As janky as the original Resident Evil games are, there’s an undeniable charm to them. Part of the essential old-school experience is the terror brought by the controls, the rigidness of the fixed camera angle, and the nightmarish door-opening loading screens. Within modern gaming standards, these are elements that players would crucify a game on, but back in the day, they served as key tenets of the genre. So when a new indie survival game commits to the DNA of the original Resident Evil games, you can’t help but applaud the homage.
Heaven Dust 2 is a Resident Evil love letter from Chinese developers One Gruel Studio and publisher Indie Nova. It unabashedly wears its influence on its sleeve, in particular the first Resident Evil game, from the premise, which takes place in a mansion replete with secret passageways and laboratories, to the aforementioned mechanics that made those games so enduring.
As expected, its story echoes many tropes from any imaginable zombie story. It has the quintessential virus outbreak, the mad scientist responsible, the mysterious patient zero, and the adversarial military group trying to keep the whole thing a secret. The storytelling isn’t particularly good and at times feels like the campaign of a mobile game.
The way Heaven Dust 2 is indebted to its forebears may make or break the game depending on your mileage. Some of its attempts to replicate the DNA may be for the worse. The recovery frames in this game are unrefined to the point where getting stun-locked is a possibility. Not only that, the puzzle designs can oftentimes be frustrating to figure out while the bosses are mostly just bullet sponges. To top it all off, the gunplay lacks serious finesse.
The game’s puzzles are constantly at odds with its poor localization. Puzzle solutions are commonly found in in-game documents chronicling the events of the story. Unfortunately, a lot of the documents aren’t translated well into English, making certain puzzles tougher to figure out if you don’t read hard enough. The localization isn’t entirely incomprehensible but the solutions tend to get lost in translation.
By design, there are also some gaps with the mechanics. The game isn’t exactly forgiving when it comes to inventory management and the lack of required items may hardlock players from progressing. It isn’t clear if there’s a built-in fix for potential hardlock issues so it’s important to be very careful while progressing through the game.
The old curse of badly designed UI plagues Heaven Dust 2‘s menu system. It’s painful to look at and fails at distinguishing the many elements it throws on screen. The map is so shoddily made as well as the game’s gun modification menu.
One improvement Heaven Dust has over the old Resident Evil games is its isometric view, which gives players a more precise sense of space that in turn makes exploration more engaging. The game loses a bit of its atmosphere with the isometric view and kiddie chibi art style but it’s a game that’s easy on the eyes. You won’t play this game for the scares but for the familiarity it evokes.
Heaven Dust 2 is a great reminder of how effective the original Resident Evil games were at using Metroidvania-style exploration. In spite of all its flaws, the game’s gated progression, rewards system, and cohesive level design convene in a very satisfying manner. A big plus is that backtracking never feels as tedious as it should be; it’ll take less than 10 minutes to cover the entire map of the game and there are zero loading screens to worry about.
All in all, Heaven Dust 2 is a wildly flawed game that manages to stay true to its goal of delivering an experience that brings players back to the early days of the survival-horror genre. It’s a charming game that doesn’t overstay its welcome yet will playfully keep players feeling nostalgic. Enthusiasts of the genre need to put this on their list.