Heal | PS5 Review
Heal: Console Edition, developed by Jesse Makkonen and published by Ratalaika Games, is a point and click puzzle game, originally released on Steam but now available on all console platforms. For the purpose of my review, I played the PS5 version.
In Heal, you assume the role of an elderly man, who it seemed was in a particularly fragile part of his life. As the game began to progress I started to get the sense that this game was really focusing on some very sensitive topics and some areas that would be very personal to some such as Alzheimers and Dementia. Whilst there's very minimal dialogue to drive the narrative, there is wonderful use of atmosphere, sounds and visuals to drive this home with a stunning soundtrack to accompany. As you move through the levels which begin in the gentleman's house, you start to uncover little glimpses into his life and his former happiness.
Heal presents itself very similar to an escape room. Your character has to leave the room or area that he is in, however, the doors are always locked and the player must solve a number of puzzles to achieve this. I'm not going to sit here and try to make you all believe I'm an absolute professional at these puzzles - because there's plenty of evidence to say otherwise - but I found a lot of these puzzles to be very tricky. Most of them "made sense" to me but then there were other ones that truly didn't and seemed slightly discombobulated and confusing leaving me scratching my head. Then I began to feel like the puzzles themselves were also driving the story. The confusion and disorientation that I felt trying to solve some of the puzzles felt perfectly in line with the story behind this game. I feel like this really had a lasting impact for me because it really applies a concept that I was always taught about writing in school which is "show don't tell"- the game essentially told us NOTHING, but the gameplay spoke for itself and told us everything.
I've personally never went through the struggle of seeing somebody struggle with Dementia or Alzheimers but from what I've heard from friends who have witnessed it first hand, that feeling of being so close to remembering something or understanding something for it to simply float away from your mind is a prominent struggle I've heard often, and for a simple puzzle in a game to bring back memories of these conversations about a very real struggle was certainly an experience.
Whilst the puzzles were hard, they weren't impossible and simply required a little bit extra attention and sometimes looking further afield than where the puzzle is. Perhaps I'm reading too far into it, but I really feel all these small things really contribute to the narrative which really impressed me. The way that the creator dealt with such a sensitive topic really stuck with me as well. I feel like topics like aging, mental health and other ailments aren't really addressed within games very often. I don't necessarily believe they SHOULD be addressed more often but when presented to the world in this kind of way it really gets minds thinking and allows people to have even the tiniest, metaphorical glimpse into these struggles that to some people seem so farfetched and impossible but unfortunately, they are very real and incredibly devestating.
The big thing I noticed about the puzzles were that most of them were two or three parts of one puzzle and I often took a while to realise this, instead my mind chose to think they were all seperate. Some puzzles were simply exceptionally difficult to figure out but then on the flip side of this, some puzzles were easy to figure out, but managing to achieve the solution was difficult so it felt like a constant struggle between motor skills and knowledge and I'd truly love to know if this was simply a coincidence or whether as mentioned previously, intentionally done to drive the plot forward. There's a very good chance I'm simply over thinking some of these aspects but I like to hope I'm not because it's very apparent that Jesse Makkonen put real thought into this game, far beyond simply trying to make it look pretty.
Whilst the general look of the game is very beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, there are clearly some very dark undertones that really convey a lot of sadness, pain and longing for the character. I feel like I would prefer a slightly more "obvious" approach to show the story because for me personally - and I'm sure many others - the subtlty could mean you miss a lot of things but this game really sucked me in and I truly felt compassion for this nameless old man.
I feel like my biggest complaint about Heal is that whilst this is dubbed "console edition" it felt slightly like a lazy port to console with the way that the majority of the controls use a mouse like system, however it's important to remember, Heal is a point and click game so it literally does as it says on the tin, I just feel like it could have made more use of the controller during puzzles rather than the mouse because it made some of the puzzles a little bit more challenging than they needed to be.
Overall, I really enjoyed Heal. The visuals were stunning, the puzzles were challenging and the general aesthetic really hit home and as previously mentioned, I felt like it dealt with some incredibly pressing and emotional struggles in a very mature and tasteful way. Heal conveyed lots of emotion throughout its short cut scenes and brought that emotion to the forefront through a beautiful soundtrack that really complimented the visuals very well. I don't know whether the game itself has much replayability but I would be keen to go back and attempt to complete it in a shorter time for my own satisfaction.
For its small price tag, I would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys an intelligent puzzler experience. It would be the perfect game to spend an evening playing with a nice warm cup of tea.
This is my first experience of a game by Jesse Makkonen but I certainly feel very intrigued to explore some other titles because if such compassion and emotion can be put into this game, then it speaks volumes of the quality of the games he produces.
Lj's Rating: 4 out of 5.
Many thanks to Woovit for the Review Key.