Shattered Haven’s inert levels and unwillingness to let you naturally learn obscure its more brilliant moments.

The Good

  • Good variety of tools and weapons to use
  • Some levels require strategic planning.

The Bad

  • Most levels are similar and bland
  • Game too often solves its own puzzles on your behalf
  • Can be tough to find your next challenge.

Shattered Haven is a well-meaning game with crippling communication issues. At times, it underestimates you, offering blatant written solutions to its environmental puzzles. These moments leave your brain tightly wound and ready to solve problems if only it were given the chance. Other times, this top-down adventure expects you to perform specific actions while giving no direct indication that such actions are even possible. Yet there are times when the hints, level design, enemy placement, and provided equipment all work in conjunction to deliver a challenging and rewarding experience. These welcome scenarios reveal the kind of experience that Shattered Haven could have offered throughout.

Time to do some exploring.

Time to do some exploring.

The game’s story does not stretch the limits of imagination, though Arcen Games deserves credit for engineering its own unique twists on popular zombie lore. The undead–called “grays” in this world–have roamed the planet for nine long years, forcing the battered pockets of humanity into seclusion. One couple, Darrell and Mary Williams, was fortunate enough to fortify a farm and have a daughter amid the chaos. Years pass, and Darrell encounters a young boy whose mother was killed by grays. He takes in the newcomer, even though their water reserves are dwindling. Later, you have the option to select from branching story paths, which influences the game’s characters and outcome. The story is told primarily through dialogue boxes, but you’re occasionally presented with illustrated, voice-acted panels. The acting is flat and unconvincing, though it would admittedly be difficult to make lines like “They’re like miniature adults instead of truly being children” sound authentic in this context.

The tutorial puts you in control of the kids, who are beckoned to the farm’s gate when a survivor begs for sanctuary. You’re taught to fight back against encroaching grays, not with headshots, but with iron (which is poisonous to zombies), water, and fire. The game is played from an overhead perspective, and you navigate its maps in real time. Items like iron spikes, lanterns, hammers, and bear traps can be picked up and thrown, dropped, or swung using hotkeys. Most levels include shrubbery, some of which can be chopped down using the appropriate items, and water, which is navigable with a raft or a canoe, for example. Offensive items are usually limited, so proper deployment is crucial.

Not long into the tutorial, the game introduces you to a giant squid. This creature exemplifies Shattered Haven’s biggest problem. You’re just getting a handle on the mechanics when the squid shamelessly bumps you out from under the limelight. It kills every gray in sight and continues to kill any incoming enemies for quite some time. As a new player, you need this time to familiarize yourself with the game’s systems, but Shattered Haven doesn’t have the restraint to let that understanding arise naturally.

Every tool serves a specialized purpose. If you get stuck, look around for one you may have missed.

Every tool serves a specialized purpose. If you get stuck, look around for one you may have missed.

The game eventually opens into an overworld containing several standard challenge maps and the trickier bonus levels. Once you’ve completed every standard map in the overworld, the story progresses and you move on to another overworld. Each map has a series of objectives to complete, most of which are optional. Typically, the goal is to kill the grays and escape, though you often earn more cash for not taking damage, for killing enemies in a certain order, or for not using certain equipment. Because money is a precious commodity–used to purchase health upgrades, weapons, and more–there’s a strong incentive to replay the more fun levels with an altered style of play.

Shattered Haven’s visuals are charmingly simplistic, looking like something out of RPG Maker. However, the character sprites are too small, and you often struggle to find yourself on the screen. Because the action–and the danger–begins once you take your first step, it’s frustrating to lose valuable time or health just because you were hunting for your character.

Shattered Haven’s inert levels and unwillingness to let you naturally learn obscure its more brilliant moments.

By Brian Albert