by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Just Tending my Farm Here...
When you look at Gleaner Heights it's easy to think of Harvest Moon, of Stardew Valley. You'll plant and harvest crops, you'll shear sheep, you'll milk cows, you'll find yourself at the center of a dark mystery; wait what was that last part?
That's right, despite the surface level implications, only half of the package is a farming simulator. The other half is pretty dark, but does it do enough to help this farm sim be unique enough to stand out among all the others both large and small?
The Book's Cover
When you first launch Gleaner Heights, you'll get the opportunity to design your character with a decent amount of color customization options, a few different hairstyles, your gender, and your sexual orientation. You'll even be able to pick what your former occupation was, which will give you different sets of advantages going forward. For example, if you were an accountant, you get a boost to your sales profits. If you were a wrestler, you'll have an advantage with anything involving melee.
The other three are veterinary, cook and psychologist, each with perks tied into that respective field. Once you actually start the game, it's pretty clear that Gleaner Heights is something much different from the get go. The game begins with what can be described as an odd, and sinister 'play'.
What Lies Beneath
"How exquisite the stage of life is, and what delicate props it makes of us." The game opens with these lines, and it definitely sets the tone of the darker side of Gleaner Heights. By daylight, it's your run of the mill enjoyable farming simulator. It's a bit basic, making sure it has all the bells and whistles with just enough difficulty to not make things too much of a breeze, but with a greater emphasis on getting to know all the folks around town than most farm sims where you could get away with little socialization if you so desired.
The reason for that is because Gleaner Heights is also a game of mystery, danger and horror (well, as much as a pixelated sprite style game can offer). It gets darker than one would expect, with some of the stories behind the different people of town ranging from depressing to outright angering at times.
Darker Than Expected
Without diving into any major spoilers, this town must be the unhappiest place on earth as well as one of the most twisted. Abuse, addiction, murder, occultism; if you can think of something bad, someone in this town is probably either suffering from it or perpetrating it. What's really interesting is that it's not just that these are secretly vile people when they're out of the public light. It's the town itself. There is something about the town that is supernatural in essence; something that reminds me of Silent Hill.
Most of the time, the town population acts normal. They commit to their routines, they'll befriend and do business with you as needed. But as you learn more about them, you'll find yourself asking whether you even want to work with them? Maybe you want to help them? Or, if you're feeling evil, you can capitalize on some of their misfortunes to turn a bigger profit. Regardless of what you choose, you'll eventually have curiosity get the better of you and I suspect many players will try to get to the root of all the problems surrounding the town, and to do so you're going to leave no stone unturned, and you'll have a fair share of dungeon crawling along the way as well.
The first thing I thought was that Gleaner Heights was trying to hop on the bandwagon of fun that Stardew Valley reignited for the Farm Sim genre. When you first see the game, it's impossible not to think that. That's also where my one major issue with the game lies, as it feels functional but I feel like I've already played it several times before. Farm sims of this variety, please switch it up a bit! However, once you've looked under the hood and see that the farm sim is only the surface of the game, you find a surprisingly addicting dark adventure title. If you're a fan of farming sims but need something to spice it up, try the grim substance matter of Gleaner Heights out. You may find exactly what you're looking for.
A surprisingly dark plot that makes you intrigued about the town of Gleaner Heights, decent dungeon crawling
The farm simulation side of things doesn't really seem fleshed out beyond the basics