PAX West 2019 Hands-on: Haven

On a quick stroll through this year’s Indie Megabooth (although quick isn’t the best term for it – the booth is notorious for crowds due to its size), I noticed there was one theme surprisingly prevalent in many of this year’s selections: romance. Whether at the forefront or as a major backing element, love and romance seemed to be the name of the game for many indie titles presenting at this year’s PAX.

From dating personifications of weapons in Boyfriend Dungeon and women piloting giant mechs while loving each other in Heaven Will Be Mine, to Christine Love’s upcoming Get in the Car, Loser! and the console port of Arcade Spirits, love of every kind is on prominent display in this year’s indie selection. The game we had the chance to go hands-on with, though, is another romantically-inclined title from French studio The Game Bakers: Haven.

Haven follows the characters Yu and Kay, a couple of who appear to be scientists or astronauts of some sort who have found themselves stranded on an alien planet. Managing to eke out an existence, the two work to find a way off the planet, while also trying to figure out some of its mysteries that they encounter along the way.

Much of the story in the demo is focused around the relationship between Yu and Kay, how they get along and grow closer together whilst facing the hardships of living on this strange planet. Haven begins with their relationship already established; rather than watching two people get together, we instead get to see how this couple works together in their relationship. The dialogue between the two is wonderfully natural; with its ups and downs, jokes and fights, even this short demo managed to establish these characters and their relationship quite well.

The developer reps at the booth told me they set out to create a “relaxing game with RPG elements,” and that description nails what I got to try out. Much of the game involves exploring the environment, which is done mostly by gliding around with what appears to be jet boots. Being able to soar around the world, pulling off gentle drifts to follow paths or collect items, just feels chill overall.

The idea of relationships and working together runs down into the gameplay as well. There are some light RPG battles here, with each character being controlled at the same time (on a PS4 controller, one is controlled with the D-Pad and the other with the face buttons). Each direction or button is assigned to a specific move, and both characters are controlled at the same time.

The goal here is to pacify creatures rather than killing them. Yu and Kay each have a simple move set: Shield, two different attack styles, and Pacify. Shield defends against an attack, but whoever has shield up is able to defend both characters. Once you’ve attacked an enemy enough to lower its health bar, then you can Pacify to end the fight. There’s also the option to have Yu and Kay team up for a single attack by activating the same attack for both of them at the same time. While there weren’t many fights in the demo, it’s quickly obvious that being successful at these means coordinating what each character does so they work together effectively.

Themes of working together can even extend to the players themselves. Haven features drop in/drop out multiplayer, allowing a second player to jump in at any time and take control of either Yu or Kay. While there wasn’t an opportunity to try out this function, the developer reps explained how they wanted this function to force two players to talk and cooperate effectively. After all, in this mode, you’re obviously no longer controlling both characters yourself – you now have to work with a second person to coordinate both your navigation and attacks in battle. I’m really excited to see how this function works in the final game, as I think it could make Haven a great title for couples to play together.

The demo only lasted about twenty minutes or so, but it left me wanting more. The experience here is definitely interesting, with its focus on the characters’ relationship and having them work together effectively. This is definitely a title to keep an eye on, and I’m looking forward to trying out the final version when it releases.

Haven is planned for release in 2020, with no specific date announced beyond that, for PC via Steam. A Switch release is also in the works, with possible ports to Sony and Microsoft hardware under consideration.

Screenshots courtesy of The Game Bakers.