Developer: Arcen Games
Publisher: Arcen Games
Review Platform: Steam (PC)
Review Copy Provided By: Arcen Games
Release Date: March 18, 2013
There has been an over saturation of zombie games over the past few years. For every same old play on the genre, a developer like Arcen Games comes along and throws a new twist. Shattered Haven is a game about family in the form of a top down action puzzle game. Supernatural horror meets old school style in Shattered Haven with hordes of Grays, Arcen’s take on Zombies.
Hidden away at a 5 acre farm like compound the Williamses have etched out a life 9 years into an apocalypse that has been reshaping the world in its image. A young boy is saved by Darrell, the Williamses patriarch, and brought to the compound for refuge after his mother is killed by Grays. Soon after in a tutorial sequence, Grays over run the compound separating the Williamses’ daughter and refugee boy from the mother and father. The game switches between both groups as they try to find each other and survive.
Once out of the tutorial the game consists of overworld sections such as a town that gives access to puzzle levels. The puzzle levels are smaller and feature a concept called environmental puzzles. It is a style that has been around in gaming since the early days in games such as Adventures of Lolo on the NES. Characters move on a grid system in real time and have to use various tools to bypass things such as broken bridges, bushes, locked doors, etc. The overworld and puzzle levels fall back on another old school style in that there is no scroll. Levels are sectioned off into single screen sections that transition to the next screen when the player character walks to the appropriately marked edges of the screen.
Most of the puzzle levels remove previously gained tools and make you work with what is available in the level to maneuver obstacles and kill all the Grays. The Grays are only vulnerable to iron, fire, and water. Guns are nearly useless while luring Grays into iron tacks and land mines get the job done. The levels are greatly varied with almost each one featuring a different environment. The design of the puzzles and expectations of the players ability to solve them tend to be handled unevenly. Some puzzles hold the player’s hand while prompting the solutions while others leave the player clueless. There doesn’t seem to be that natural progression of easy to hard and levels are haphazardly slapped together.
Cutscenes in the game are handled with a comic styled panel and dialog off to the side. The artwork in the panels is well done and when mixed in with acceptable voice acting and a score that might be the creepiest this side of Dead Space, Shattered Haven achieves one of the spookiest “lose all hope” atmospheres I have experienced in a game. The graphical quality of the actual gameplay is a bit different though. It falls back on the retro pixel based graphics of yesteryear and while some might be turned off by the lack of something more stylized, it ends up helping build up the atmosphere of the game. Anyone gaming since the early days remembers the difficulty in how similar looking games controlled, so there is that perception that one mistake will kill you and in some cases it just might. The player’s characters are also tiny compared to the level on screen creating an overwhelming sense of being in a large scary world.
Shattered Haven builds an atmosphere that rivals that of some of the best AAA games. It doesn’t do it with fancy graphics or dumbed down gameplay but with an overall package that just works together. The environmental puzzle angle is an interesting take for the zombie game genre. The execution doesn’t flow as well as one would like but when you catch glimpses of the genius behind some of the well designed puzzles it makes the whole experience worth it.