First posted on 23 March 2010. Last updated on 23 March 2010.
It is estimated that nearly a third of all people in the world affiliated with religious denominations are Christians. The Bible makes many promises as to the fate of its believers who choose to follow the principles prescribed in its teachings or to deliberately disobey them. Theologians, who study the Bible and abide to its recorded history, place the first man (Adam) to just over 6,000 years ago in the Garden of Eden. Accordingly to the Bible, it was in the Garden of Eden that Jehovah made the Bible's first prophecy about a seed (Jesus Christ) that would eventually crush the head of the serpent (Satan). This prophecy was later substantiated in the Abrahamic covenant where Jehovah spoke to Abraham. Once Jesus was brought to Earth in a human body through Immaculate Conception, his word spread rapidly with the help of his apostles, some 2,000 years ago. Christianity began, circa 34 A.D., soon after the death of Jesus and eventually became a dominant religion.
In 1994, indie developer Paul McCauley founded Genesis Works, with the purpose of creating a game to educate others about God, Heaven, and the Bible. Despite public criticisms, McCauley has candidly admitted that it is his aim to open other gamers' minds to the teachings from the Bible and the messages within it.
Few adventure games dare to directly dealt with biblical connotations in this manner, and it is a big risk for McCauley to spend over a decade (as he has professed) to develop and publish this game. Undoubtedly, some gamers will try the game out of sheer curiosity, while other gamers will play the game simply because it is an adventure game.
To this end, Heaven is a classic first-person point-and-click adventure. The game plays over 7 levels, with the first 6 levels containing a puzzle each that you must complete before progressing to the next level. Each of the puzzle levels represents each of the 6 days of creation as told in the Book of Genesis. The game finishes on the seventh day (the day of rest), where you enter the Pearly Gate and into Heaven.
The game does not include any instruction manual. Installation of the game is straightforward. You can check the options for Video Options and Widescreen Monitor, though the game supports only a fixed resolution of 800x600 pixels. You select Install to begin the installation process. When the game is run for the first time, you will be asked to type in the serial number found inside the cover of the case.
The game begins with you, as Joshua, steering a space shuttle through an asteroid field while exploring the moons of Jupiter. This introductory scene will loop indefinitely until you walk to the back of the shuttle and click on the terminal. To start the game proper, you select New Game, after which you are prompted to type in your name, and then Play Game, after which a bright flash of light appears as you exit the shuttle and the adventure begins.
The opening scene is a cinematic cut scene where you are seen as a young lad visiting your grandmother's grave, holding a toy spaceship. The next scene shows you, now as an astronaut, are maneuvering your shuttle through an asteroid field. Suddenly, your shuttle is hit and is badly damaged. Just as it explodes, heavenly angels appear and guide your shuttle until you are dumped onto Paradise Island.
On awakening (presumably, you are dead), you meet your grandmother, Axis. Instead of her older self, however, Axis appears to you as a young woman, dressed in pure white and in very alluring clothing. Around her waist is a belt, containing 2 letters, AΩ, which in biblical terms represent Alpha and Omega in the Book of Revelation, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, says Jehovah God, the One who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty."
To enter the Pearly Gate, you must complete all the puzzles on Paradise Island. Only after successfully negotiating each of these puzzles will you be permitted to ascend to Heaven and meet God. Throughout your quest, Axis acts as your spiritual guide and will help you by pointing you to the right path.
Navigation is very simple and uses only 3 cursors: a large arrow or compass points out the directions available for you to take, a hand enables you to perform a function, and a plus symbol signals you that no action can be done. You navigate around the game from node to node. At each node, you can pan around in full 360° view, including up and down.
You press Esc once to the save the game. You press Esc again to exit out of the game completely. There is no option to make multiple saves. This means that each time you make a save, the previous save will be overwritten.
