Developer: The Game Bakers
Release Date: December 3rd 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: The Game Bakers
I admittedly love a good romance narrative in a video game. Combine that with RPG adventure elements and a dose of precision gameplay, and you have something that will immediately catch my eye. Haven from developer The Game Bakers features all of the above and presents it so effectively that it has easily become one of the titles I’ve felt most emotionally invested in this year.
Haven’s story begins with lovers Yu and Kay soon after escaping the authoritative control of the Apiary. They set up camp as the only humans on the fragmented planet named Source. One day, the ship they travel and live in is damaged by seismic activity forcing the couple to investigate the planet and attempt to fix the damages. During their journey, they find new life forms, food, and resources to keep themselves alive while maintaining the relationship they sacrificed everything for.
The majority of gameplay and exploration involves gliding around the planet sections with hover boots. This gliding does take a bit of trial and error to get used to it. I found myself awkwardly controlling my movements for a bit until I eventually got the hang of swerving and pivoting after some practice gliding feels fairly natural and is a super enjoyable way to get around.
To help the player become more precise, Haven presents flow streams. These are blue lines that weave throughout the landscapes of Source. The goal is to follow the movement of the flow stream like a car on the road. Sometimes these streams will even defy gravity letting the player travel as high or low as the flow takes them. You can fall off or break the flow stream as I did several times early in gameplay; however, the system is pretty forgiving with what it considers “on track.” What could have been insanely frustrating in the wrong hands feels balanced and works well here.
The dual purpose of following these streams is to collect flow, which emits as a blue exhaust from your boosts. Flow helps clean up the reddish colored rust emerging from the planet. While it’s not necessary to clean it all up, the more anal aspects of me emerged in these moments. Larger cores of rust will often hold secrets and work as a chain reaction to remove surrounding rust.
This rust has also infected the alien animals on the planet, possessing them to behave aggressively. When they attack you, a more traditional RPG screen is initiated. You are given four major options to choose from: Impact, which is a heavy physical assault, Blast a longer range energy beam, Shield your defense, and Pacify, which must be initiated only on a downed enemy.
Infected creatures near the beginning are typically more susceptible to one attack than the other, but animals will later switch up their vulnerability, making combat a bit more complicated. Moves are time-sensitive and are only carried out if you hold down on their according button. On top of this if you are a single player you must constantly pay attention to both characters simultaneously. I found myself neglecting one character over another at some points or redoing moves I had just done with the other.
It can be chaotic and confusing but having a second player presents its own challenges. The most powerful moves are combined attacks known as duos. To perform these successfully, both players must hold down the same action and release it at reasonably the same time. This requires some communication and, in contrast, is much easier to pull off with a single player.
Pacifying is also a huge part of combat. When an enemy is downed pacify will cure them of their brutal nature. However, you only have a limited time to pacify an enemy. If you fail many come back even angrier than before.
While these combat sections are enjoyable, I did sometimes find some ambiguity with moves being nulled by my opponent. Sometimes I would charge up an attack only for nothing to happen because of taking a hit or in the precursor to getting hit.
Thankfully like gliding, combat is also pretty forgiving, even as crazy as it can be. If you lose in a fight, you are taken to a previous checkpoint but all your progress up until your loss is automatically saved. This makes things a bit less tedious if you are struggling in a specific area.
An accessible crafting system also finds its way into the game. There are several health potions you can form as well as food dishes to make sure your battles stay in your favor as much as possible. Cooking and moments of dialogue can also give you experience points to increase health and move efficiency.
Dialogue in Haven is presented by excellent voice actors, who do a marvelous job in their respective roles. These scenes make up a huge part of Haven’s experience. The cast is limited so a lot of the narrative weight rested on their shoulders. I found the main characters immensely likable and well written. Dialogue switches from the silly and mundane to more serious at the drop of a hat. Each emotional exploration felt earned and natural in its progression.
Haven is presented with gorgeous cell-shaded graphics. Character models and environments look great as the vibrant lighting changes depending on the time of day. Some stunning opening cinematic animations would be a crime to pass up. Music by Danger fills the soundtrack with atmospheric yet melodic synth tones fitting the mood perfectly.
The major obstacle holding Haven back is some drops of frame rate and noticeable stuttering. It rarely affected my overall gameplay but it could be distracting at times. As smooth and somewhat meditative as some moments can be, I imagine players more sensitive to these hiccups will have difficulty with this. Here’s hoping that it’s something that can be fixed with a future update.
Haven took me by complete surprise with its relatable characters and emotional love story. Gliding from island to island is endlessly fun and is a great way to take in its bright art direction. While there are some performance issues, the overall story and exploration had me hooked from beginning to end. If you’re looking for a romantic and fantastic narrative Haven has a beautiful world ready to explore.
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