Reviewed: February 4, 2003
Reviewed by: Mat Houghton
Released: November 18, 2002
Haven: Call of the King is a nearly classic execution of a game having a great plot idea, excellent concept, and then totally failing to capitalize on either. That having been said, while Haven does fail to exceed any and all expectations you could have for a platform game, it does provide a mildly unique experience and just manages to rise above the steaming morass of average games. Imagine everything you expected out of Star Wars: Episode One and then see about how far short Lucas actually fell from that.
To set you up with the basic plot, thereís an evil emperor who rules over most of the galaxy. Heís kept all the races heís conquered subjugated by injecting everyone with a slow acting poison. So, as long as you keep a steady supply of the antidote, which takes the form of little glowing spheres, you can keep it from hurting you, but if you go too long without picking up any then you start to take damage. Hint: in game mechanics this means that all those little pick-ups you have to get are actually related to the story by more than just a tenuous plot device.
So youíre the unwilling slave of a galaxy spanning empire; what do you do - push huge stone blocks while trying to avoid the slave driverís whip? No, because youíre not rebelling really. The problem is that youíve been chosen to hear the Voice (the capital letter means that itís not just any voice), which according to legend is a harbinger of the return of the king (who used to rule here eons and eons ago with a gentle hand and was loved by all). The emperor of course doesnít look forward to a change in the current power structure, because, well, evil tends to get killed when the good guys start cleaning house.
Of course the emperor doesnít have you killed right off; just watched, because thatís always proved so much more effective in eliminating threats to your plans. We pick you up as a slave late for work because youíve just put the finishing touches on a pet mechanical bird (Clash of the Titans anyone?). Yes, youíre a slave. Yes you apparently have enough free time, spare parts, and tools to build an independently functioning robot that can make decisions. I wonder if itís fluent in over 6 million forms of communication as well?
Hereís where concept comes into play, because the developers decided to utilize ďfree formerĒ technology in order to enable them to change from a platformer to a driving game to a shooter all in one engine. While everything does function seamlessly and provides a lot of variety of gameplay the problem is that thereís not much depth to any of it, and this has already been accomplished in other games like GTA III and Vice City, as well as Jak and Daxter. So while they tout the freeformer system as being new and unique it isnít really that revolutionary, at least not the way they utilize it within the game.
The game does do some unique things however, because you do a lot of things using a yo-yo. Thatís right you attack with a yo-yo, and as cheesy as it sounds itís actually pretty cool, despite the fact that you made it yourself apparently. You also use a shield that can defend from most types of damage, which was made...by you. Frankly, if I had a slave who was making all these high tech devices in his spare time, Iíd think that either he had too much time on his hands or he needed additional supervision, like under the fist of a large bulky guard. Anyway, your yo-yo does more than just break barrels and hurt enemies. It also functions as an overhead grappling device; basically it ties into overhead energy fields that will zip you along at something resembling the speed of sound. In straight lines this is great, but if you zigzag too much then controls get a little hairy and if you steer off the track youíre falling.
Other than these few novelties Haven is basically your average platform game. You run and jump and shoot and break things in order to collect items to advance the story. The real problem is that this game is very directionless. I wandered around for like half an hour just trying to find everything I needed to leave the first level let alone getting to the exit. It wasnít that things were that difficult, just that everything looked the same so one direction was so much like another I got lost, and with no obvious linear direction, it was just like wandering through a sprawl. While this can be a good thing if the graphics are that engaging and the play control is as well, with Haven itís much like wandering aimlessly through a factory.
Some of the stuff is really cool, but thereís not much point to it. This is also frustrating when youíre actually trying to play to get things done and getthrough the game. If youíre trying to get everything in one try then you'll have to be very careful. There is no way to retrace your steps, so once you leave the area thereís no going back and a lot of the time you donít know when youíve passed that point until you try to go back and canít. Of course, I will admit to some pride and say I usually pick the way that leads out, rather than a dead end, when I arbitrarily choose a direction to explore so maybe itís just me.
This game is visually stunning with a high amount of detail and excellent visual effects. Character designs are especially well thought out and everything remains very smooth without much pixellation even at a distance.
While the levels arenít very well planned out, they are excellently rendered, outdoor levels especially so because of a quick day/night cycle and an occasional shower (during which time Haven throws his hood up and hunches his shoulders). The lack of foresight in the blueprints of the level is made up to some extent by details that tie everything together such as the robot walking through lava in the cavern or various steam jets and other heavy machinery that you have to work around. The other tech all blends together, they keep it all very cohesive and believable that everything is part of the same empire and all from the same tech base. Other good effects include the energy coruscating along the yo-yo and the tracks that hold it, and the charging pots for your shield.
The most detailed thing Iíve seen in this game is the textures, and one of my favorites is the bird you see during Havenís dream. It is bar none one of the best animations Iíve seen for wings outside of Final Fantasy or actual drawings. The only problem is that things do tend towards a flat looking wall rather than having depth, which makes it a little difficult to get around seeing as how your depth perception gets totally screwed.
The other really big problem I have is the palette they used on all of the levels. Itís not exactly drab, but a lot of things tend to look very similar, almost as if they used the same base for every level and used every other color from a range around that. While this does lend cohesiveness to the levels they also chose too small a range around things. Nothing comes alive on the screen; it is just there in a kind of hyper-realized exquisitely detailed black and white.
It seems like itís getting harder to come up with a good soundtrack for a game these days. Not that this is a particularly bad example of one, it just doesnít stand out in any way, shape, or form. Canít anyone come up with something original that is good and that will grab your attention without using pop music or thumping heavy metal (not that these are bad things mind you, just that you donít always want a thrashy guitar). I mean jeez hire Yokko Kanno for one, though Iíd imagine that would be an expensive proposition at best.
The overall voice acting is very good. Iím pretty sure they got the guy who did Megabyteís voice (Reboot) to do the emperor. Just watch out for that opening movie, you canít skip it and the doctor who tends to you in the beginning you'll want to throttle in order to get him to either enunciate clearly or to stop stuttering.
There is obviously lots of game time built into Haven with many huge levels and multiple collection items that are well hidden and challenging to acquire, most of which pay off in one way or another. The biggest hurdles you have to overcome are an intense feeling of wandering around completely clueless even when you know what you have to do, and the developers not deciding who their target audience was. The gameplay is challenging enough that I was having difficulty in places, but the story is rife with the type of plot elements and humor that is typically found on the young side of Saturday morning. So if you think George Lucas is the most brilliant storyteller ever to roam the Earth and donít mind a little frustration then youíll probably get a kick out of this game. One thing to watch out for is that there is the occasional file corruption when it auto saves for you (which it does at the opening of every level). You can also save aside from the auto save feature, but if the data gets corrupted from auto save it will not let you save at all, and all that game time you just spent went down the throat of the porcelain god.
Haven turns out to be a decent game, not something to rush out and put in your PS2 or on your shelf, but its better than watching a test pattern. Iíd rather have seen a lot more polish and depth put into the game, because I hate to see something with so much promise fail to live up to its potential by such easily correctable mistakes. Haven: Call of the King does provide a unique experience with above-average visuals, so if you find it in a bargain bin and have some free time then pick it up. It isnít mind-blowing but itíll keep you in practice and offers a few high points during the ride.