I usually try to avoid comparing games to other games, but when Inkle Studios’ Art and Code Director Joseph Humfrey called Heaven’s Vault “Guitar Hero but for linguistics,” it made a lot of sense.
Blending sci-fi and history, the game follows archaeologist Aliya Elasra and her robotic companion, Six, as they explore the ruins of a set of moons known as the Nebula. They are trying to uncover the secrets of a lost civilisation, and in doing so, the player will have to learn to decode an entire language.
If that seems a bit much, this is where the Guitar Hero comparison comes in; the translation mechanic is (of course) somewhat abstracted. Nonetheless, it’s a full pictographic script, with words built up from component parts. Sometimes, that leads to many concepts becoming glued together, much like in German and similar languages. Educated guesses will slowly teach the player “atoms” that make up the basic foundations, which can then be extrapolated into more complex ideas. Since the game is non-linear, and these guesses might be corrected later, every player’s understanding of the language will develop differently.
A Gorgeous Exploration
The demo saw Aliya exploring a beautiful abandoned building covered in flowers. Perhaps it was a temple, but since she (and I) didn’t have a firm grasp of the dialect yet, it was hard to tell. Because of that, there wasn’t much actual translation, but walking (or rather, flitting, as the animation blinks through just a few frames while whisking Aliya to her destination to preserve the game’s gorgeous aesthetic) through the area is a delight in itself.
Aliya and Six chat together, their banter serving as both exposition and character building. No other characters showed up in the demo that I played, but Inkle promises that the full game has a broad cast that will react to your choices and dialogue, building on the narrative foundations of their previous games.
80 Days happens to have been one of my favourite games, and I’m highly anticipating digging into the language and secrets of Heaven’s Vault when it launches later this year.
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