Haven Review

“Haven is not a difficult game” says the game’s intro. It’s a bold statement coming from a game published in 2020. Difficulty is now accepted as an integral part of the experience, and the people’s expectation differs greatly from the eras of —per se— Gameboy Tetris. More contemporary “easy” games are usually scolded as walking simulators. It is truly a fine line between a game with wide berth or a visual novel in disguise.

At the first glance, Haven seems to insinuate this will be a tranquil experience, of which a young couple endlessly gliding over hills like Romeo and Juliet on hover skates. Most players will land face first, as you start the out-of-nowhere tutorials on how to skate like Tony Hawk can’t kill the mood fast enough. There are no rails, no walls, just a line glowing in thin air, called Flow, which you are required to skate. There are no tricks or combos you need to pull off, despite the young couple’s constant self-appraisal on how awesome this and that jump was. And the sole reason why you are playing Tony Hawk’s is because they must harvest Flow powers their amazing technology of space travel and hover-skates. Don’t worry, this gets worse.

This supposed skating experience on an alien planet never lasts long as you jump through “Flow Bridge”, i.e. exit to another area. And the transition to the connecting map is never smooth. For a game published on a console generation designed to be loading-free, it’s baffling to see old-timey loading screen on every move with a tile-sized area. There is no loading door, no endless corridor, or even a cutscene to hide it away. Not that the game lacks the cutscenes in anyway. Actually you will be seeing a cutscene after every craft, every move, and every actions you undertake. It’s almost baffling developers have consciously decided not to use cutscenes instead of loading screens.

All the tranquility dies out quickly soon as you need to “clean” an area and be forced to put up the combats. In gliding meta-world, the faunas are represented as one, and the combat strongly follows the footsteps of JRPG remakes. It’s tick-based, instead of turn-based, yet the battle system doesn’t take full advantage of new technologies. In fact, the combat simply doesn’t take advantage of the game itself, the two love-birds being together, other than to do old-fashioned “double” moves. Faunas seem alienated too, as their designs insinuate its origin from other franchises. Rest of the work lies in repeating the same tactic per fauna, per combat, until no one is left on the other side. You can’t prepare for faunas, as the opponents will randomly spawn after you are dragged in battle. You can’t escape from battle once dragged in.

Overall character interactions are largely problematic, as so is the world-building. Most of the dialogues boil down to three categories: sex, lovers’ quarrel, and non-essential spiels. Guess which one will the plot-sensitive cutscenes fall into; and guess how often dialogues deteriorate into more sex. This young couple have reached a new level of zen to a point where their behaviors not only look selfish, it looks child-like cruel and unusual. They are not being chased by the respective totalitarian surveilling government; they are being chased by a suitor, who is now being held responsible for anarchist activities of his supposed fiancé, whom he has met only once. And the game doesn’t forget to emphasize the lives this young couple have ruined, each suitors respectively, and that this system of oppression came into existence for a valid in-game reason. Do they give balls to any of this? Nope. It’s about sex; it’s about them; It’s nothing about solving problems. Their love simply doesn’t conquer. Their relationship doesn’t evolve. As the game puts it, they have “retired” themselves from the outside world.

But have they really? Have they truly found forever home to live like a retired couple? The planet is still cracked open. The government that had developed settlement is still standing. The space-faring technology is still up-and-running, and the technology itself is well understood beyond what the protagonists are capable of. Nothing has really changed since we started playing as them.

Conclusions: A game like a child’s finished Lego project.

There is not much players can interact with in the game of Haven. Characters don’t evolve, the world doesn’t change, and the overarching relationships between the characters and between the characters and the world itself don’t change. After hours of gameplay, many players will be hard-pressed to find out that they are not even allowed to touch the world of Haven, only enjoy from distance.

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