- Developer: The Game Bakers
- Publisher: The Game Bakers
- Release date: 3/12/2020
- Price: £19.99 / $24.99
- Platforms: PC, Playstation 5, Xbox X|S, Xbox One (Reviewed on Playstation 5)
- Review code provided by The Game Bakers
Introducing: Haven Playstation 5 Review
I went into Haven thinking it might be nice to play a game about a cutely designed couple living on a deserted planet, trying to survive while exploring. I was also drawn in by the cel shaded art style, wondering just how well it would be put to use, especially after recently returning to Breath of the Wild. What I did not expect was for a game to make me incredibly and painfully aware of just how single I am.
Haven is the story of Kay and Yu, a pair of lovers who have run away from their home planet, The Apiary, and are trying to make a go of life together on the fragmented floating islands of a planet called Source. See, on The Apiary all marriages are decided by a matchmaker for the supposed betterment of the society, something people complain about but seem to generally go along with because it seems to work for the most part. Kay and Yu weren’t interested in that at all, though, preferring to escape across a bridge of “flow”, a cosmic energy source that serves to connect planets, so that they could remain together and not be made to be with their supposed matches. However, after an earthquake, their ship is damaged and they start looking around for ways to repair it, realizing that their are mini flow bridges connecting the islands and allowing them more to see. And hey… there’s some buildings here… I thought this was supposed to be a desolate planet that nobody’s been to…
Kay and Yu really are the lifeblood of this game, no doubt. The dialog between them and their relationship just feels so natural and real that they had me rooting for them within the first few minutes of being introduced to the characters. There is a little bit of that classic “they need to have different words for swears or exclamations because they’re in space!” kind of a deal going on, but the voice actors say it with enough conviction that it never really feels too awkward and honestly feels more like a way to easily censor anywhere it might have otherwise been stronger language. The rest of their dialog feels super natural. The way they talk is like people who have been friends for a while so I completely believe what they have going on. The fact that progression is shown through them having conversations in your home base was a great idea too, especially when there is literally a spot you can go to on the ship for them to have little conversations with each other. These little scenes really remind you that the gameplay that you are doing is only part of their lives, most of the rest of it just being there and being together.
A Cozy Nest
Worldbuilding is woven pretty naturally too. There’s never a scene where they talk exactly about the process of the matchmaker or anything like that or the characters telling each other something they already know. They talk about these things like the matter of life that they are for them, leaving you to figure things out through context clues. It’s a wonderful way to build the world out, especially when they start exploring Source and are actually speculating and guessing instead of just knowing what everything is on sight. I will say that the worldbuilding can be a little wonky at times. The matchmaking system is supposed to ensure the least amount of harm and the propagation of their kind, so there is a way to “reprogram” those who resist the process. Having that side by side with Yu having two moms feels a little off. It’s just little things like that, though, so none of it ever breaks the game.
I will warn you that despite the game not sporting the highest age rating, there is some stuff here that is verging on being pretty not safe for work. There’s not anything explicit that I recall seeing, but there is a scene in which Kay and Yu play a sort of choose your own adventure game with each other which escalates into starting to talk through what is blatantly foreplay. Even when I purposely chose the more childish dialog option of “I grab his butt” my next choice had escalated into the choice to take off pants or let someone “have their way”. This scene isn’t optional either. It comes as a result of leveling up the relationship, which is how you get increased abilities and health, so you do have to go through it. Just be mindful if there’s someone young around for these sorts of things. While not explicit, the game does not shy away from the fact that Kay and Yu have a physically intimate relationship.
Lots to See
The game is primarily an exploration game as you move from one area to another, searching out portions of the map that you have not been to yet and finding the supplies that you need to reach previously unreachable areas. One of the most fun parts of the game is moving through the world. Kay and Yu have boots which allow them to basically glide off the ground, which leads to some really smooth traversal. These are powered by flow, gathered by following threads on each of the little islands. Having powered up boots allows you to clear out a strange (and plot relevant) red substance that is overtaking each of the little islands. Not only does clearing out all of this substance make the island one that you can fast travel to, but it also is just plain old satisfying to do.
