For the last week at 3Bit, we have been playing something a little bit different to what we usually play and review, which is always exciting for me when it comes to reviewing, as I am going into the experience with fresh eyes and an open mind. This week I am reviewing Haven, by The Game Bakers which launched early last week for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC. PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch versions will be available early next year. Haven is a game that explores love, rebellion, and freedom as two star-crossed lovers escape to an unknown planet to avoid arranged partnerships and a life away from each other. But have the game bakers been able to cook us a delicious indie title of has this 4-year creation spent a bit too long in the oven? Check out our review of Haven below to find out!
Haven brings a great mix of different gameplay styles, taking some of the best features from RPG, action, and survival games, oh and did we mention it has couch coop where you and one other player will be able to explore and build your new home on the planet source. Whilst some of these features are heavily simplified this indie title does it well enough that they are still enjoyable and keep this game light-hearted and for the most part relaxed. Whilst Haven is a relatively casual game especially when exploring its beautiful water coloured environment, that isn’t to say that is is not without its challenges, and that is what we shall firstly dive into in this review, the challenges. In particularly the combat.
In Haven combat is a rarity as such your objective is not necessarily to kill, but to cleanse. A corrupted resource has taken over the land, corrupting its natural beauty, Fauna and Flora. The corruption of the fauna has, in turn, made them Hostile, so our protagonists Yu and Kay will need to weaken these aggressive creatures, stunning them so that they can purify these creatures returning them to their docile state. There are various other foes outside of the local fauna, which are again dealt with in a non-lethal way, but we shan’t digress into that at the risk of spoilers for those who wish to check out this game after reading.
The combat in Haven plays out in a strange marriage of turn-based RPG combat, often seen in games like Final Fantasy and rhythmic combat, where timing is needed to create a perfect defence and to time the right attack. In single-player you control both Yu and Kay in combat, making timing incredibly easy, however in local cop timing becomes that little bit tougher, meaning that duo movements will require not only perfect synchronicity with Yu and Kay but also with you and your coop partner. With a good variety of enemies, combat can be relatively varied and different strategies will be required for various foes, for example, one foe may be immune to a particular attack, whilst another can only be damaged after one of our two protagonists has shielded a move.
Overall the combat feature in Haven is very enjoyable, but not without its flaws. I, for one, found myself using the same tactics over and over to defeat various enemies, which in turn often waiting for their attack first. This wait often felt a bit too long, and that would take me out of the moment and making the fight seem a lot longer than it needed to be. But on the plus side when you ultimately win your battle, you can pet the creatures you saved, which for many is an absolute win.
Moving away from combat and onto what I believe to be the core gameplay of Haven, Exploration. After an earthquake destroys your home, on Source. Your home is also your transportation of this unknown planet and is known as the Nest and will require repairing in case you need to run again from those who made you flee to Source in the first place. To fix The Nest, you will need to explore the vast number of islets that make Source. But this is not like death stranding or Skyrim where you will spend hours walking through great biomes, traversing treacherous obstacles. Instead, Yu and Kay are able to glide effortlessly across the environment thanks to their glide boots, which are powered by a resource called Flow. Flow powers everything in the Haven Universe and on Source this resource is in abundance. Whilst gliding around the beautiful Islets Yu and Kay will be able to find all the materials, they need to fix The Nest, craft new materials, and cleanse the planet of the corruption that plagues the land.
As you explore the Islets, you will also begin to understand the deep history of this land and its dark secrets that it holds. As the main portion of the game, I found the exploration of Haven incredible there was a lot to do and a lot to discover on each Islet. My only issue was the lack of variety in the biomes. Whilst the environment was, in fact, beautiful what it did lack was variety, I was able to find some areas that looked different in various places, such as beaches and swamps, but the repeated colour palette made these environments feel the same. Even as I sat atop a mountain with Yu and Kay discussing their love and existence, I still felt as if I was in the starting area due to the pastel blues and greens that made the environment, painted over with the purple sludge that corrodes the land.
Along with combat and exploration, the gameplay of Haven includes tonnes of other features, including crafting and cooking, which takes place on the Nest or at campsites when out exploring. This section of gameplay is relatively simple. You combine two ingredients using the same control system as combat. Crafting will add to the improvement of the bond between Yu and Kay (levelling up) much like combat. Cooking and crafting is an essential factor in Haven, as, without it, combat becomes much more difficult. As your duo gets hungry, your combat abilities become harder to use as your timing marker for combined attacks becomes shorter. This is an excellent feature to the game and adds an element of survival to Haven where you need to plan your trips and your meals and healing according to your location and what supplies you have collected from across the Islets.
The final gameplay feature we are going to discuss in this review is the conversational aspect of Haven. This is a bit of a weird one, especially in single player. Throughout the game, Yu and Kay will have a lot of deep and meaningful conversations, mostly between themselves, but on the rare occasion with others. The part that makes this so weird is that in single player you play both roles of the conversation, this feature allows you to define the course of the conversation truly, but as Yu and Kay are lovers, these conversations can become a little bit awkward, especially when the story takes a “steamy” turn and you are essentially dirty talking with yourself. Overall the dialogue is well written, and the choices are what you would expect from a loving couple, with one option usually being serious and the other being either banterous or flirty, so if you can get over flirting with yourself, then this section of the gameplay can be quite enjoyable, occasionally dropping the occasional good joke too.
