Shattered Haven (not to be confused with Shattered Horizon) is a zombie game, though a fresh take on what I’ll call the ‘genre’ of zombie games. Instead of facing against hordes of the infected undead with assorted firearms and blades, players of this title will be laying iron-laden traps to pick off Grays one at a time (by the way, Grays are zombies. They‘re deathly allergic to iron.). It’s been nine years since ‘That Day’ (as every NPC will tell you. Seriously, don’t they have anything else to talk about?), and Darrell and Mary’s surprisingly comfortable lives are shaken all up when their daughter Lela is lost and their home is overrun by Grays in an event that truly escalated quickly. Within ten minutes of starting the game their home is lost (or their haven is shattered, huh?) and they venture to save Lela, no matter what evil spirits they have to ignore along the way, although if you play single-player you’ll find that Darren does all the work and Mary just follows along in her invulnerable way, being of no use. Now that the story’s out of the way, let’s get to how the gameplay goes down.
Shattered Haven is one of those rare titles that don’t require a mouse to play. Not that that is something I look for in a game, it’s just different; arrow keys to move, a-s-d-f to use inventory items, and e to interact with the environment keeps everything simple. Players are given a series of large ‘overworld’ areas that contain portals to individual puzzles that most often need to be overcome by finding the tool to reach the weapon to kill the Grays. From the far-zoomed-out top-down camera angle you get a good view of the level and can spend some time planning your strategy before taking it on, and the quick respawn process makes trial and error a valid approach. At least, in these levels it is valid; progress is only saved when progress is made, meaning that if you spend a lot of time backtracking through multiple maps of the overworld just to fall down a bottomless pit one too many times, you’ll come back around where your last completed level is. In the mine-themed level, this became a real pain in my behind, since those pits are far too plentiful.
Shattered Haven is a difficult game to deal with. I managed to get four hours of playthrough before calling it quits, and in that time I defeated a ‘boss’ level and received one of nine… somethings… that are apparently spread through the game, so one could induce that the game’s got a neat run-time. Provided you can power through the inhibiting and inconsistent gameplay, maybe you are one of those people that could enjoy this neat run-time. I am not.
Which isn’t to say that Shattered Haven is a terrible game. It isn’t. There’s fun to be had and challenges to defeat that’ll make y’all feel great, but these don’t make up for some overwhelming faults that make certain levels feel unbeatable and others a total drag. When I said the game is “difficult to deal with”, I didn’t mean that the puzzles are too hard (although sometimes that is the case). I mean ‘difficult’ in the same way as you talk about a ‘difficult’ child; annoying.
Tasks which players should be able to work out for themselves (such as using an axe to chop down trees or a match to set fire to dead wood) are explained away quite blatantly on signposts (the presence of which can sometimes not be logically explained), while the more troublesome are not given any hints whatsoever. Too many times I felt hopeless as I ran around huge levels searching for the one person I hadn’t yet talked to or one house I hadn’t broken into to find the one piece of equipment necessary to progress. At one point I found a well-sought after purple key by accidentally walking into a hidden pathway in a wall. Though I was relieved to finally find this damned key I would have preferred it if I earned it in any way other than just walking into the correct piece of wall, and had there been any sort of hint that this pathway existed I wouldn’t been as mad as I am.
As for the characters–they’re not great. They’re just not interesting. It isn’t that the dialogue is written poorly, just that most of it feels inappropriately placed. The conversations that go down would make perfect sense if they were between formal-talking academics over lunch, but sound awfully out of place coming out of the mouths of survivors of a zombie apocalypse, especially when there’s supposed to be a sense of urgency (e.g. “The likelihood seems rather small”. Really? Not “That’s unlikely”?). Embrace the contraction, please! The voice-acting is also short of captivating, and sounds far too lax for the situations at hand. I mean, seriously, there’s zombies and stuff. C’mon.
Shattered Haven provides fun maze-focused puzzle challenges (amongst some not-so-fun maze-focused puzzle challenges) with this ‘overworld’ hub and narrative designed to string together the illogical idea of entering a level and killing Grays just to leave, without really achieving anything. Arcen Games want you to enter each portal and beat each of their puzzles (which are fairly diverse for the most part), but can’t think of a reason why you should (apart from ‘because the evil guy said so’). The music is haunting and moving yet has a poor loop sequence and very frequently becomes bothersome, while the art style works well for the strategy-infused action-puzzle maze game that is Shattered Haven, though sometimes makes it hard to distinguish between traversable ground and sheer walls/bottomless pits (well, it is 2D). The inconsistent level of difficulty ultimately makes this a difficult game to bear, but this isn’t quite a deal-breaker. Take into account its price and you might find it worth your time, even if you end up rage-quitting.
Like I did.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Shattered Haven by Arcen Games.