Following their work on the brilliant boss-battling romp Furi, French developer The Game Bakers are back again with another stunningly stylish adventure for players to embark on. Rather than focusing on all-out action and violence though, Haven is more slower-paced and story-orientated as it tells the tale of two lovers who find themselves on the run in order to protect their relationship.
It makes for a really sweet and enjoyable experience too, even if some elements of its gameplay can lack a lasting oomph as the hours tick by.
Haventells the tale of Yu and Kay, two lovers who find themselves stuck on a mysterious planet named Source after their ship suffers a critical failure. This means searching across the planet in order to find the parts required to leave, all whilst learning more about the environment itself, the creatures that inhabit it, and the secrets that it hides within.
Of course, whilst a sci-fi theme does run rampant throughout the game, Haven’s romantic story threads ultimately remain at the forefront. Learning more about why Yu and Kay left their home in the first place is pretty harrowing, as are the struggles that they have faced as they look to settle down and simply be together. There’s a lot to learn about the pair as you progress through the game and it offers more than enough to keep you completely invested in the relationship that they share with each other. You’ll root for them from the get-go and it just makes the whole experience all the more engaging.
There’s a natural sense of realism to the relationship too, with all of the expected emotions found in their everyday interactions; you can expect moments of whimsical fun, moments of serious discussion, moments of tense arguments, and even moments for a bit of… romance. Don’t worry, Haven never shows anything explicit, but the implication is certainly there. Seeing all of these interactions just makes Yu and Kay’s relationship feel more believable though, whilst the voice acting remains on point throughout and adds a stronger sense of chemistry between them as you hear every emotion in the sweet things that they say to one another.
Just be prepared to cringe at some of the cheesier interactions in the game. Hey, we’ve all been guilty of it in our own relationships in real-life when we were younger, right? Well, you can expect the same from Yu and Kay too…
Whilst visual novel-stylised sequences tell Haven’s story, you’ll also spend plenty of time out exploring Source as you figure out a way to get off the planet. This means taking Yu and Kay (they always travel together and can be swapped freely with a button press) gliding across the environment, with the simple movements you make in the game feeling incredibly liberating and refreshing thanks to your specialised hovering boots. There are plenty of open landscapes to explore as you travel across Source and the way that it’s handled in-game just feels satisfying, whether it’s when drifting to pull off quick turns, carefully following the flows of zig-zagging energy that’ll lead you to inaccessible areas, or simply boosting to hit high speeds and soar through the hills and chasms of the planet. Sure, it does have its moments where some finicky movements will send you off track, but for the most part it feels sublime to simply traverse across the land.
The only issue I had with getting around was the fact that it was hard to pick out specific points of interest. There’s no form of mini-map to follow and a lot of the environments look the same (I think I only came across three different biomes through the game and those were mostly just changes of colour), so you’ll often wander around aimlessly HOPING you’ll come across something important. It could make Haven feel a little aimless at times – it’s something that can work in other open-world titles, but there’s not always enough to actually do in the world here to make it feel effective.
There are instances of combat to be found though, with some of the creatures of Source proving to be hostile and wanting to take Yu and Kay down. It takes an almost RPG-like turn-based approach, but with an emphasis based on timing your actions and knowing which ones to use based upon your enemies. Some enemies need to be weakened by specific attacks before they can be damaged, for example, so there’s an element of strategy in place that means you can’t just spam the same attacks carefree to survive each encounter.
The combat system itself is neat in design and fleshes out more as you progress through the game, but it lacks the challenge to make it ever feel overly thrilling. Sure, you’ll suffer the occasional defeat as you learn to manage the different creatures you face, but Haven isn’t a tricky game and I rarely found any enemy challenging after about an hour or so of playing. It meant battles could just feel a little repetitive, especially since there isn’t a whole lot of scope to Yu and Kay’s combat capabilities.
I can’t finish this review without giving a shout out to Haven’s presentation, which is wonderful throughout. The stylish planet of Source features the same distinctly colourful visual style which was present in The Game Bakers’ previous release Furi, though it manages to look a bit prettier and sharper here thanks to the boost offered by the PlayStation 5. Sure, some landscapes were guilty of feeling a little vacant, but when you come across some of its more enticing sights it can be really wonderful. Add to that a lovely electronic soundtrack that fits the vibe of the whole experience perfectly and you’ll soon find that it’s pretty blissful simply being a part of Haven’s world.
Haven’s engaging storytelling and alluring world help make for a unique and enjoyable experience – I just wish there was a little bit more to do on Source. Sure, gliding around feels wonderful and the instances of combat can make for some fun sequences, but it doesn’t take long for a sense of repetition to kick in. It probably doesn’t help that the land itself can be a little bit vacant, making it more difficult to find the areas you need to reach to progress.
It certainly has its flaws, but I still had more of a more positive experience with Haven than a bad one. With a bit of extra fine-tuning it could easily stand out as a really special little game, especially with its endearing take on relationships in the video game landscape and its outstanding presentation. As it stands though, it doesn’t always manage to replicate the same sparks that are flying between its two main protagonists.
Developer: The Game Bakers
Publisher: The Game Bakers
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC