Developer(s) – Traveller’s Tales
Publisher(s) – Midway
Director – Jon Burton
Producer – Arthur Parsons
ELSPA – 3
Throughout the era of the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox, Midway were facing hard times in the industry, and they knew something needed to be done to make a lasting impression on gamers at the time. They decided to collaborate with Traveller’s Tales and release an almost all-or-nothing salvo on the PlayStation 2 (initially also planned for release on the GameCube and Xbox until the idea was ultimately dismissed), as one of their last hurrahs before they would eventually be absorbed back into their parent company, Warner Bros. Though Haven was met with positive reviews by critics, it was also met with poor sales figures. The way I see it, I can understand one of these outcomes, but not the other; and my final opinion may surprise readers.
Graphics – 6.5/10
Even though the developers did try to create a vast world unlike any ever seen in a video game before, I found that influence certainly played a huge part in this title from the very beginning; the most obvious influence being behind the design if Vetch’s tower, which resembles a flaming cat’s eye. It should sound familiar, as The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was riding high at the time, and the main antagonist of the film, Sauron, took the form of a huge cat’s eye hovering over his tower of Barad-Dur. Even after the opening sequence where this is first seen, I found that most of the rest of the game also seemed fairly generic to me.
Gameplay – 6/10
The best thing about the game’s play, in my opinion, is the amount of variety that is on offer to players. Players can explore to a small extent, take part in races, rail-shooting sequences, and some fairly well-executed 3D platforming. But I can’t help but feel that the back of the game’s box presents false advertisement, as the developers boasted “massive planets to visit and explore”, which suggested to me that there was much more of an open world than there actually is within the game. By that token, it’s my opinion that the game has far too much linearity for one of either it’s the magnitude or the ambition that the developers clearly had regarding it.
Controls – 9/10
A positive that I can point out about this game is that whilst the movement can seem a little bit stiff at times, there are no other issues with its control schemes for me to have to report. Once more, for a game with so many different ways of playing, this is quite impressive, as it can sometimes prove pretty difficult for developers to keep track of games like that. I think if there had been any outstanding issues with the control scheme, then it may have turned players away from the many excellent 3D platformers, which were being released on the PlayStation 2 at the time
Lifespan – 7/10
With players being able to make Haven last for an average of 15-20 hours, I’d say the game has a fairly good lifespan for a 3D platformer. However, I can’t help but feel that the game could have easily been made to last considerably longer if the developers had taken the time to fully realize what potential this game could have had if they had fully delivered on the exploration factor. It’s because of this that the game left me wanting considerably more than what I was given.
Storyline – 4/10
For me, the most disappointing thing about this game was its narrative. The story follows a slave called Haven, who embarks on a quest to save his people, and the rest of the universe, from the oppressive regime of its tyrannical ruler, Lord Vetch. Attempting to provide an interesting take on the classic tale of the pawn reaching the end of the board, it was originally planned to be the first part of a video game trilogy; however, thanks to poor sales figures, and most gamers taking merely a niche interest in the title, this never happened, and although I won’t give away what happens, what players were left with was a particularly unsatisfying and depressing cliff-hanger ending. It also made me regret that I had taken any time at all to invest in characters such as Haven, Athellion, or even Vetch. As well as the voice acting also being somewhat below par, there are also a lot of plot threads in the story, which made next to no sense, such as Haven accidentally striking his boss’s foot with a pickaxe mistaking it for a rock, and remarking that anyone could have made the same mistake; as if people can’t tell the difference between a rock and someone’s foot. It was also very convenient that one of Vetch’s guards neglects to lock Haven’s cell later on in the game, allowing him to escape from his prison.
Originality – 6/10
Despite the amount of ambition that both Midway and Traveller’s Tales had for Haven, it ultimately seemed to simply be a collection of many different video gaming tropes and ideas as opposed to it being a fully cohesive concept. I always find myself asking what the point of doing this is. Why develop a game when developers are going to neglect to add any flair to it and it makes it their own? Although it is somewhat interesting to be able to spot what kind of things influence a video game, it’s much more interesting to see what kind of new things developers can bring to the table; and I think the developers held back in that respect.
Overall, whilst Haven is by no means the worst 3D platformers to have been released on a PlayStation console, the fact that it remains overshadowed by many other great games of the time is justified in my opinion. Everything about it has been influenced by a collection of different games and media in one way or the other, and that while there is a small level of excitement to be had while playing, there isn’t enough for me to mention it in the same breath as some of either Midway or Traveller’s Tales’ better efforts.