There is combat with the creatures of the plant too, since the strange substance is driving them a little mad and causing violent tendencies. The combat system is a simple one, with only a few options that you can use, but I was surprised to see just how in depth it could get. While the game teaches you the basics, it is up to you to experiment a little bit with what type of attack each of the creatures is weak to and which ones you really need to keep your guard up against. Each of your actions is something that you charge up and release in real time, so that timing element is there as well, meaning that you need to also be paying attention to the animations of the enemies to make sure that you are attacking them when they are at their weakest. Both are used at once, so two things can be happening and charged, which was a lot easier to get a handle on than I thought it would be. If one of them is knocked out, the other can help them up, which does involve getting some timing in a window right. That seems easy at first, but when the window shrinks each time you have to do this in a battle, which makes it really tricky when you get down to just a sliver of space to time it in.
There is some light survival elements to this as well. Kay and Yu will need to eat and sleep, but this can’t be done everywhere. The ship is the best place for this, of course (and appropriately called The Nest because of that), but there are little outposts that the two of them can stop at to get a meal and get some rest. Failing to take care of their needs does narrow the timing windows, making all of combat harder. It didn’t seem to me to effect anything else, but if it did, it wasn’t in such a drastic way that I felt like I couldn’t move on with them at all in that state. Cooking and making other items is easy and materials are plentiful too. I wish there was a way to simply heal to full health at the nest instead of having to use items that I just made since sleeping only heals a fraction of your health, but with how easy materials are to get, I never felt completely hindered by this.
The Whole Wide Universe
Haven features a beautiful cel shaded art style, which I am sure will get compared to Breath of the Wild a lot, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m personally rather fond of well done cel shading. I felt like it worked here and suited the game, which I think wouldn’t have hit the same way if it were in a gritty realistic style instead of the soft tones that can be found throughout Haven. It’s a cozy and comforting look for the game! Character design is a strong point here as well. All of the creatures are distinct and memorable, which really helps with that issue of needing to be able to tell what is vulnerable to what. Yu and Kay are designed beautifully too. I’m particularly fond of Yu’s design. She’s downright adorable, which is a great companion to her more fiery personality. It’s easy to tell that the team really loved these characters as well, since each of the loading screens will feature images of the pair just being a cute couple, which I found to be a lovely touch.
I did like the music, though not all of it really stood out to me. There’s a track from the combat that I remember, mostly because I heard it so much, but the rest of the music is pretty atmospheric and seems to be designed so that it won’t be distracting. That’s not a knock against it, it just means that it’s not one of the highlights of the game. However, I will assert that one of the best pieces of music in the game is the one that plays alongside it’s beautiful animated opening sequence.
Despite this being a game about a wonderful relationship, I’m sorry to say that this is one that I don’t really think you should be picking up purely as a game to experience with your significant other via the provided couch co-op. While I found the game really fun while playing single player, I don’t think it makes for a very equal experience when trying to play together with another person. This isn’t something like Overcooked! or Portal 2, where you will both constantly being communicating and working together to get to a common goal. It often feels a lot more like Mario Odyssey, where one player is able to take a small level of control, but the primary player is going to be doing most of the things. It’s just nothing all that interesting and while I think that some people might enjoy it, it’s saying something that I am much more likely to recommend this as a single-player experience than a multiplayer one.
I was a little surprised to find that there was some usage of the DualSense features in this game. It’s not something that I expected third party games that are releasing on multiple platforms to pay attention to, but, hey, I’m still glad to see it. You likely won’t even notice it happening while you are playing unless you are paying attention because it is very subtle. However, when Kay or Yu uses their gliding to go over certain types of water without it being part of following a flow strand, there is some rumble in the trigger that you hold to do the gliding. It’s not much, but to see someone other than Sony themselves making use of these features gives me a little hope.
Ultimately, what kept drawing me back to Haven was the characters. Since there aren’t many, I think that’s a testament to how easily relatable they are and how much they made me smile. Character is something that I feel can sometimes fall to the wayside in favor of gameplay, which isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s always nice to see it get a place in the spotlight with projects like this one. I loved my time with Haven and I think that I might give it another go around with everything that I have learned from the beginning.
- Delightful characters and character moments
- Naturalistic worldbuilding
- You can pet the creatures
- Great art direction
- Multiplayer is lacking
- Combat could get repetitive at times