I’d like you to do a quick little exercise with me. Imagine you have the limb control and physical autonomy of an infant. You can see your arms and legs, you can feel them, and you can see all the amazing things you’d love to interact with, using said limbs. Now, remember you’re an infant baby, so none of them are of any yse to you, because your brain has no idea how to utilise them properly. In the end, you just become a screaming, shitting mess out of pure ignorant frustration. That’s kind of like what playing games like Heavenly Bodies are for me.
Games like Getting Over It and Surgeon Simulator have certainly had their followings in the past decade or so. Mechanically infuriating, they were a source of hilarious rage from YouTubers and players alike which found their calling as humorous and silly titles that will test your will. Getting Over It especially sticks fondly in my memory due to all of the amusing fury videos I saw. Thankfully for my sanity, I hadn’t dabbled in them myself. That is, until Heavenly Bodies crash-landed its way onto my PS5 with its, shall we say, interesting ideas.
See, Heavenly Bodies channels those aforementioned titles, only this time, it’s in space. Space is already disorientating enough as it is – what with its lack of gravity causing a complete loss of weight and force to propel yourself around and all that. Throw in a game designed around traversing a base full of obstacles, puzzles and treacherous hazards, you can probably imagine the potential for fatal mishaps and maddening failure.
Heavenly Bodies somehow does make the experience more fulfilling as an overall package compared to the previously mentioned games though, but it’s design can hinder it when the frustration builds through longer play sessions. Does it end up being worth your time investment? Well, strap on your astronaut suit and lets float out into the endless expanse to discover the answer.
Ace The Base
Duly arriving at the space station, you’ll embark on a series of 7 levels to bring the celestial place back online. There’s no real story to speak of – your avatar doesn’t speak and there’s no dialogue at all, in fact. Instead, you’ll consult your journal to review your current task and figure out the idiots-guide steps you’ll need to tick off to succeed. It’s a simple premise, occasionally even lacking a bit of detail to guide you adequately, but it’s straightforward enough to work.
You’ll be tasked with realigning solar panels, fixing a power generator and creating viable oxygen sources. Basically, you’re a space handyman extraordinaire. Each mission has a set goal with a series of tasks to get you there, with the challenge coming from navigating the station and using the variety of instruments and tools you’ll need to accomplish the job at hand. One level even has you setting out into an asteroid belt and mining minerals, so there’s lots to get on with.
Most take about 20-30 minutes to finish, though one anomaly had me raging for just over an hour due to some underwhelming design choices and the aforementioned lack of direction. I enjoyed most of them but a couple are less fun to complete compared to the rest. None of the tasks you’re saddled with are difficult in and of themselves however, oh no. The real test comes from actually moving around the uncompromising and unforgiving depths of space itself.
Stop Hitting Yourself… Into Walls
Unlike most other games, the analogue sticks aren’t going to easily and freely move you about in Heavenly Bodies. Gravity, I’ve realised, is rather underappreciated and Heavenly Bodies has certainly highlighted that for me. The left and right sticks direct your astronaut’s arms in the direction you’d like to go, but that doesn’t mean your momentum will actually move you that way. How annoying. Using R2 and L2 you’ll be able to grip onto things in your environment to shift your momentum and interact with various objects. L1 and R1 let you do a little shimmy to tuck your legs in but I never really used this in truth as it’s pretty awkward holding each of the triggers at once.
It sounds easy and straightforward, but then so does looking after a plant, and given how many plants have decayed under my supervision, quite clearly it isn’t. If one of your arms is shifting your weight in the wrong direction you’ll spin endlessly in a loop of foolishness. If your momentum is just short you’ll fall agonisingly away from the item you’re trying to reach. If you don’t invert your push and pulling force you’ll simply smack your idiot head on the airlock door instead of opening it.
If you’re into games that have intentionally pedantic and frustrating mechanics, you’re going to adore Heavenly Bodies as it perfectly captures that inconsistently consistent element of Zero-G where nothing works how we know it does on Earth. When I could wrap my head around it, there were some seriously Zen-like moments of blissful exploration as I floated about and swung myself around with wilful abandon.
