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Review: Shattered HavenArcen Games indie puzzle Steam GOG
Arcen Games, the team behind A Valley Without Wind 1 and 2, are not purely focused on that one series. With the recent release of Shattered Haven, they are showing that there are other genres they’re willing to work within to present a new experience. In many ways, their latest venture is probably the most accessible of their games, although that doesn’t mean it’s perfect either.
Shattered Haven takes place in a world plagued by zombies. Apparently, the infestation began years ago as players are dropped into a world where surviving humans have long since settled into their unfortunate new life. As with other popular media right now, the zombies are also not called “zombies." Either way, the game paints a bleak picture for the lives of its characters and players immediately become invested in protecting them.
The game presents the world in a top down, pixelated perspective. It doesn’t appear to necessarily be paying homage to retro games, and instead just uses this art style to work with the gameplay mechanics. Character sprites are pretty small, not brightly colored, and may sometimes get lost in the background. As for the backdrops, they’re not anything stunning, but they get the point across. These aspects should fade away if the gameplay is something enjoyable.
It’s hard to determine whether or not this is the case. The first facet of play is exploring the world in order to find portals and other entrances to “puzzle” sections. Yes, portals exist, and it makes as much sense to the characters as it does to the player. Either way, exploration is a bit cumbersome because it is required to find each puzzle spot before moving on. If the game were purely puzzle segments without the meandering in between it may have proven a better game overall.
Puzzle sections are Shattered Haven’s saving grace. In each area, players must take care of some main task, as well as optionally fulfill extra tasks. Puzzles revolve around things such as fixing or breaking items, as well as disposing of all zombies in an area. This shouldn’t seem like an issue but it is because of how the game handles killing. You aren’t simply handed a gun and free to unload on the undead. There are typically only a few items which must be scrounged for and used carefully to fulfill goals.
Of course, this doesn’t disclose any of the absolute strangeness of items and their functions. You see, you’ll come across a lot of random goodies while playing. Hammers, scythes, tacks, and more can all be discovered. However, the vast majority of the items that seem like weapons aren’t. The main way to kill zombies is with said tacks, of all things. Apparently they are more vampiric than zombie as only a certain type of metal can defeat them. That’s not to say the “weapon” items don’t have a use as they do. However, they are focused around other things such as repairs or cutting down bushes. This aids the puzzle design but is very awkward to explain.
Explanation is something the game only hands out in small doses. When a giant red squid follows characters around during the tutorial, you don’t get to know why. When a beastly monster with glowing eyes creates a portal, there is nothing expounded about the world. Players must simply accept the very odd narrative choices that pepper the game. Sure, it may add some spice to an otherwise dull zombie narrative, but silliness does not aid what is otherwise meant to be a serious affair.
Then comes the fact that the game package itself just does not stand up to other independent projects coming out alongside it. This is not a slight against the visuals, but how it informs the player of controls and how they function. As the game is atypical, so is the control scheme. Unfortunately, it is so unusual that it takes a while to recall what does what. Multiple times I found myself dropping tacks the wrong way, leaving me vulnerable to zombies, or using the wrong items in a rush. Other times, the game design leads players into the wrong way of thinking about tasks and that was probably not intentional.
Co-op is also available in Shattered Haven and is probably a contributing factor to why the control scheme is awkward. In local co-op, players can both use the same keyboard and use controls on opposite ends to adventure together. If players feel the proximity is too close or annoying, one can use the keyboard while the other has a game pad. Even if you play in single player, there are still going to be two characters on screen. It’s part of the story and can make things work faster with two players. In single player, the other character will follow you or just stand still waiting for you to do work.
Shattered Haven is a fun concept but one that is not likely to see wide appeal. Much like Arcen Games’ other work, they seem best at generating a lovely, but small fanbase. This game will probably have the same, thanks in part to the interesting mishmash of zombie themes with puzzling, as well as availability of co-op. Still, those who aren’t accustomed to unpolished indie games will be left wanting or even frustrated. Take that into consideration and then you’ll be able to decide whether or not Shattered Haven is for you.
+ Some good puzzles which require careful planning
+ Co-op play is integrated into the game well
- Unusual control scheme
- Strange story and play conceits
Overall Score: 5 (out of 10)
Shattered Haven is the kind of game you’ll either love or hate so do your research before jumping into this zombie-infested puzzle adventure.
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