By Greg Giddens 19.03.2017
Heaven Island Life provides a beautiful sandy beach and sparkling tropical ocean environment to explore and relax in; it's an experience of presence and space rather than mechanics and goals; it's entirely non-traditional; it's also technically flawed and shallow, and this is made all the more obvious as you explore.
Untouched sand, a crystal clear ocean and inlets, palm trees, wooden decks, ancient ruins, and basic structures can all be found by wondering around the environment. They are locations of curiosity, initially compelling you to explore them before simply allowing you to relax among them. Indeed, Heaven Island Life feels a lot like a walking simulator. However, beyond some sea collectable shells and apples, there's no objective to seek out, no storyline to follow and no point to explorating.
It's an environment of mild curiosities that ultimately reveal nothing on their own. Instead it's very much up to the player to find meaning within the game-world, but with only the aforementioned apples and sea shells to collect, and only a single method of interactivity, this isn't a playground for emergent play.
The only way of interacting with the environment is by flinging stones with one of the Vive wands. You can move around the environment, seated or standing, by using the blink move mechanic, and unlimited stone are generated by one of the wands for throwing. The problem is, the stones don't do anything, and in fact they often don't even interact with the rest of the environment. They'll hit and roll on the floor, but otherwise pass through the majority of other objects and structures within the world. Even throwing stones into the ocean had no effect, with no splash or even a sound effect.
This also proves true for movement. Huge boulders, structures, the ocean itself, provide no barrier to the blink movement, allowing passage right through them as if they weren't even there. That is until reaching the edge of the game-world, where an invisible wall with highly obvious cuts-off to the textures of the environment, halt any advance and utterly destroy any sense of immersion. Not that much is left after wandering through this physically flawed environment.
Unfortunately, some technical problems are also present that look daft at best, but ruin immersion at worst, with objects and structures pooping into existence only when right in front of them. This is worst still when elements of these structures have a respectable drawn distance but the rest of it doesn't, resulting in humorous, but visually jarring moments, where floating curtains hang in the air from a distance.
But when you're utterly still there's certainly something to appreciate with the strikingly bright sky and attractive environment - calm and pleasant music, with different tracks depending on location, also help with the Zen. However, a little movement and the magic is broken; the visual splendour losses its charm as textures are revealed as basic up close, and clipping through terrain and structures is not only an odd feeling, but a visual mess. If lying on the beach with peasant sounds and music is an attractive proposition, then Heaven Island Life is a very affordable VR facsimile, but if after something with depth this is absolutely not recommended.
Heaven Island Life is a VR environment rather than a game, with exploration through a physically flawed, sandy tropical game-world its only allure. It's an initially attractive looking place to spend some time, but soon proves to be highly shallow and immersion-breaking after only the merest slither of exploration.