbox and… Read more »