It’s the Halloween season, that time of year where I only sometimes check out horror games because I’m a baby. And guess what? Today is one of those sometimes.
Heartless Dark is an game by iamRoarke that’s just released on Steam. I normally don’t respond to review requests, but I liked the vibes of the pitch and you know, it’d be nice to check out something horror adjacent for this time of year. But also, please do not e-mail me. Even when I mostly like something, I feel guilty about reviewing a fresh new thing if I don’t 100% love it.
You have a desk job at the almighty Malum Corporation, a company that is pretty much hell. And for whatever reason, it also wants to achieve the power of literal hell, with a deep mine drilling operation going on under your workplace to unlock the power of the eldritch. However, evil is not a toy, as the drilling unleashes monsters into the workplace. Most of the office staff managed to evacuate -except for you. But an elevator opens up, beckoning you to descend. And honestly, what choice do you have?
Heartless Dark positions itself as a roguelike top-down shooter with survival horror elements. With limited resources and a frankly bad aim, you must descend the floors of Malum to confront the evil that they’ve dug up.
The whole building is in black-out mode, but thankfully, you got a trusty flashlight on you. However, it’s actually worth keeping it off, sometimes. When it’s completely dark, you tap into a sixth sense that allows you to see the presence of enemies and supplies, even through walls. Using this, you must hunt down the monsters in the dark because the building has the audacity to quarantine you to a floor until you’ve cleaned out a sufficient amount of enemies.
As such, you’ll frequently be tinkering that flashlight on and off to hunt and actually navigate around. Besides helping find your way through the corridors, the flashlight also illuminates important objects. There’s the standard inexplicable exploding barrel you’d expect from a shooter, but there are a few environmental elements to look out for. Despite everything, the place is OSHA compliant with a bunch of fire extinguishers around that can explode and stun people, which is useful if you bait enemies toward them. There are also the office standard water coolers lying around, which will clear up poison that enemies drop.
Of course, there’s also some not so nice environmental stuff, like the spider webbed areas that slow you down and inexplicable pieces of eldritch crystals that give you a little zap. However, it should be noted that most monsters aren’t immune to these things either, and can even kill each other. On some runs, I heard some monster dying in the distance, usually because a poison dripping one accidentally killed them. To be honest, hearing something die in the distance makes for a good atmosphere.
But you can’t expect them to completely destroy themselves, so you have to set out to finish the job. Your character managed to scavenge a pistol, because while Malum is horribly irresponsible, they did have the decency to stock the place up with survival supplies in case of a fuck up. The good news is that there’s a surprising amount of ammo around. The problem is that your character – at least, the default intern class – is a bad shot, especially if you’re moving around. On one hand, it’s kinda annoying. However, it’s a choice that makes sense within the game’s world. Your character is not some soldier, or even a security guard – the character is just Some Guy. In a way, them just being a normal person that sucks shit at shooting just serves to highlight how they’re out of their depth.
That said please land your shots more I’m begging you
Besides that, there are also grenades, which are accurate to throw, but are way more limited. There’s also a melee attack, but to be honest, it feels more like a punishment for running out of ammo instead of as a tool to fall back on. Personally, I think that the melee attack should be stronger or should at least have a lower cooldown. Like, make it not strong enough to be a replacement for shooting, but strong enough that it feels like a viable back-up, since fighting up close is already risky as is.
One of my problems with the game is that there aren’t a lot of healing opportunities. As far as I can tell, the only way to heal in the game is through the perks. There’s nothing wrong with the perks themselves, especially since there’s an inherent risk to navigate with the perks to get more health. But there doesn’t seem to be anything else. Like, a lot of other roguelikes have at least one form of consistent easily available healing, so it’s weird that Heartless Dark doesn’t really have that. If anything, it makes the game harder than it needs to be. Personally, I feel that the player should get healed a little bit when they reach the elevator at the end.
However, Heartless Dark does have customizable difficulty to make things easier. You can lower enemy health to make them easier to kill and lower enemy speed so that you don’t get owned immediately when some evil furniture spots you. Alternatively, you can choose to make things harder for yourself if you’re looking for a greater challenge.
The tone of Heartless Dark is kinda at a weird place for me, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional? The moment to moment gameplay actually does succeed at feeling very tense. Seeing the presence of a monster in the dark but not being sure if it can actually reach you? It’s very stressful.
Some of the actual monsters themselves, though, feel very cartoony. The humanoid enemies that rush you are stressful in the dark, but they look silly when you actually have light shining on them. The voice clips of these enemies as well as those of the possessed objects are also just kinda goofy. I mean, it’s actually kinda shocking when a cabinet suddenly slams into you, but its battle cry is just funny to me. Also, I’m sorry, one of the voices crying out from those demonic circles sounds like Zim of Invader Zim. I just can’t take that seriously.
The reason why I feel that it’s somewhat intentional are the message logs at the beginning of each floor. You can access a log of some other poor schmuck that works at Malum, and most of it is the writer complaining about the workplace. The subject matter that’s discussed is serious and Malum is easily a fucked up corporation outside of the drilling to Hell thing, but seeing these comparatively petty squabbles contrasted with your current situation feels like some dark comedy. I mean like, the whole premise of your situation is that you were Some Guy that was just really unlucky, which is a premise that I always think is a little funny.
I actually liked my time with Heartless Dark, even if I haven’t reached the proper end. It definitely needs polish because it doesn’t feel fully “there,” but I like the core gameplay and I still think it’s worth checking out. I think that if the developer kept at it with some updates, Heartless Dark could be a pretty good game!