Shattered Haven Review
For these puzzles, you might need to use your... BRAAAAINS!
Isn’t it ironic that zombie titles have seemed to take over the gaming industry in the past decade? Zombies have always been with us, of course, so it’s hard to pinpoint any trendsetter, but it sure feels as if there’s been a lot more shambling going on. Not that this is a bad thing (unless the games start to mimic their fictional counterparts by being reduced to mindless clones). Zombies make great gaming fodder: they give you hordes of slow-moving enemies to gun down and might just make things easier for the poor AI coder.
Thankfully, Shattered Haven proves that there’s still plenty of room for original thought and development. The game takes the zombie apocalypse into the 2D action-puzzler realm, and once you fiddle with the game for a bit, you’ll wonder why nobody hasn’t thought of this before. After all: the basic attack pattern for zombies (called ‘grays’ in-game) is to slowly follow the player and hope to box them in. Hasn’t this tactic been the used by an enemy in just about every top-down scroller ever? It’s a perfect fit! Never fear, though: the game will throw a nice variety of zombie movement patterns at you, so you never quite get bored of the action.
Killing zombies: twice as much fun in the rain and the mud
Picking up at that special sweet-spot in modern zombie plotlines -- the point after the zombie apocalypse is completed, but before any answers to the whole boondoggle have been figured out -- Shattered Haven follows a patchwork pseudo-family of survivors whose main home has been overrun, and who must now travel separate paths through the local zombie infested territory in their effort to regroup.
The storytelling in Shattered Haven is a little wobbly. It seems to start off on the right foot: following a mysterious young boy who gets taken in by a patchwork family of survivors, and then introducing some peculiar supernatural elements. After all, if zombies are fun, then surely zombies and demons would be even more fun, right? Sadly, this potential doesn’t feel well developed, mainly in that the tone of the story simply doesn’t feel quite settled: the aged graphics give a nostalgic homespun feel to the game, and the basic zombie-killing action is treated in a fun cartoony-style, but the occasional voice-overs are played straight for drama and horror, and Pablo Vega’s music reinforces this atmosphere. It doesn’t help that none of the characters are given any development, or that the storyline is explicitly tailored to fit the gameplay - a mysterious supernatural demon/monster is forcing the main character to complete each level before allowing him to move to a new area of the world. None of these aspects are bad on their own, but taken together, it leaves you wondering exactly whether the game is meant to be a comedy, a farce, a supernatural adventure romp, or a horror title.
Even with hordes of flame-dropping birds to keep you busy, the overworld can get boring
Unlike most games that mimic the classic 16-bit visual style these days, Shattered Haven actually does a good job of bringing back the classic 16-bit gameplay as well. You travel a large ‘overworld’ which has a few basic gameplay challenges like avoiding easy enemies or picking the right path, but the real meat of the game comes in the smaller puzzle levels that dot the world map. Via some handy plot points players must complete every puzzle in a region before being allowed to progress to the next area.
These individual puzzle-levels are where the game is at its strongest, subtly blending the action and puzzle genres. Most levels involve killing your zombie foes in one way or another, but you always start with only your feet to save you. A typical scenario might put you on an island with a canoe, with weapons and powerups scattered at different locations on riverbanks, and a set number of zombies trying to catch up with you. Your gathered weapons also need to be used tactfully: maybe they only have a certain number of shots, maybe they need to be thrown and retrieved, or maybe they’re just traps that you need to skillfully place in order to kill off your enemies. As if that weren’t tricky enough, levels usually have a few keys and fenced-in areas for you to work your way through.