Heaven Forest asks the big questions right away. For the low, low price of $0.99, it claims to explore the meaning of life and whether or not we, as humans, can comprehend it. It asks these questions, sure, but it doesn’t actually answer them. Looks like we’ll have to ponder what awaits us in the afterlife for a bit longer!
It’s easy to criticize the lacklustre aesthetic, but truthfully, Heaven Forest is impressive in its own way. The actual world looks like a tech demo, but the animal models within it and some of the structures (both “natural” and “man-made”) are a little more interesting. However, the more you play it, the more it comes apart at the seams. Heaven Forest‘s biggest enemy is screen tearing and pop-in—and there’s lots of it. From afar, everything looks presentable, but get in close, and you’ll realize that you can see the pixels that compromise any given object’s border, which really takes you out of the moment.
Movement is sort of a compromise for players who are fully able to play VR without getting sick, and those prone to motion issues. If so inclined players can look freely with the right analogue stick, which might be a bit jarring for the latter group. Thankfully there’s a concession with the bumpers, which service as automatic turns. This is an ideal plan of attack, as it suits the needs of everyone. And since players can freely float around at will (just like Minecraft‘s creation mode), there aren’t any real collision problems. At least, players are able to float some of the time, outside of the random intervals where they can’t. Without a menu screen or tutorials of any kind, you’re kind of stuck at the whims of Heaven Forest. Maybe that’s part of the journey?
The gimmick starts to wear thin once you locate a few scrolls and sort of come to terms with what Heaven Forest actually is. Imagine Witness without the puzzles—or any open world game with no real structure or goal. That’s basically it. That would be fine if the meta-narrative was a little more interesting, but it really is just pseudo-intellectual philosophy 101 type stuff that’s scrawled on the scrolls. Passages like, “The Ego: Values of the possession, greed, and selfishness. Those are the causes of our destructive relationship with nature. We are our own enemies: the ones that prevent the flow of energy.”
I have no idea what makes this an “MMO” as described on Steam, as the creator seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the term. Maybe we, collectively as a species, are “massively” engaging in this exercise to discover whether or not our existence has purpose, or is it nothing other than a cruel joke? But players can walk around by themselves with zero online connectivity and collect trinkets for a few hours.
That’s not to say that Heaven Forest isn’t fun to screw around in, because it is. But there are plenty of other tech demos that are fun to explore, including the other “Heaven” series of games from the same creator (which are also $0.99). Just skip this one—the VR market is already filled to the brim with this type of stuff.