On a distant planet, found in translation
Making 3D games is complex, and even the biggest studios have trouble producing convincing character models and animations. However, Inkle Studios has come up with an elegant solution, which is immediately striking when we go hands-on with Heaven’s Vault. It’s a 3D open world but its characters, including protagonist Aliya, are depicted as hand-drawn 2D art, with over a thousand individual frames that fade into each other as she moves or when the camera rotates. Sidestepping 3D character modelling, this mesmerising comic-book effect allows for a variety of angles and expressions.
The game itself reminds us of The Witness. Rather than grappling with puzzles, it has you deciphering an alien language. As an archaeologist, you find inscriptions in the ruins, and are given a few possible interpretations for each glyph. But as you work on one phrase, you’ll come across another inscription that might contain the same glyph, which can help you, or prompt you to reconsider an earlier translation.
The ability to cross-reference is at the heart of things, though the game is fine with letting you make the ‘wrong’ interpretation. Whatever you conclude, there’s no gating of progress, so it’s possible to finish the game and come to no understanding of the civilisation’s history. It may, however, feel like watching a foreign-language film without subtitles. Our demo ends with Aliya coming across a mural of text – and we just know a few short phrases from previous inscriptions, which gives you an idea of just how huge and complex the language system is. We’re won over by its picture-book aesthetic and excited at the prospect of unearthing more Heaven’s Vault’s mysteries.
Your robot is called Six because the previous five went missing. Aliya’s not a fan of the company, then.
As you explore, Aliya can ask Six questions or make remarks, the latter often giving you options to be a real jerk too. Well, sometimes the frustration’s got to come out…
Glyphs you’ve already translated which share roots appear automatically when you come across new inscriptions, but will it still make sense?