We’ve seen a glut of zombie games, and I’d argue that the runaway success of Telltale’s The Walking Dead is only going to further open the door for more. Arcen Games took some interesting concepts and used them to bring zombies to life in Shattered Haven. Departing from more traditional zombie games, Shattered Haven is the lovechild of the original Zelda and Zombie lore, but how does it hold up?
30 Second Review
(+) Branching storylines and multiple endings
(+) Innovative Gameplay
(+) Challenging Puzzles
(-) Clunky combat
(-) Repetition can be daunting
From Humble Origins
Shattered Haven starts off with a mysterious new take on the zombie genre. We are introduced to Darrell and Mary Williams, survivors after the zombie apocalypse. During a supply run, Darrell comes across a small boy, Pierce, and his mother. The group is overrun by Grays (zombies), and Pierce’s Mom does not survive the encounter. Darrell brings Pierce back to the compound where they currently live, and his daughter Lela watches over Pierce. This point is where you take control, as you guide Pierce and Lela away from invading Grays and into the company of a large squid that seems to protect the children. When Darrell and Mary see the invading Grays, and are driven into the wilderness, they realize that the children are missing and begin pursuit. Darrell and Mary encounter a strange Shadow Man that opens up portals and seems to be guiding them, but where? And to what end?
Zombies Without Iron Will
In Shattered Haven the Grays have an inherent weakness to iron. Even sprinkling iron tacks in their path will be fatal. As such, there are a variety of iron weapons you will find to eliminate the grays. Many more items and weapons can be found, but they will only stun the Grays until an iron weapon finishes the job. Shattered Haven is much more of a puzzle game, so combat is not your main focus. Darrell and Mary walk around different overworld sections looking for portals to puzzle levels; completing all the puzzle levels in an overworld section will bring you to the next area. Each puzzle, and its inventory, is self-contained. The puzzle will give you only the items you need to solve it, and your overworld inventory will not carry over. The puzzles all vary in difficulty, but task you with completing objectives, killing all the grays and guiding Darrell to the end level portal.
The graphics are definitely a retro 8-bit/PC inspired, top-down variety. They seem to hearken back to Zelda and many of the ancient PC titles I played and loved during my youth. They really seem to channel the feel of the old Lucasarts adventure games, like Maniac Mansion or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, despite the fact that the camera angles are different. The real star of the show is the musical composition by Pablo Vega. The scores are chilling and environmental, and they do a fantastic job complementing the cutscenes and gameplay. Combat involves a variety of weapons that will either slow or kill your enemies. Even though the combat takes place in real-time, you really have to take your time and plan your moves, using inventory items sparingly.
Grays and Puzzles and Squids, Oh My!
The gameplay is interesting, but I have to admit the puzzles get repetitive. With the lack of an overworld map, it can be taxing to remember where all of the portals in a given level are, let alone which ones you’ve already visited and completed. The combat gets frustrating the further through the game you get. Later levels feature much faster enemies in larger groups, and the mechanics just don’t lend to taking down enemies in a fast and furious manner. In addition, the story took a sharp left that I wasn’t expecting and just didn’t seem to recover from it. Granted, I know there are branching storylines, so I may have picked the less satisfying paths in my playthrough. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like I was left with more questions than answers in a story that started out gripping and intriguing. I really liked the concepts and the elements that Arcen Games and Chris Park brought together in Shattered Haven, I just felt like they weren’t completely fleshed out as well as they could be. I like the puzzles but felt there could’ve been more variety and elements to them. It almost felt like there was a mismatch between the story and the gameplay. The search for overworld portals and puzzle completion seemed to hinder the story progression and ratchet the pacing to a halt at times. There were many times that I just felt like I hit a wall and had to walk away — not because I was stuck on a challenging puzzle, but because I felt as though I was fighting the mechanics and didn’t know where my next objective was. All in all, I like the ideas and the story of Shattered Haven. There is an amazing amount of content for the price, especially when you consider the co-op and the level editor. Even with its frustrations, there is a lot to like about Shattered Haven, netting it a 7 out of 10.
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