Category: Top-down adventure
Developer: Arcen Games
System Requirements: OS X Snow Leopard 10.5, 1GB RAM, 1.6GHz processor, 500MB of disk space, 1024 x 768 or greater desktop screen resolution, graphics card must support 1024×1024 textures
Review Computer: 2.2GHz 13″ Macbook Pro, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM
Network Feature: No, but does feature in-game two player option
Processor Compatibility: Intel
Price: $9.99 (on sale for $2.49 at press time)
Availability: Out now
The best way to describe the world of Shattered Haven—a top-down adventure from Arcen Games—is to imagine if Hyrule from The Legend of Zelda was overrun with the zombie plague of The Walking Dead. Part survival horror, part retro adventure game, Shattered Haven is an odd beast, never really terrifying but challenging and fun if you don’t try to make sense of it.
Shattered Haven is set in a world where seemingly undead monsters known as “The Grey” threaten to overrun humanity at any second. But the Grey aren’t zombies, specifically. Iron, water, and fire are their weaknesses. Bullets, being made of lead, only stun them momentarily, and steel weapons (like axes and hammers) don’t affect them at all. So, while destroying Greys is often your goal in a level, it’s rarely a standup fight. Instead you have to out-maneuver them to get to the weapons, many of which you lay on the floor like traps, then trick the mindless monsters into setting them off.
As an added bonus, all the offensive weapons are consumable; there are frequently only enough to kill one monster each, and when you enter or leave a challenge level (more on that in a moment), you can’t bring any objects with you. The puzzle, then is in figuring out how the monsters move, and how to use their primitive reactions against them.
In true retro gaming fashion, the non-weapon objects you find have non-game uses. Axes can chop down some (but not all) trees, and scythes can remove thorny bushes. Both allow you to access blocked areas. Shovels can open and fill pits, allowing you to trap monsters, and hammers can break windows and doors to enter rooms. Unless, of course, the door needs a specific key or code to open, which obviously makes it hammer-proof.
The story of the game involves a family of survivors (two parents and a child) who save a young boy from the Grey. The boy runs off after his mother (who has become a Grey, yet does not attack him), taking the young girl with him. When they disappear and their home is overrun, the parents take off to rescue them, only to get pulled into a series of quests for the mysterious Shadow Man.
The gameplay itself will feel like homecoming for those who cut their teeth on Nintendo RPGs. Your characters adventure in the Overworld, going from town to town, collecting items and meeting NPCs and trying to piece together the overall mission. Inside each Overworld area are several portals which lead to the challenge zones (that is, “dungeons”) made up of the environmental puzzles. Once all the challenge zones are complete, the story advances and you can move on to the next area of the Overworld.
Dealing with the monsters is a mixture of thinking and quick movement as you try to figure out a solution; many monsters simply head towards you, mindlessly, while others have set patrol zones or specific triggers that activate them.
Even if you don’t want to complete all the bonus objectives in a challenge (which earns you more points, naturally), you’ll still end up playing most of them several times, as you’ll have to make a lot of mistakes to learn how the enemies will react to them. Also, while the game design often makes it feel like it’s on rails (you cannot advance until you defeat all the challenges), you’ll also spend a lot of time going over areas you’ve already visited in case you’ve missed something or if an NPC you talked to now has a new reaction for you.
If there’s one area where Shattered Haven stumbles, it’s in the scenes between levels, where it tries to graft genuine pathos onto a somewhat goofy retro game. The Grey may be zombie stand-ins, but they have all the terror capacity of a Koopa Troopa. The monsters are challenging and fun to fight, but the game has more in common with Pokemon than Resident Evil. The overwritten cutscenes, however, try to sell a sense of human tragedy that works about as well as if Sonic wondered whether if he wasn’t just running away from…himself??? Luckily, these short scenes pass quickly.
Playing Shattered Haven brings back the familiar feeling of blowing time on an NES or Game Boy cartridge. Just replace a name like “The Grey” with badly-translated Japanese, and you’re suddenly in 1986 all over again. The logic is completely nonsensical (an axe doesn’t hurt monsters, but walking across iron tacks kills them) and in complete service to level design, but for a game like this, that’s not a hindrance, it’s just one more puzzle to solve.
Buy Shattered Haven