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Review: Haven Offers a Little Slice of Life on a Strange Planet

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Haven is the latest game from The Game Bakers that steps away from the more action-oriented combat found in its previous release, Furi. Instead, Haven attempts to meld real-time combat with a narrative that centers on the personal intimacies and conflicts of a couple in love. Yu and Kay, the protagonists, have left their lives behind and absconded into space on their spaceship known as the Nest to forge a life of their own. However, like any relationship (and game) there are always ups and downs.

Haven’s art direction is gorgeous. Its pastel landscapes are vivid and bright, and the cel-shaded characters look great. There is an air of optimism that the design itself seems to carry, especially with the inside of the Nest (Yu and Kay’s combination home and spaceship) painted mostly in warm browns and red. The character designs help create a sense of identity between the two characters while remaining cohesive. This is perhaps the strongest aspect of Haven, as even while the environments can seem barren, they do a great job of using color to reflect moods or feelings.

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Haven‘s narrative prioritizes love above all else. The protagonists of the story, Yu and Kay, do everything together and their connection, along with working in tandem, is the key element to every gameplay or story element presented to the player.

Combat functions in real time, with players needing to charge attacks to subdue and pacify the wildlife on the strange, foreign planet the protagonists have landed on. Using a controller to play Haven is suggested, but I managed well enough with a keyboard and mouse. However, when clicking attacks, sometimes a command wouldn’t entirely go through and I would need to charge up again. This would oftentimes cost me health and precious healing resources. Players will need to observe the animations of enemies to determine how to best proceed in combat, whether it be to unleash a more devastating combined attack from Yu and Kay, or have one attack individually while the other defends.

The combat functions well enough and can be fun for the first few hours. The characters are always voiced and their lines begin to repeat, which can be grating. That being said, the voice acting in the game isn’t bad. It’s actually fairly decent, with both actors giving convincing performances when tensions come to a head and the couple actually argues. You do get the sense that these characters care for one another, and through their performances you understand what kind of people they are. Yu, headstrong and always ready to charge headfirst into whatever comes her way, is bold and brash. Kay, on the other hand is more subdued, quiet, and becomes excited when discovering new biology or geology on the planet.

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Idling in the environment will result in Yu or Kay hugging or kissing, which can recover health if you’re low on healing items. As mentioned before, every game mechanic focuses on the relationship between the protagonists of the game. Certain types of crafting are reliant on one of the pair, and cooking is exclusively done by Kay. Food dishes can be used to recover health, make use of the fast travel system, and to increase the relationship meter to unlock stat upgrades and more cutscenes.

However, the main gameplay mechanic of Haven requires traversing the environment through Flow points. Flow is the main resource required to remove a strange, rust-like corruption on the planet, which can then be converted into healing items or used to repair your ship, as it gets destroyed fairly early on. Players can navigate from Flow points easily by following bright, teal trails of light that curve over the ground or through the air after you’ve upgraded your hover boots. These are the two things players can do outside of the interactions and options they have inside their spaceship. It’s limited, but that works in Haven’s favor, as navigation over the various fragments of the broken planet becomes more complex and fights ramp up in difficulty later on.

The player spends a significant amount of time with Yu and Kay as they live in self-imposed isolation on the remains of a scattered planet known as The Source. Various scenes in the Nest can take place depending on items you can dig up in old, abandoned homes found on the planet. Finding a deck of cards means that the player can be treated to scenes of Yu and Kay playing their in-universe equivalent to Uno. Other collectables you find can be found on the ship to interact with, often accompanied by dialogue from one or sometimes both characters.

This is where Haven mostly succeeds. These little glimpses into a more domestic life between two people who care for one another deeply are a welcome reprieve from the main scenario and the themes it tries to grapple. If the game had been entirely about simply observing their life and collecting data on the various “planets” and animals located on each little section of the planet, I feel like Haven would have been stronger for it. Instead, Haven plucks bits and pieces from stories that have already been told in better, more effective ways.

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Yu and Kay have fled their former space colony, known as the Apiary, because they are in love, and due to a “matchmaking” system imposed on the colony, they would never be allowed to be with one another. Yu, the daughter of a lesbian couple, convinces Kay, an orphan whose parents died on The Source that was subjected to colonial expansion at the behest of one of Yu’s mothers, to leave with her. The plot becomes more convoluted as it progresses, with Kay discovering that Yu had been assigned a “mate” (yes, they call the designated partners on the colony a mate) of a higher social standing, a man that would do anything to get her back.

The more Haven tells us about its world, the less it makes sense. The matchmaking system was designed to create equality, yet class inequality persists and the story it tries to tell worsens the longer you spend with it. There are suggestions of a type of conversion therapy (known as “recalibration” in the world of Haven) that takes place for those who reject the system. As a gay man, I was absolutely astounded that a story about a heterosexual couple would legitimately include something like this within that framework.

Outside of that, Haven attempts to grapple with settler colonialism and the dangers of exploiting planets or environments for resources. There is mild discussion about what this means and how the Apiary harvested resources from The Source. However, these issues take a backseat to Yu and Kay as they argue, bicker, and eventually make up and decide to carve out a future for themselves.

Overall, Haven is a game that tries and sometimes succeeds. Its gameplay loop allows for ease of access when picking up and putting the game down. However, it doesn’t break any kind of mold or improve on any story that hasn’t already been told. While the narrative may resonate with some, others may bounce off of it hard. The artstyle will please those who have an eye for cel-shaded character models and environments, and the combat will be satisfying for those interested in something a little more interactive. If you’re looking for something to fill the space between upcoming releases, Haven might just be what you’re looking for.

Haven is immediately available for PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. Haven will arrive for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch in early 2021.

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Haven

5

Food for Thought
  • The combat is fun and sometimes challenging, but feels rewarding when figuring out the general rhythm and flow.
  • Cooking mini-games and finding collectables are a great way to spend extra time and engage with Haven.
  • Navigating over the fragments of The Source is cool and fun!
    If you want to know more, check out Siliconera's review guide.
    Kazuma Hashimoto
    Translator and streamer, Kazuma spends his time playing a variety of games ranging from farming simulators to classic CRPGs.