Our Story In Haven begins on the planet Source, a peaceful and seemingly un colonised world where two star-crossed lovers Yu and Kay have escaped to. Yu and Kay have escaped from this planet because of a harsh dictator, known only as The Matchmaker, who is hell-bent on pairing people up with their “perfect Partner”. Yu and Kay, however, fell in love the old fashioned way ignoring their calling by the Matchmaker in an act of major rebellion, which forced them to flee across the stars and to their new home.
Yu and Kays relationship is much like them young and full of promise, and it shows in each conversation they have, every action they take and how they chose to live their life. After a brief and peaceful introduction, our story kicks off with an earthquake that displaces Yu and Kays Space ship come home, The Nest. The damage from The Nests displacement sends Yu and Kay on a journey of discovery and growth as they find a way to repair the Nest in case they need to run again. The journey pits this against the environment, the shadow of the Matchmaker and at times even themselves as they pave their own future on Source.
As Yu and Kay explore the planet looking for parts they begin to learn the worlds dark history, which has been paired up with a purple sludge, dominating the beautiful planet Yu and Kay realise the Sludge it corrupting the nature, and that thanks to the Flow powering their glide boots they can clean it. The cleansing of the planet is vital to the progression of the story, as cleaning specific patches will reveal boss stages, uncover Flow and even in some cases, ship parts.
Overall the story to Haven is quite enjoyable with a lot of history to discover and some great story points, where Yu and Kay will make outstanding discoveries about the lives they left behind, the past fate of the planet and even about themselves as they explore the Islets and their many landmarks. Yu and Kay’s Story also grows with them moving from a story of 2 lovers on the run into one of a desperate plight of rebellion and freedom. I strongly recommend sticking through the hard to swallow romance to experience the mid-game adventure that follows.
The Soundtrack to Haven is surprisingly well-matched with the gameplay, its relaxing low-fi and hip hop beats make the gliding around Source all that more relaxing and enjoyable. Unfortunately, this soundtrack isn’t always there, and there can be some moments of silence, which feel out of place even when broken by the sounds of gliding and animals. The soundtracks changes with the mood can be subtle, which is a minor weakness in itself. However, that is not to say that the soundtrack isn’t enjoyable, or needed for the situation at hand, particularly during combat and exploration.
When it comes to the voice acting, I found this one of the weakest parts to Haven, due to its infrequency in quality. Both Yu and Kay’s audio on occasion gives a distorted sound when their voices are raised even slightly. With the raising of voices in mind, I also found that the acting in heated situations to be mediocre again. In moments of tension and conflict where the animated images of each cast member showing anger, anguish or even tears, the tone in the voice acting hardly changes, maintaining a steady and calm demeanour throughout that does not match the expression of each character. One such example is when Yu and Kay have an argument between themselves, Yu runs off, leaving Kay confused and alone. Whilst the animations show Kay shouting out into the wilderness of Source for Yu. His voice conveys a level of calm as if he were talking to somebody next to him. These moments can really take away from some strong story points and throw you out of some incredible moments. Whilst these flaws are present as a time there are moments in the actual combat where Yu and Kay do sound more animated, and it is good, to hear the change in their tones as it makes you feel accomplished in your actions, especially after a victory.
This section is undoubtedly the strongest part of Haven. Whilst we aren’t seeing realism that we see in AAA titles from the likes of other PS5 and Xbox Series X/ S titles what we are getting is something just as good in my opinion, brilliant art design. The character designs during gameplay are relatively simple, with no facial expressions to show as we mostly see our characters from the back. Still, when we do see the 3D models, they express more with their body language than in their limited facial expressions.
Other 3D models such as those used for enemies and wildlife hold a bit more detail and variety in their design, making corrupted animals much easier to identify and in some ways disassociate with the fact you are fighting in most cases fighting animals which you will later be able to interact within a more friendly state.
The facial reactions are saved for the 2D animation used in dialogue segments. These anime-esque animations depict each character with great detail, showing a great range of emotion throughout a variety of different conversations. These animations truly showcase each characters true design, as they are meant to be and whilst I wish we could see this more so on each of the 3D character models, what we have in its place is an excellent alternative in indie games like this and makes the conversations feel a lot more meaningful.
When it comes to level design this is where Haven truly excels, Whilst I did mention that the environment shares one similar colour palette it does not take away from the overall beauty of each Islets that make Havens levels. Each Islet has varying terrain of rocky mountains and shallow boglands, each covered in stunning turquoise flora, vibrant purple Sludge and hidden buildings long abandoned before Yu and Kay’s arrival. Whilst the islets are all similar in size they all offer something different, for example, one Islet holds a great mountain which can be ascended for a great view, whilst another hides a small secret beach.
Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough of Haven, Its refreshing take on action RPG games made for an interesting game with some strong story points later in the game. When I first started this title, I went in blindly, for the most part, not knowing what to expect. Though I did find it challenging to get past talking to myself In key conversations, this was quickly overshadowed by the fun of gliding around the islets, uncovering secrets and progressing a story which at first was centred on young love, evolved into one of rebellion, freedom.
Whilst this title does carry its flaws in some areas, it is important to remember that Haven is an Indie title and with that comes a degree of understanding that these developers do not have the same capabilities as AAA developers. With that in mind it is impressive that The Game Bakers have delivered a story which grew on me as I progressed it, with gameplay that holds strong throughout, and visuals that give a sense of wonder and discovery as we learn not just about our protagonist Yu and Kay, but the world they come from and the new world they now call home.