Haven: Call Of The King - PS2 - Review
Haven: Call of the King is the latest release from Traveller’s Tales, the same development team that brought Crash Bandicoot into the 128-bit dimension. But while Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex was basically just a by-the-book cookie-cutter update to an already-established franchise, their latest entry is quite a bit more ambitious. The main draw to Haven are the plethora of different genres that work their way into the experience, this is a game that tries to be everything for everyone, and to a certain extent, actually succeeds.
The title of the game, Haven, happens to also be the name of the main character. Haven, like the rest of the population, is enslaved under the dictatorship of an evil overlord named Vetch. Lord Vetch ensures that all his slaves are loyal by way of inflicting a deadly virus on them and only giving them antidotes when they work. Slaves who refuse to work, well, let’s just say that they don’t get the antidote. Vetch runs a pretty tight ship and his only concern is what is known as the Golden Voice. The Golden Voice is actually a giant golden bell, which was left behind by the good King Athellion, so that it could be rung to call his return, should it ever be necessary. Luckily for Vetch, he has this bell well-protected with an army of soldiers at his command. But Haven has been having these dreams, dreams about a mysterious bell and a long-forgotten king, dreams that could ultimately spell the end of Vetch’s tyranny. It will be up to you, as Haven, to find the Golden Voice atop the Mount of Sighs and call forth King Athellion. It won’t be easy, but with the help of Haven's homemade flying droid, Talon, it might be possible.
Haven is all about non-stop action and seamless transitions, it is, first and foremost, a platformer, but you’ll often find yourself in situations that lean more towards racing, shooting, aerial combat, space exploration, and arena combat games. The best thing about Haven’s pacing is how you’ll never be forced to sit through long meaningless instances of dialogue or finger-tapping loading screens. In fact, after the game loads up you won’t see the words “please wait” anywhere, the transition between stages and styles of play is instant.
The various stages in Haven are all unique in their own right and there is very little backtracking, except in the occasional, and often-annoying, areas where you are required to complete generic fetch-quests. For the most part the game plays out like a fully controllable version of the age-old laserdisc game Dragon’s Lair. Which is to say that without twitch reflexes and precise timing you’ll end up face down on the ground. Right from the get-go you’ll be chased by cascading waves of rock through a cave, and from there it is out of the frying pan and into the fire – and then back into the frying pan, and repeat. Progressing through Haven is no cakewalk, but it is not altogether difficult either as you’ll be given unlimited lives and unlimited chances to learn from your mistakes.
The bulk of the experience will have you directly controlling Haven, who moves around in a style similar to that of most other popular platforming games like Jak & Daxter or Ratchet & Clank. You can move around in any direction in a 3D environment and the gameplay is, for the most part, very solid. Running, double-jumping, grabbing onto ledges, etc, is all very easy to pull off. But there is a major problem in the platform stages, and that is how the developers opted to integrate the method of combat. You see, Haven’s main weapon is a yo-yo. Yes, a yo-yo. That in and of itself wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that it has extremely limited range and is needlessly difficult to aim. And even that wouldn’t have lessened my opinion of the game if not for the fact that the explosives barrels, which saturate almost every area in the game, are all-but-impossible to dispose of with the dinky yo-yo without the resulting explosion inflicting damage on the main character. Couldn’t the developers have paid a little more attention in terms of the constant instances of combat considering the amount of work that went into every other part of the experience? Apparently not.
Between the lengthier platforming stages in Haven are interspersed a wide assortment of mini-game type objectives that allow you to control one form of vehicle or another. Each method of transportation has its own unique set of rules and regulations as far as requirements and method of control. But none are so complicated that you won’t feel right at home controlling them after only a few minutes of testing the waters. Expect to tear it up in land, sky, and water-based environments as you commandeer a jet pack, glider, bi-plane, speedboat, quad racer, hover plane, and other means of transportation.
Creating Haven was no small undertaking, the sheer size and scope of the project is staggering. This is especially true in regards to art-direction. The original concept illustrations for Haven’s world and characters were sketched out by world-famous artist Rodney Matthews, whose unique surrealistic style has made him a household name in his homeland of England. Fans of his work would have no trouble spotting his influence in Haven, though the character models seem only vaguely reminiscent of his style. The developers went with an engine capable of displaying 13 million polygons per second, so they say, but it is safe to assume that the visuals are not noticeably lacking in any way.
The game’s audio presentation could be aptly described as adequate but far from impressive. The voice acting is probably the most quality aspect of the sound, the various characters are all voiced by professional actors and each personality that you’ll come across is incredibly unique. The music is something of a mixed bag since certain areas seem to have just so-so music while other areas really stand out with top-notch orchestrations. The one real gripe I have about the audio, though, are the sound effects. Most of the time they won’t get in the way of the action but in some instances, like the stage with a woman relentlessly screaming in the background, the sound effects will make you instinctively reach for the “mute” button.
Overall, Haven: Call of the King is a slightly above average platformer with a slew of bonus modes of play thrown in for good measure. For me, it doesn’t live up to my expectations based on the early media coverage and the company’s claim of a game that truly is “everything to everyone”. But the surprisingly low retail price ($29.99) coupled with the fairly long and entertaining adventure makes Haven a game to buy, not rent.
Gameplay varies based on the mode of play but regardless of whether you are jumping around in platformer mode or making things go boom behind a gun turret, the controls are simple, functional, and responsive. The unwieldy yo-yo that Haven uses as an offensive weapon is, however, hugely annoying and frustrating.
In contrast to other games like Jak & Daxter or Sly Cooper, Haven doesn’t quite manage to compete. But that isn’t to say that the graphics are less than stellar, by any means. In fact, the art direction makes for some of the most unique environments in any game, but the character models somehow just don’t seem up to par.
The voice acting is the brightest spot of Haven’s aural presentation but there are a few really good musical orchestrations that really stand out. The sound effects are ho-hum, for the most part, and they do have a tendency to work your nerves in certain areas.
Progressing through Haven isn’t simple by any stretch of the imagination, but luckily you’ll be given unlimited lives and never have to start too far behind from where you died.
The concept of Haven may be the most ambitious of any game in recent memory, unfortunately the execution couldn’t live up to the developer’s intentions. There is a lot to like here but the tedium of the lame-o fetch-quests and sometimes-boring mini-games gets old quickly.
If you are looking for a game with a lot of personality but not so much innovation in terms of traditional platforming then Haven may be just what you are looking for. The free-form style of play keeps things fresh but don’t go into this one expecting to be blown away.