Farming with Cthulhu sounds likes a match made in heaven, er… hell, er… Gleaner Heights.
Gleaner Heights has you play the new guy in a small town — typical stuff when it comes to your farming sim type of game. There is a cast of random townspeople, plenty of shops and more random tree stumps then you can shake a stick at. While the sights and sounds may be plentiful, underneath the surface bubbles darkness and the depravity of humanity.
Also vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables.
It’s a simple idea: take Harvest Moon and throw out all the levity. Add in a splash of mystery and maybe some of the occult and you’ve got a game.
The face of Gleaner Heights harkens back to a simpler time in gaming. Fans of the original Harvest Moon, which released in the mid 90s, will become instantly familiar with the aesthetic and gameplay. Even the freakin’ fences look the exact same. When it comes to art styles, it’s an interesting choice. While the developer does use the sprites and minimal pixels to their maximum potential, it does feel like a step backwards, which even for me was a bit jarring when I first started playing. After a while, though, you just get used to it and it becomes a non-issue.
When it comes to gameplay, Gleaner Heights is a slow burn. This is obvious if you know the genre, but important to note when it comes to the other half of the game. While there is mystery, mayhem and sin to be had, it’s going to take a long while. Gleaner Heights is an investment of trial and error unless you use guides (which I highly recommend) to get to the exciting bits. This is by far what most held me back from enjoying the game. I have played farming sims before and what kept me going was the levity and relaxed nature of it all. Gleaner Heights throws that to the wayside in exchange for a sinister atmosphere and more realism.
Not to worry, though — there is more than enough to keep your hoe busy and axe whacking. There are your standard seasons with different festivals, crops, fishing, hunting… you name it. If you are the type who gets obsessed with maximizing profits and planning their farm carefully, you can do that here. While you can’t place new buildings for animals, you have a huge field to plant all sorts of crops on. Your trusty ol’ watering-can can be upgraded to make things easier, of course. Bigger trees, get a better axe, the rest of the tools follow suit. Other activities include treasure hunting, scuba diving, monster hunting and mining.
Other areas of Gleaner Heights do shine, such as the music. Having to listen to something for hours on end while tending to crops, it better dang well be good. The game wears its inspiration on its sleeve (Twin Peaks) and this is demonstrated clearly from the moment the first cutscene plays. I have heard that some had issue when it came to the controls; I personally didn’t experience any issues, but it did take time to acclimatise.
Overall, Gleaner Heights is an interesting game but for every step forward it takes, it seems to hold itself back. The dialogue is rough around the edges and the lack of character portraits makes it hard to relate to bachelors/bachelorettes. Not that these things hold the game back to point where I wouldn’t recommend it, just expect an old-style farming simulator instead of what you’ve become accustomed to. On the flip side, there are things here that are innovative and really makes one wonder what can be done in the genre. You just have to invest your time and energy where other games make it a little easier to get your giggles.
As a final, post-review statement: keep in mind that Gleaner Heights was made by one man. That is far from an easy task. The developer is also extremely responsive to all bugs/feedback on the Steam forums, so Gleaner Heights does have a bright future ahead of it if the developer continues to improve the game — which I have no doubt they will. So if you are looking for something unusual and don’t mind exploring new ideas in a retro skin, this game is worth your time.