Maintain a space station or hilariously die trying.
If the tagline from the iconic ’79 movie, Alien, is “In space no one can hear you scream”, then Heavenly Bodies is “In space no one can hear you frantically flailing your arms around reaching for the nearest handle”. At times it can be terrifying – the loneliness of space. The feeling that nobody can come help you. Whatever task or duty assigned is yours and yours alone, so failure, such as being shot out of an unsafe pressurized container into the vast void of space (as seen below) can certainly cause one’s heart to race. Heavenly Bodies isn’t a horror game, to be clear, but I did want to partially illustrate the setting that the developers chose. 2pt Interactive wanted to make “a game about cosmonauts, the body, and the absence of gravity”. The player’s job is to maintain a space station. However, with zero gravity and physically simulated controls, that’s easier said than done.
Players assume the role of a 1970s cosmonaut who’s responsible for tasks which mission control sends them via radio broadcast. Assembling telescopes, mining for minerals, and growing plants for oxygen are just a few of the assignments given to the player. Moving each arm is controlled with the two thumbsticks with the L2/R2 triggers acting as the hands. Jobs often have you handling tools such as wrenches or flashlights which could easily go flying off if not held onto carefully. In fact that goes for everything. If you don’t secure one hand to the wall or a firm handle, then you might find yourself spinning out uncontrollably away from the current objective. No task is simple in Heavenly Bodies. Navigating the environment, slowly piecing together exactly what you’re supposed to do, and then executing that plan is the challenge. While no true narrative is present in Heavenly Bodies, the missions do coalesce in a satisfying way and the final mission brings everything together in epic fashion.
The hook for Heavenly Bodies can also be it’s weakness. As mentioned before, controls are primarily handled via the twin analogue sticks for the left and right arms. Players have to carefully grip and pull their way from point A to point B all while solving puzzles and maintaining the space station. It can be a comical sight spending several seconds trying to grab a flapping water hose. Other instances, though, can produce frustration because sometimes you just! Want to! Grab! The lever! The controls are both it’s saving grace and it’s most glaring weakness all at the same time. Thankfully, mission structure is a joy. No job ever seems too big and the operations manual received at the start of each mission relays just enough info to make you feel like you’re still solving things for yourself. When it comes to missions, Heavenly Bodies strikes a nice balance between giving players safe tasks they’ve grown accustomed to, while also introducing more advanced mechanics. If the player finds the controls too unwieldy and confusing, there is an “assist” option which makes navigation much easier for those just looking to experience the game. So despite having to sometimes fight the controls to get where you’re going, the game is inviting with it’s mission structure and overall aesthetic and design.
The art design in Heavenly Bodies leans on contemporary 70s real world examples. It successfully conveys exactly how interactable objects function in order to help the player solve puzzles. Most all puzzles can be traced visually which is particularly satisfying when combined with clues delivered via the operations manual. Heavy film grain is employed by default which adds a nice touch to the overall look and feel, though it can be turned off in the options if you choose. Sound design is solid and minimalist as one might expect from a game set in outer space. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done and doesn’t detract from the experience. Heavenly Bodies is available for PS4/PS5, PC and Mac (via Steam) the latter of which is where my time with the game was spent. Performance always seemed solid and certainly didn’t get in the way of gameplay.
This might seem like a really unfair comparison, but Heavenly Bodies kept reminding me of the 2014 game, Octodad: Dadliest Catch. You can be moving along minding your own business and the craziest thing happens due to not yet wrapping your head around the wild controls. It can create both comedy and frustration for a player when they’re just trying to dig into a game that is indeed really good. If players can get past this barrier to entry, they’ll find a lovely 5-7 hour adventure “about a cosmonaut, the body, and the absence of gravity.”
Note for Parents
Heavenly Bodies is rated “E” for Everyone and has no objectionable content. It’s a puzzle game with a physical simulation emphasis and leans on a unique control style. The game can be played in single player or via local co-op.