I’m a big roguelike enthusiast. I mentioned it from time to time and I feel like I can’t say it enough – I frankly love the genre. Maybe it’s because of the steep learning curve and the pleasure you get from overcoming the initial difficulty. Maybe it’s the joy of building up this overpowered run that is nothing like any of the runs you had before? Heck, maybe the genre has so many fans due to the sheer volume of creativity that is put into their titles. Yes, games are inspired by each other but still, the genre evolves constantly. That’s mainly because each developer brings something new to the table. Today’s review is on Heartless Dark, a horror-adjacent roguelike with inspirations taken from Nuclear Throne and Resident Evil.
Developer: iamRoarke Publisher: iamRoarke Genre: Action, Roguelite, Top-Down-Shooter, Indie, Dark Release Date: October 14th, 2021 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC Copy was provided by the developer.
Something went horribly wrong at the company you worked at and now you’re stuck in the building with no exit anywhere close to you. The only option you have right now seems to be the elevator that only goes down, so you take the chance and make your way to wherever it leads you. The only equipment you have is a couple of grenades, a gun with a bit of ammunition, as well as a trusty flashlight. Said flashlight is the only light source in the game and it really adds to the eery atmosphere of it. To make matters worse, you also have to deal with demons that roam the lower floors and threaten your life!
At its core, Hearthless Dark is a top-down twin-stick shooter that is incredibly difficult due to the lack of resources given to you. Depending on your starting class, you’ll find yourself managing ammunition and grenades as you travel through the shadows and monitor your health bar. Danger lurks at every corner and while the light gives you hope, you’ll often have to turn it off to use your 6th sense and detect potential dangers ahead of time. The slow and rather tactical approach to gameplay really compliments the eery atmosphere, which makes the game stand out quite a lot from other titles in the genre. You’ll need to make every shot count and at times, you’ll have to resort to melee attacks, a couple of dashes, or you just make a run for it and try to avoid taking too much damage. On top of those limited actions, you also can try and scavenge through the lower floors to find more resources or potential perks that grant you better stats or bonus effects.
These perks that I mentioned are not all that strong on their own but if you put them together, they can really make you quite strong and increase your survival chances tenfold! In one run, I had a perk that would grant me a chance to retrieve ammo on-hit. This meant that I could essentially shoot at an enemy, get ammo back and shoot again, without ever running out of ammunition… That paired with the chance for the bullet to ricochet or split into two bullets was pretty strong. It was so strong that it lead to a build where I’d shoot and potentially get more ammo back than I initially had due to my bullets hitting multiple targets and proccing the ammo perk. There are also other effects like better perception, luck and resistances, as well as higher damage, fire rate and speed, or even life steal, which is pretty good. In the end, though, it all comes down to your knowledge, luck, and skill. Even that strong run I mentioned before was lost because I took on too many unknown enemies.
The enemies in Hearthless Dark are mainly demons that shine in an ominous red light. From spiders to Zombies to flying ghosts, there is some variety in enemies with different patterns and death rattles. Some create acid pools on the ground or shoot projectiles when they die. Others move or lunge towards you or possess furniture to kill you. There aren’t too many enemies but I still found it somewhat interesting. Now, while the game itself may be difficult, it’s also rather simple. You’ll see the same perks from time to time and the same enemies. You’ll get better at the game, sure, but there isn’t unlimited replayability to it, which is fine for the price. Considering that this is a solo developer’s first game, I’d argue that it’s pretty well made, although it has some flaws that I find to be a bit annoying.
For starters, you can have the best run in the world but you’ll eventually run out of resources. It’s annoying in other games and while I get that it’s the appeal of titles like Resident Evil… I personally hate it. It’s just not my cup of tea. Once you’re out of ammunition, you can only use melee attacks and the incredibly rare grenades to deal with enemies. And well, your melee attack is hard to use, doesn’t deal that much damage and it has a relatively long cooldown. And well, you can’t really aim with your shots all that well, so you’re bound to run out of ammo eventually because the spread is way too wide. I stood in front of one enemy… “So, I started blasting.” Well, I didn’t hit many bullets at all, even at that distance… because my character sucks? I don’t think it’s my fault that the spread is so big… My character is just bad at aiming. That can be quite frustrating but I’d imagine that the developer will probably fix that.
But even then, I found the atmosphere, the subtle lore, and most of the mechanics in Hearthless Dark to be quite enjoyable and satisfying. It’s designed to be a roguelike that can be played within a coffee break, so you can in theory finish a run in 20 minutes, even. I’d say that I’m going to recommend this game to you if you’re in for a challenge.