What We Think
Shattered Haven from Arcen Games pits players against hordes of zombies. Solve puzzle-like situations to eradicate the undead threat in each stage to progress.
While the game offers up an engaging narrative, it is often hobbled by bizarre in-game logic, confusing design choices and frustrating glitches.
Can’t Spell Puzzle Without Some ‘z’s
Shattered Haven is a puzzle orientated Zombie themed survival game, pushed along by an engaging story with their own take on the undead scenario. The story opens with some people making a life in a post zombie outbreak. There is a short tutorial to set the backdrop of the plot which leads to our hero’s little haven all a-shattered.
This flavor of zombie has some curious weaknesses. First off, they can’t come into contact with iron or water, as it kills them. Fresh zombies are faster, since rigor mortis has not yet set in. Collectively they are called Grays. But, as I started playing I found it odd that the game was telling me that these steel tools I was finding were useless against the Grays. An ax, sickle, and sledgehammer made of steel would only stop a Gray from moving for half a second. A handful of iron tacks spread on the ground, however, spells instant death for most Grays who tread on it.
The levels are set up like this: There is an overworld, which is basically a level-select that is laid out in a fairly realistic manner. Entries into each level are glowing blue portals. At first I thought these were just side-quests and I just plowed through to continue (with what I thought was the main game) and continue the story. I was then stopped and told to go back and complete all the side portals I saw along the path.
Iron Will (Steel Won’t)
Each portal contains a self-contained level. You carry in none of your collected items and must make do with what you find in each stage. Most of these are single-screen puzzles, but there are several that span across several zones; the majority of these later stages end up as a race around a small, simple maze to get a few tacks. Once these are acquired, you must lure the Grays to step on them, killing them.
This is where my disappointment started to seep in: my tasks began to entail walking across a map, avoiding slow-moving Grays, picking up an ax so I could then walk across the map again and bash open a window to get at a few tacks and finally spread them on the ground to kill the Grays. This process is repeated in most levels. The objective is always to kill all the Grays and then exit the level. Or, if there are no Grays, just kill anything present so the game code can see something has died and trigger the opening of the exit, and then make my way out.
Undeath of Reason
The level design and gameplay just felt like a chore. For instance: the entrance to one level had me walking a spiral around a bunch of plants to get to the entrance, requiring I spend more time before I could get to some actual puzzle-solving. One level featured a house that was collapsing into a sinkhole. To beat it, I had to just stand in one spot until the house was done collapsing then head through the exit. The problem in this scenario is that the first time I did it, I didn’t know where I was safe to stand and ended up having to kill myself as I got stuck on an island near the entrance. The second time the game didn’t recognize that all the Grays had been killed along with the house and so the exit never opened. The third time I just sat right where was safe and waited for a minute until the game told me I could move on. Some levels just failed by a means of code error.
In some instances, enemies that were supposed to be hidden under an object on the map would actually pre-spawn as the level loaded. This could cause confusion to a player left wondering if there is some trick to it he’s just not understanding. Restarting the levels from scratch is the only solution when it happens.
This all continued as I went to level to level, and advanced to new zones in the overworld. The one exception I found was a stage that had me shooting mutant worms going in and out of holes with a gun. Like Centipede, the body segments would split off and form a new bug until I killed every last body segment. It was a nice change of pace, but afterwards I had to go right back to an unintuitive overworld that at times had me searching for the next portal to a level I have not yet completed just so I could get on with the story, sometimes in the dark with only a tiny halo of vision around me to find my way.
This leaves me to comment on the tilesets. While they look nice, it can be hard to decipher their individual functions a lot of the time; some piles of rubble will slow you down, others are completely impassible. More than once I was convinced that I could not get to some levels because there were plants in the way but they were actually plants that would just slow me down rather than stop me. A lot of enemies blend into the background and I found myself dying just as I’d nearly completed a stage because there was a snake I didn’t notice.
Only the Shadow Knows
The story, while not being terribly epic, was enough to keep me wanting to know what was going on. What does the Shadow Man have planned for me? Why are there sinkholes only under the remaining bastions of civilization and not in the rest of the wilderness?
As an editorial aside, I wonder if the game would have succeeded better had it gone with a turn-based system rather than a real-time one. Couldn’t strategy been more thought-out if you had to outwit a fast zombie if it got to move more than you? Levels would be able to be compressed to their purest forms and puzzles could be thought out rather than crashing through with brute forced like I ended up doing. I wonder if this, and recent attempts could not have been better served as in-house experiments rather then pushed out as released products. As A Valley Without Wind (our review) got a revision, both could have used someone to say, “Wait, is this working out?”
Shuffle Back to the Drawing Board
The music is solid, and the story and world they have created is interesting. Unfortunately, the gameplay is way too simplistic and falls short. There is a co-op mode, but it is only for the overworld, which is mostly a vessel for the story and stage selection, so it’s a wonder why it was included at all. By the end of my time with it I was getting very frustrated and finding many levels to be inane.
As a fan of the dev team, it pains me to only be able to give Shattered Haven a 2/5 rating.