Look, Heartwood will not mean to you what it means to me. As I follow spectral animals through a dark grove, I see so much of designer and programmer Kerry Turner, and my friendship with her: riding a miniature steam train in Hove Park, coming close to tears in a magical doll’s house shop, being those terrible tall women cackling through games events, and things I don’t want to talk about. And through Kerry I met Cara (and through Kerry Cara met Kieron, through whom Cara met you rabble), and look, this game is a keepsake of a friendship for me and I’m being honest about that.
Heartwood won’t mean all of that to you, but you may very well enjoy the dread of being lost in it. It’s short and it’s free, so go see something weird.
I promise that mushy stuff’s out the way and I’ve regained my flinty composure. Heartwood, then, is a walking simulator in a spooky forest. It’s quiet and almost empty, only the sound of your footsteps crunching at first. Do pop your headphones on, download it and have a play. I’ll pretend I shall to wait for you to do that, knowing full well you’ll probably read straight on.
Spooky forests are popular in video games lately but mostly ones about fear, trying frantically to collect diary pages before the Slenderman or a similar creepypasta monster finds you. Heartwood’s instead driven by curiosity and inevitability. You’re put somewhere eerie but interesting, leaving players to be drawn to the weird rather than fleeing from it. It does follow a trope or two of those other forest games, not wanting to spoil it, but the effect isn’t the same due to Heartwood playing on different motivations and emotions.
The jagged silhouetted trees, totemic animals, dreamy sky, and abstract music (by Dan Bibby and Cicada Skins), grounded by realistic footsteps, all make it wonderfully evocative. As in Proteus, the unreality leaves mental and emotional space for it to feel real. Oculus Rift support is coming too.
It’s good, and I don’t just say that because it’s making me think a weird amount about a friend I last saw on Wednesday and everything I’ve done and everyone I’ve met through her and ugh feelings.