When it doesn’t work however, it can be absolutely blood-boiling. It becomes a loop of frustration making you impatient, which then compels you to do stupid things you know won’t work and then getting livid about your own idiocy. The problem I personally had was that I never became consistently competent, wildly swinging from having a great time to wanting to knock myself unconscious out of pure spite. Worst thing is, I can’t really blame the game for this, it nails what it’s going for, but mechanically it just wasn’t always pleasurable to play.
Houston, We Have Some Problems
Exacerbating the aggravation is certain tools or objects you have to utilise to succeed. The mining mission in the asteroid field is an awesome spectacle, but ship navigation was loose and the direction was obtuse at best. Items like hoses or a mineral hoover can be clunky as all hell to manoeuvre correctly, causing all manner of obscenity to be shouted their way. Again, this all totally suits being up in space, but damn did it trigger some anger – not even the humorous kind, just the kind that tells you to stop playing.
I ran into a couple of glitches where story-essential items got stuck in the environment and couldn’t be removed to carry on, necessitating a checkpoint reload (which can be quite far apart at times), while another level simply wouldn’t let me grab an object I needed to, so again, had to reload. It never crashed and given the physics effects Heavenly Bodies is going for, I didn’t hold these smaller issues against it, as some quirks will always come through.
Heavenly Bodies does run superbly however, even when dozens of things are floating around the station thanks to your handiwork. It was buttery smooth throughout and when the physics engine was on display it created some truly fascinating moments as I pondered my next move.
Built on a gorgeous 1970s visual aesthetic, Heavenly Bodies has a simple yet beautiful graphical style. Lighting and colour contrast are vibrant, while the retro machines you’ll be tinkering with are expertly detailed and true to the era. Blasting out of an airlock into the abyss of space was quite an experience too, as you’re left with nothing but your salient cosmonaut on a backdrop of the stars.
The station itself has an expectedly sterile look, but small touches like the old-school computer you gather your objective from or the light barriers that rotate across the exterior of the station windows just add an air of authenticity. Moving from mission-to-mission to take in the sights was great and kept me going even when I was becoming increasingly impatient.
Heavenly Bodies’ audio goes a long way to reinforcing its excellent graphical direction too. The station is full of bleeping machinery, complete with ear-busting alarms, subtle clinks and clanks of machinery and satisfying thumps when you smack your mining shuttle onto an asteroid. Hearing the whirlwind of air flush out of an airlock with your avatar flailing about in-tow was equal parts brilliant and terrifying too.
2pt Interactive did an amazing job with the visuals and sound, basically. The idea of floating out into the nothingness of space has always sort of terrified me and the developers captured that sense of isolated beauty incredibly well.
Conquer The Final Frontier
Clocking in at around 4-5 hours, Heavenly Bodies is short enough to not outstay its welcome while still holding enough content to keep you hooked for a good afternoon. Missions can be replayed and have a combo of challenges that unlock for you to test your strength of will. With 3 difficulties ranging from assisted (your cosmonaut does a cute little kick animation to help you move), classic and Newtonian, you can ease up or increase the arduous nature of your experience too.
I played the majority switching between classic and assisted, trying out Newtonian on a couple of levels. The higher difficulties effectively up the realism of weightlessness in space, making your job exponentially harder but more skill-focused, which is a great addition for those who want to sink some extra time into the game. There’s also the option to play Heavenly Bodies in co-op with a buddy which I imagine would turn a lot of that annoyance into funny back-and-forth (I can already picture untethering my partner and devilishly watching them drift off into space. I’m a monster, I know).
Whether this game will be a heavenly or hellish experience for you will depend on how you do with intentionally perplexing mechanics. Heavenly Bodies is kind of designed to piss you off, not because it hates you, but because space simply doesn’t care to cater for you. My frustrations were a personal thing, caused by my own impatience and shortcomings, overcoming which was ultimately satisfying by the end. It’s a good game, but for a select type of blissful masochist.
Combining the awkward unforgiving nature of space with a short and focused puzzle exploration game, Heavenly Bodies succeeds in what it sets out to achieve. It’ll frustrate you, impress you, drive you mad and blow you away with its mechanics and 70s aesthetic. You might not always have fun playing it, but this is a Zero-G trip worth embarking on, smashed controllers and all.
Heavenly Bodies is launching on PS5 (review platform), PS4 and PC via Steam.
Developer: 2pt Interactive
Publisher: 2pt Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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