Now and then, a gaming company releases a gem of a game that subverts our expectations. For Indie developers, that is no different. The Game Bakers chose to create a narrative in Haven that doesn’t begin at the start of a relationship. We don’t suffer a traditional love triangle, nor do we wonder “Will they” or “Won’t they.” Instead, Haven lets us experience a relationship from a seldom explored perspective – the ongoing trials and tribulations of sustaining a mature relationship. So, how does the science-fiction game handle it? Exceptionally well.
The Game Bakers spacefaring adventure Haven exudes a different air the moment the game starts. Yu and her boyfriend Kay are already a couple, and they have been searching for a new planet to call home. They land on Source, the primary setting for the game. This uncharted planet is full of wonder and danger. From the wildlife to environmental damage, the two characters face no shortage of difficulty in their journey.
During the first few hours of the opening, Yu and Kay’s home/ship – called the Nest – takes damage and must be repaired. The mission to improve the Nest takes up the entirety of the game. Along with fixing their home, the two must also gather materials and food. They’re continually cooking and crafting new items to survive. As the game progresses, their circumstances become even more daunting.
I want to elaborate further on the story, but players should experience it. Haven creates a mystery that I didn’t know I wanted but thoroughly appreciated. If you don’t like video games focused on romance, though, this isn’t for you.
The Stars of Haven
I could not get over how well Haven represents the relationship between the main characters. Yu and Kay are always communicating with each other. Both feel like genuine people, thanks to the excellent voice acting and the writing. Their relationship honestly felt like real love between two younger people. It’s dramatic, and their differences come to light very often, but Haven handles it maturely.
Let’s get this out of the way: The two characters are horny. Their flirtations were spontaneous, as were moments where Yu or Kay decide to seduce one another. Even a simple glide along Source has Kay commenting on how much he enjoys traveling behind Yu. It sounds awkward, but it’s another piece of what makes their relationship believable.
All too often in video games, we can start a relationship with a character. We must rely on making the correct dialogue choices to consummate the relationship eventually. Yu and Kay love each other – Rather than a cutscene reward for making the right choices, they openly share their attraction toward one another. Their love is an ongoing thread, and their interactions too welcome. The Game Bakers excel in this area, while AAA gaming companies should take note.
There are dialogue choices to make in this game. Some seem inconsequential, but others increase Yu and Kay’s confidence, respectively.
Rust and Flow
Exploration without a goal in mind would not go over well with most people. Luckily, Yu and Kay have both reason and a very accessible mode of travel. The characters utilize anti-gravity boots that allow them to glide across vast, open fields. Better yet, Source has trails of ethereal energy called Flow threads that Yu and Kay can surf along to reach greater heights. Yu excels at riding flow threads, going so far as to teach Kay (and the player) how to Tokyo Drift along the winding trails.
Hopping onto a flow thread allows Yu and Kay to store flow. They need flow to keep the boots powered. More importantly, the couple clears each of Source’s islets of rust, a crimson mineral that corrupts the planet. Rust engulfs plant life, wildlife, and flow bridges, leaving you to mop them up. Sliding and skirting across gentle hills becomes peaceful once the rust is taken care of. Until then, many plants are inaccessible, and Source’s animals are berserk, causing them to attack Yu and Kay.
Unfortunately, some flow threads are useless. Players will find themselves excited to slide along one, only to discover it doesn’t lead anywhere. At first, this seems like an oversight. However, clearing rust takes flow, and random flow threads become a relief in the game’s later stages. Eventually, this trend of cleaning Source becomes tedious. After clearing 30+ zones of rust, players may wish to ignore cleaning the planet. Too bad that’s the focal mechanic of the game.
Haven’s Turn-Based Combat could be better
Yu and Kay often fight the animals of the planet, but not to kill them. This game is less focused on carnage, giving a sense of exploration and a general appreciation for life. That includes wildlife. Rather than seeking to kill these corrupt animals, the couple battles them to subdue them to pacify them. In other words, they weaken the animals until they’re rust-free, and then the creatures become peaceful again.
The turn-based system could use a little work. Yu and Kay are both presented on-screen with specific actions they can take. Individually, they can guard each other against attack (shield), launch a ranged attack (blast), or close in on the enemy to physically strike (impact). Players use the D-Pad and the alphabetical buttons to choose a command for both. If the player chooses the same command, they can perform duo attacks.
Certain enemies are resistant to blast or impact – sometimes both, depending on whether they enter a defensive stance. Haven eventually allows you to craft healing items and other useful tools to use in combat if you’re having too much trouble. Still, it’s easy to become overwhelmed later when tougher monsters require a host of different commands to defeat. For some reason, The Game Bakers decided Yu and Kay should auto-target enemies based on the type of commands we use. That cripples the fun and strategy of a turn-based system.
An entirely different enemy unit shows up later that changes the way Yu and Kay successfully act. The mechanic change is only for encounters with these enemies, however.
Repetition does harm Haven
Crafting and cooking are two significant events that players will continuously partake in. Rust is used to create various items, but there are also ingredients in the world to collect. While it’s fun to discover new recipes and watch Yu and Kay converse about the dish, there’s something to be said about this game being a fetch-quest simulator.
I didn’t often feel fetch-quest fatigue, but it’s essential to revisit the Nest repeatedly. Sometimes, this meant forgoing progress I wanted to make to prepare to make that progress. In theory, that’s exactly how I want an exploration game to play. Sadly, if you don’t go crazy gathering a surplus of items, you’ll have to set aside the time. After figuring out which meals gave the best buffs, the need to keep heading back to the Nest became more cumbersome. Metroidvania fans won’t be too discouraged backtracking to areas they have already explored. In fact, the idea that I missed an item kept me in certain areas longer than needed. Unfortunately, the prospect of picking up every item did not last the entire game.
I’ll throw The Game Bakers a bone, though. We are required to return to the Nest after gaining enough experience to level up. Yu and Kay do this by celebrating with an Applebrew, which often leads them to bed or to casual conversation. The moment I’m able to level up, I’m racing back to the Nest. There are islets in the game where the two set up camp. Here, Yu and Kay can heal, cook, eat, or sleep. Yet when you need to level up or return a part of the Nest, these camps don’t help.
Repetition aside, the script for this game is an excellent one. It is story-rich and compels you to care about Yu and Kay. Their relationship is flawed, but that’s the beauty of it- By all accounts, the sense of realism I got from their relationship was reason enough to play through the game. Need another reason? The world is vibrant with colors, making it stick out more than most dreary games I play.
French electro musician DANGER composed the game’s music, and it is amazing! For me, the score conveys a sense of astonishment for this uncharted world. There’s a swamp area where the soundtrack sounds haunting, but it doesn’t feel out of place. The music is one of the best features in Haven, and it does tie everything together wonderfully.
Haven was only on Xbox One, Steam, and the PS5, but I’ve got some news for you! The game comes to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and the Epic Games Store on February 4, 2021. PlayStation users who have already purchased the game on PS5 can get the PS4 version for free. If you don’t have a PS5, you can upgrade the PS4 version for free once you get the console.