Love is a tricky thing to get right in any medium of fiction, but oh boy have video games struggled with the concept ever since we started trying to impart emotion onto the collections of pixels or polygons on our screens. Plenty have tried; your Bioware role-playing epics, your David Cage pontificators and all of those Newgrounds dating sims that I definitely don’t know anything about. There are certainly games that have done love well, titles like Florence and Life is Strange come to mind, but Haven is something else. Rarely are couples in any form of media, let alone video games, depicted in such a real and raw way against a backdrop as fantastical as an exploded planet made of anti-gravity spaghetti. And yet here we are.
Haven feels like fanfiction. I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Set in a fictional universe where humanity has escaped biological turmoil by way of a matchmaking system that puts optimal romantic couples together by law, it manages to tell a tale that skirts most of that in lieu of a slice-of-life drama centred around just one couple. It alludes to a grander story full of political intrigue and grand technological marvels and yet deigns to have players engrossed less in jargon-ridden exposition and more in awkward pillow talk and pitfalls of co-living. Its central characters, Kay and Yu, are on the run from an all-powerful council and stranded on an abandoned planet, sure, but they also need to decide whose turn it is to cook. It can sometimes be a tad too real, I think.
As the sole inhabitants of the planet Source and with their ship all but trashed, Haven’s dozen-odd hours are spent drifting around its fragmented, floating land masses collecting resources and slowly discovering its hidden past. The immediate goal is to rebuild your live-in space craft, The Nest, but things naturally take a few unexpected turns along the way as well. Even when things start to pick up in the later sections though, the relaxed pace and increased feeling of safety with every planetary fragment cleansed keeps things relatively chill throughout its runtime.
What’s to be cleansed, you ask? It’s called Rust, it’s red and pointy, it’s choking the land and turning animals rabid and the only way to get rid of it is with Flow. Like so many of Haven’s sci-fi intricacies, Flow is only ever loosely explained, but it’s essentially an energy that allows Kay and Yu to hover and glide along land with specially-designed boots that feed off of naturally-occuring ‘Flow lines’. This forms the basis for the game’s unique movement system that sees the pair glide and drift everywhere, following Flow lines to refill their energy reserves or even riding them to higher ground. It’s immediately a ton of fun, aside from some wonky camera antics, and had me on board with Kay and Yu’s opinions that walking sucks.
On the journey to the game’s conclusion and in-between all of the ‘visual novel’ type bits, you’ll not only be cleansing each area of Rust by gliding over it with Flow in reserve but also fighting those turned creatures in a fairly unique JRPG-esque battle system. Controlling both characters with prompts on each side of the controller in what I can only describe as Final Fantasy’s ATB system mixed with rock-paper-scissors, it certainly took me a bit to wrap my head around. Once that does happen it feels pretty great to master, but repetition quickly sets in thanks to limited creature and attack types. It’s not a particularly long game and exploration accounts for maybe half of it, so there’s just not enough room for this type of combat to really develop. It’s neat, and I get the sense that it comes from a place of love for JRPGs, but I honestly think I’d have preferred the game without combat at all.
Combat shortcomings aside, the game’s disparate elements come together nicely to form a gameplay and narrative loop that had me absolutely hooked. It helps that Source is such a calmly-inviting place to inhabit, made mostly of plains of cool blues and greens that only give way to striking Red’s in areas yet to be cleansed. The 3D enemy and character models aren’t the most detailed or animated, but they still look great and there’s a ton of fantastic 2D art throughout. I can’t stop watching the drop-dead gorgeous opening animation, either. Top that all off with a wicked EDM score from French producer, Danger, and some very solid voice acting, and the whole package is a delight.
Haven is a wholly unique experience that caught my eye with its colour palette and free-flowing movement, but surprised me with an incredibly honest depiction of young love that shines bright in a quietly engaging narrative. Developer The Game Bakers says they approach game design like cooking – experimenting with different ingredients and mixing them together with love – and after playing this game I’m convinced they’re onto something. If you love love, you’ll love Haven.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- The Game Bakers
- The Game Bakers
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X&S / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch / PC
- December 3, 2020