Dialog interaction between you and Axis is extremely rudimentary, to the extent of being nonexistent. In fact, you do not utter a single word through the entire game. Axis does all the talking whenever you click on her or whenever she chooses to give you advice on her own. Axis also frequently quotes verses from the Bible, including teachings that a believer must follow in order to reach Heaven. There are no subtitles.
The overall production of the game is admittedly ambitious. The game's visuals must be credited not only to McCauley's own vision but also to the visions of professional film concept artists Stephan Martin and Dylan Cole who McCauley has recruited to this project. The ray tracing graphics in the game are particularly stunning, better than those I have seen in any other game that I have played. Color saturates every scene, from Paradise Island to the Pearly Gate. All of these scenes speak to McCauley's vision of Heaven that is highly imaginative and very detailed. The game uses RAD Game Tools' popular Bink video technology to ensure smooth playbacks of the complex pre-rendered 3D graphics. Axis's animation is especially fluid, in part due to the developer's decision to use a professional trained stuntwoman for motion capture for the character. The animation of the flying creatures is also excellent. The game features many animated cut scenes. The cut scenes provide a perfect transition between the different levels as well as some valuable information on the back story for the game.
Axis is almost perfect in every way as a humanlike character. She walks like a human. She talks like a human, with a soft dulcet voice. She has perfect lips, excellent skin tone, and flawless facial expressions. Even lip synchronization with her voice is exceptional. Apart from Axis and Joshua, however, the game is devoid of any other characters. Due to the premise of the story, there is really no need for any extra characters. This game reminds me of the common idiom of "two's company; three's a crowd". Indeed, Axis is the perfect medium in nurturing Joshua on how to be accepted into Heaven.
There is no elaborate plot to speak of in this game, as the game is entirely puzzle driven. Once you arrive in Heaven, you are simply asked by Axis to solve a set of puzzles in order to enter through the Pearly Gate. I believe the game may have been better served by incorporating these puzzles into a more robust story, within which you are then tasked with set objectives to follow and reach.
The game's music and sound effects are superb. The background orchestral and choral music is regal, majestic, and heavenly (no pun intended), and it complements perfectly the theme of the game. The sound effects are very realistic, from the space shuttle ride through the asteroids, to entering through the portals, to the activation of the sparkle poles, and to the water lapping as the crystal bridges form.
There are 6 major puzzles to solve in this game. My biggest grouch is the repetitiveness of some of these puzzles. In the Golden Street level, you have to open 6 control stations, but the method and sequence for each station is identical. In the Creation Room level, you have to place 6 petals in the correct position, but the procedure is once again identical in every case. Some puzzles are quite difficult, with the Musical Trumpets level being by far the hardest. With a singular exception, all the puzzles can be solved logically using information provided within the game. The exception is the Crystal Forest puzzle. Even though I know what to do in this puzzle, the colors do not always match up for the first color, as if the spinning of the animals actually yields just a random result (the problem does not exist with the remaining 2 colors though).
The game is very linear. Sequences have to be done in the exact order, and each level has to be completed entirely before proceeding to the next level. Axis will also tell you immediately if you are going the wrong way, which is very helpful at times.
The game is not very long. A seasoned adventure gamer can probably finish the game in 8-12 hours. Due to the complexity of some of the puzzles, I envisage that younger gamers will have great difficulty with playing this game on their own. Obviously, Christian gamers will also understand a lot better many of the biblical principles and teachings that are referenced by the developer, a theme that is clearly pervasive throughout the game. The game also draws an interesting reference from the book of Revelation, "And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning or outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away."
In sum, I believe that McCauley has tackled a controversial topic with grace in this game. Rather than preaching to believers and non-believers alike in a direct or confronting way, his objective as a dedicated Christian is to simply express in the game his own belief that there is a caring God, Jesus, and other spiritual beings, and that those who share this belief can all share in everlasting life in paradise. Heaven is not a game for everyone. If you are a believer, you will enjoy this game. If you a complete non-believer, this game is not for you.