Heartwork (PC) review
"He could still end up in a compromising position with a cold steel barrel up his butt. I consider it fitting payback for his other transgressions. Heartwork considers it the ultimate orgasm."
ActiveSoft doesn't have any problem mixing sex and violence. Bible Black, their most well-known property, presents a hedonistic world of high-school witchcraft, full of demon worship, virgin sacrifice, and ritualistic orgies. Heartwork, too, mixes sensational pieces of subject matter, but it doesn't have the backdrop of magical fantasies to soften the harshest blows. Without that illusory buffer, its content hits with the cruel depravity of a snuff film.
Heartwork's maelstrom surrounds aimless student Yuu Asakura. When he unknowingly switches cases with a stranger at the train station, his future takes a turn away from lazy days towards impending doom. Yuu opens the innocuous-looking attache to find a disposable cellphone, a video tape, a cool stack of cash, and an even colder pistol. It's clear this package will only bring trouble, but Yuu barely thinks about its rightful owner before brazenly firing a bullet into his bedroom wall. He's too enamored with the gun to get rid of it. However, what he ultimately does with the weapon is up to you.
This is a text adventure, where branching paths open depending on your choices. In similar games that often translates to a ton of reading, with ponderous setups for each major event. If Heartwork deserves any credit at all, it's for sticking to the action. In the course of one day – that's a couple of hours for you – Asakura's life will spiral down the drain. Choices come fast, and it can be the most insignificant, like answering the phone, that mark the difference between a narrow escape and a gruesome death.
The catch with Heartwork, though, is that you'll most likely hate where those avenues lead. Every one of the game's nineteen possible endings treads along a sadistic path of pointless destruction. Yuu can step into the mysterious stranger's footsteps and see how he plays at becoming a professional assassin. He can try to knock off a drug dealer, not to clean up the streets, but to take over his thriving business. Or, in the most jaw-dropping, does-it-really-say-that moment, he can take the gun to school and become a “Colorado Reaper.”
This particular route includes gang raping the teacher (if you don't choose to blast her right away) and executing a terrified girl by shooting her in the face at point blank range (there's no choice to skip that). Avoiding a terrifying bloodbath is virtually impossible under any circumstances. In another sequence, Yuu gets rid of a witness by overdosing her with a toxic drug, which inflicts permanent brain damage, and then ravages the debilitated husk left behind. At some point in the unholy mess, he thinks to himself that at least she's alive. Like the fact that she's only a vegetable gives him some consolation. From the perspective of a newly-formed psychopath, that is mercy.
Even if you aim to take the responsible approach by turning the gun in to the police straightaway, Yuu won't escape from violence. He could still end up in a compromising position with a cold steel barrel up his butt. I consider it fitting payback for his other transgressions. Heartwork considers it the ultimate orgasm. This game contains many sexual acts, some forced and all heartless. They're just part of the foreplay. The brutal violence that follows is the real money shot.
Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (August 26, 2010)
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