Released: December 2020
Rating: M 17+ (Nudity, Sexual Content, Violence, Use of Drugs and Alcohol)
As Madness once sang, “Nothing more, nothing less, love is the best” – an undisputed notion, of course, one that also informs the latest sci-fi adventure from Montpellier-based studio The Game Bakers. Haven (2020) has the player exploring the fractured planet Source with recent runaway lovers Yu (voiced by Janine Harouni) and Kay (voiced by Chris Lew Kum Hoi). Playing as both characters, you find parts for your spaceship and explore the desolate land masses you’ve shown up to at the beginning of the game.
From the start, The Game Bakers make it clear that the focus of this entry in their catalogue is to dissect the relationship between the tech wizard, Yu, and the scientifically studious Kay. This works out to mixed results – Haven ends up being an intriguing story with some flawed gameplay mechanics that do ultimately hurt the overall play experience. However, the aforementioned relationship is explored wonderfully and is enough to make Haven worth your time.
The Game Bakers understand that part of presenting a relationship is making the characters feel unique and interesting enough on their own so that their similarities and differences come across naturally, and so that drama comes to fruition in a clear manner. Haven does this in spades. Yu and Kay, both strongly performed by their respective voice actors, each exhibit numerous personal fears and feelings in regards to their situation as the only two people on a broken planet. This comes across best in dialogue scenes. Blocked purposefully, Haven presents hours of cutscenes, each embracing the domesticity of a relationship in different ways. Whether it be the couple relaxing on the ship’s sofa talking about nothing, playing board games, or complaining about the other hogging the hot water in the shower, Haven presents a mature relationship built on communication that does feel fresh for gaming.
The relationship even feeds into the game’s narrative which is a solid overall package. Whilst the story itself takes a rather predictable route, it more than makes up for it with some complex worldbuilding. In-game conversation topics range from the ExoNova company Kay abandoned, to Yu’s mother, to the social structures embedded by a figure known as the Matchmaker. All of these subjects give Source the feeling of a breathing world, an impressive consequence of Haven’s narrative focus.
When it comes to the planet Source itself, gorgeous art direction combined with a smooth, if repetitive, score by French musician Danger create a light and welcoming atmosphere. The planet’s disparate landscapes allow for beautiful skies, with deep red evenings contrasted with clear blue daytimes. Haven definitely succeeds on the visual and auditory front.
However, whilst Source is pretty to look at, it ultimately has little to do that’s interesting. The exploration feels too mundane, owing to a repetitive mechanic to clear up ‘rust’ on islands by hovering over it with strands of light energy known as ‘flow.’ There’s little else to do besides collecting plants, looking in buildings, and battling a few creatures. Occasional bright spots exist in the form of secret areas and such, but the map itself is rather empty and by the ten hour mark, it feels like a chore to be the equivalent of a spring cleaner in the park. Not to say that the ‘flow’ activity isn’t satisfying, but the islands themselves could do with a bit more adventure.
The creatures you battle are also rather tedious, which is a shame as the intentions with the game’s turn-based combat system are noble. There are duo attacks that can be dealt and different enemy types that can be attacked in different time windows to deal massive damage, but each character has the same moves with different animations. With each creature using the same power ups, the lack of individuality in combat really hurts any chance of tactical growth in-game.
Ultimately, Haven is a strong story hampered by a lack of imaginative gameplay to keep the runtime and replayability fresh. However, said story, the inventive art direction, and the in-depth relationship is enough to be worth your time.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Words by Alex Green
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.