‘Haven’ review: a spry and stylish RPG adventure held together by love

An incredibly slick and stylish adventure that zips along at a great pace

Haven’s intro cinematic hits like a festival of coloured powder. Like the game itself, it’s snappy, vibrant and endlessly energetic. Shapely landscapes blur as our two characters, the romantically-entwined Kay and Yu, zip along leaving jet-trails in their wake.

A slick RPG adventure, Haven is developed by indie studio The Game Bakers, whose previous game Furi was similarly drenched in style. One of Haven’s greatest features is its soundtrack, produced by French electronic musician Danger, and whose sound here is vibrant, with a slight pop edge owing to the generally gentler and more mellow tone.

Haven begins with our romantic duo crash landing on the planet Source. From your damaged ship, you’ll venture out, travelling from one floating island to the next, looking for spare parts and slowly unravelling the mysteries of the planet. You’ll also learn more about Kay and Yu, who are both fugitives, having run away from the “Apiary” – a stifling society where everything is planned, and an entity known as “The Matchmaker” forces people to couple up.

Thematically, there’s hints of a Brave New World, of a society maximising utility and meeting every need, but ultimately suffocating all freedom and joy. There’s also a touch of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, of two lovers striving to overcome a system that assigns every detail and leaves no room to maneuver.

Haven
Haven. Credit: The Game Bakers

You’ll spend much of your time exploring the planet Source, which is essentially an interconnected archipelago floating high up amongst the clouds. Kay and Yu move together, although you can only control one at a time, with a button press used to swap between them. That said, you can also play cooperatively – albeit only locally – perfect for partners, I imagine. Both characters move and control identically, gliding through the islets’ iridescent grass, following lines of “Flow” and clearing up a corruptive “Rust”. Traversal is a huge part of Haven, and generally it’s all very slick and meditative, as you slide and skirt across gentle hills, mopping up Rust as you go.

Every so often you’ll slow down to collect ingredients from plants – which you can use to cook with – or interact with alien fauna. Creatures start out friendly, but eventually you’ll bump into Rust-infected wildlife that’ll chase you and pull you into a turn-based RPG battle.

If you’re playing solo, you’ll need to control both characters simultaneously. Ideally, one character will block, while the other attacks. Timing and rhythm become increasingly important, as some enemies block the majority of damage except within a limited vulnerability window. Once a creature is defeated, you’ll pacify them in order to send them on their way. It’s a simple system and sort of relies on your fingers getting a bit confused as you try to sync up the two characters properly.

Haven
Haven. Credit: The Game Bakers

Of course, being about a duo, the relationship between Kay and Yu is at the centre of everything. Winning battles will strengthen their connection, levelling up certain combat attributes. But really, most of the levelling will come from the activities in between. After excursions you’ll return to your spaceship, the Nest. Here you can use gathered ingredients to cook food, craft useful items, and just generally have Kay and Yu talk and unwind with one another.

The relationship feels genuine. There’s a playfulness between them, flirtatious jokes, and an overflowing of both affection and passion. But Haven also brilliantly captures the downsides that arise when two people exist in such close proximity. There is grouchiness, flaring tempers, petty squabbles, and occasionally the kind of full-scale bust-ups that cause sections of the double bed to be zoned off. These fractures make the quiet, more intimate moments feel more powerful. There are plenty of these too – of exploring ruins and finding an old toy or board game that reminds them of home or childhood. Of camping together under an alien sun. Of finding a perfect little beach nestled away from the chaos, and a few spare minutes to make the most of it.

So much hangs on Kay and Yu’s relationship. Haven looks and sounds stylish; its traversal feels spry and kinetic. But it’s not perfect. The battle system is a bit finicky, and never really kicks into gear, and the story it tells about an autocratic civilisation and planetary exploitation feels a bit too familiar. But I still cared about these things, about the Apiary and The Matchmaker trying to keep our dynamic duo apart. Until the very end I wanted Kay and Yu to flourish and succeed, and seeing as they’re really the beating heart of Haven, nothing much else matters.

Out December 3 on PC, PS5, Xbox One & Xbox Series X, with PS4 and Nintendo Switch planned for Q1 2021.

Our Verdict

Haven is incredibly slick and stylish. Traversal feels breezy and agile, there’s a big interconnected planet of floating islets for you to explore, with some neat secrets and interesting down-time activities. Most importantly, the whole thing feels spirited and zips along with pace and energy, primarily driven by the romantic relationship between Kay and Yu.

Pros

  • A great aesthetic, with style and verve to spare
  • Traversal is slick and feels great
  • A strong emotional relationship at the centre of everything
  • One of the best original soundtracks of the year

Cons

  • RPG combat is quite basic and feels finicky when played solo
  • Backtracking between islets can be a bit tiresome

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