I think regular visitors to the site know I’m a big fan of Arcen Games. They consistently release intriguing titles that challenge the mind in ways other developers just don’t (or won’t) go near. Shattered Haven is just such a game. As always, I respect Chris Park for trying something new and different, and Arcen’s take on classic zombie survival horror is refreshing, but it’s also a difficult for me to recommend wholeheartedly.
Shattered Haven SHOULD have grabbed me right away. It offers an interesting tale of survival on a more personal level. I’m really captivated by the world Arcen has created. I wanted to know more about what happened “nine years ago” to cause the rise of the Grays and the warping of nature. I’m fascinated by the idea that Grays are only affected by iron and fire (and won’t go in the water), and that you start each level empty handed and must plan a strategy based on what comes to hand as you explore. I love that even though the game’s aesthetic is fairly simple that there is a great deal of variety to be found. Environmental changes, weather, and light (or lack of it) are not just cosmetic. They make each level unique, and affect how you play through each one. As always, I’m impressed with how much work went into creating the lore of this world, and how every enemy and tool has a full (and fun to read) encyclopedia entry upon its discovery. Multiple solutions to puzzles allow for great opportunities for ingenuity and creative tactics, and it’s satisfying to see a plan come together.
I am a fan of the comic-style cut scenes showcasing important events. The use of color and the hand drawn images really aid with immersion. I also like that Arcen experimented with voice acting this time around. I thought the actor portraying Darrell did a fine job in terms of reading lines, but I thought his voice made the character seem far too old to be the father of a four-year-old (granted, that COULD just be me pining for my lost youth…). In all seriousness, the narration sounds more like a grandfather relating a story in his (much) later years than a father searching for his lost child in an unforgiving world filled with monsters. A minor quibble, but when a game is so heavily based on immersion like Shattered Haven is, it’s a bit distracting.
Fortunately, once again, Pablo Vega created the soundtrack. He makes the transition from epic to harrowing so effortlessly that it almost makes me angry to see just how talented he is. I can’t do this music justice. Whatever the scene calls for, he creates the perfect soundscape for it. Since words fail me, just listen again to the trailer above.
So I guess the question is, if I’m so impressed by just about everything about the game, why is it not grabbing me? It’s things like the fact that the controls feel floaty when using an Xbox controller. When some puzzles require some very precise movements, it’s jarring when my character doesn’t quite respond and falls into a pit for the umpteenth time. I have an issue with the fact that it’s hard to sometimes tell where my character is on the screen at the start of a level. Granted, nothing happens until I start to move, but it’s still an annoyance when trying to familiarize myself with a level. I don’t love that navigating sometimes feels luck based when trying to slip past Grays in order to acquire the weapon(s) I need to destroy them without being ganged up on and pummeled. I have issues with finding bonus objectives, but not having a clue where to find the combination to the locked door (and no way to get into the building otherwise). It was a bit jarring when I tried to run the game at my native 1920 x 1080 and then not really be able to make out what’s happening on the screen (a change to 1024 x 768 made a marked improvement).
I want to recommend Shattered Haven, but it’s hard to do at $9.99. There’s a lot do to and a lot to like, but it’s just not the game for me.