Developer/Publisher: The Game Bakers
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Also Available For: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PC
On December 3rd, 2020, French studio The Game Bakers released their sophomore title, Haven, which is about two lovers who, in order to be together, flee an authoritarian dystopia where everyone is matched up with a life partner. Being a big fan of their debut game, Furi, I was naturally very excited to see what they had to offer this time around, but in between publication of some early reviews by other sources and Sequential Planet receiving a review code, some troubling details came to light. Despite my excitement prior to its release, I wasn’t super fond of Haven’s core concept, because making stories about “forbidden love” between a man and a woman when much of the world is engaged in a culture war surrounding LGBTQ+ people is – in many cases, at least – rather tone-deaf. These misgivings turned into a full-on distaste when it came to light that a rather significant aspect of the game’s story involves the threat of the main couple being “recalibrated” to be with their assigned mates, which in conjunction with other aspects creates a deeply unfortunate implied question of “what if there was conversion therapy for straight people?”
Ultimately, Sequential Planet declined the opportunity to review Haven. However, at the beginning of March 2022 The Game Bakers released a free update to Haven adding the options to play as same-gender couples – either women-loving-women or men-loving-men – including a fair few reworked art pieces and basically completely re-recorded script with new voice actors for the gender-flipped versions of the protagonists. In light of this, we/I decided to re-evaluate our stance and at least give the game a more full and proper assessment, and so without further ado: here’s our review.
The Basics: Haven is an exploration-heavy action role-playing game wherein the player (or players, as the game has some light optional co-operative elements) assumes the role of lovers Yu and Kay as they attempt to carve out a life for themselves on a deserted planet. Much of the gameplay involves gliding around in gorgeous, vibrantly colored open fields picking up ingredients for meals and various knick-knacks you find while occasionally fighting off local wildlife infected by a mysterious substance known as “rust”. Combat is surprisingly simple, intuitive, and easy considering it involves simultaneously controlling two-characters in real time, and though it’s my least favorite part of the game it’s still very well designed… aside from being disorientingly noisy and cacophonous, particularly when it comes to the couple’s mid-combat voice lines.
By contrast, the gliding and exploration are a consistent delight. Traversal gives an excellent sense of speedy and flowing movement (though I do recommend turning the field of view up to its absolute maximum for best results) and the couple are charming little chatterboxes throughout all of it. Their voice lines during exploration don’t grate the way their combat lines do, and instead kept a near-constant smile on my face when they’d remark on various actions and sights even after I had long since stopped hearing anything new. Even though the environments are pretty simple and lacking in a whole lot of variation, I still loved looking around in new areas and finding new things in the world. Even standing still would yield sweet moments, such as sharing tender embraces that heal whoever has less health to match their partner’s current HP. How cute is that?
To that point, the game’s main draw is undeniably the dialogue and general dynamic between Yu and Kay. The relationship the game revolves around is one of the most genuine and fresh depictions of romantic intimacy I’ve ever seen because it doesn’t shy away from much of anything. Sure, a lot of their interactions are almost tooth-rottingly sweet, but Haven isn’t afraid to depict the less romantic aspects of a relationship either; everything from the grosser parts of everyday domestic intimacy to arguments is fair game, and it manages not to be trite throughout any of it. Moreover, I found myself consistently surprised by how the game isn’t afraid of sex either, again unlike 99% of media out there. There’s no outright sex scenes (though plenty of fade-to-black moments) but the discussions Yu and Kay have can be very frank at times in ways that made me go “wow the writers really went for it, huh?” well after I probably should’ve learned to expect it, and I’m very glad for that.
In addition to chatter during exploration, there’s a lot of banter to be heard in The Nest, the ship that acts as Yu and Kay’s home/base. As the game progresses the player can find all sorts of knick-knacks and decorations for The Nest, many of which can be interacted with or will in some other way trigger little vignettes between the couple. I absolutely adored every minor and major look these provided into the personalities and dynamic between the two of them, and by the end of the game I had developed a real attachment and fondness for the couple, though admittedly I wouldn’t have grown so strongly attached had I been forced to play as the heterosexual pairing.
Which brings me to assessing the “couple update”. It’s a very strong addition to the game, surprisingly thorough in what it replaces though not 100% complete. Loading screens show stills of moments between Yu and Kay, and though a fair few were redone to include the alternate couples not all were. I discovered this after looking through the game’s gallery menu, and when I did, I was very disappointed because I would have loved to see some of those scenes with the lesbian couple.
There’s also the matter of the matter of voice lines to consider. In addition to re-recording each of the two main characters’ voice lines with a new VA, many voice lines were re-recorded with adjusted pronouns or forms of address. I only remember finding two instances where lines fell through the cracks (though it’s entirely possible there were more that I either don’t remember or never discovered in the first place), and one of those was in an item description that was purely textual. The other was an instance where Yu said something like “you’re the biology guy” to Kay, which… while I doubt it was the intention, I do know several lesbians including myself who play around with Gender enough that we wouldn’t mind or would even enjoy being called “The ___ guy” by certain people we’re close with.
Either way, I do have to admit that the “recalibration” thing feels a lot less uncomfortable now. Still somewhat unsettling, admittedly, but in more of a typical dystopian fiction sort of way, something you’d see in 1984 or Brave New World. It no longer comes across as offensively tone-deaf, as straight people trying to make a hypothetical version of something horrible that really happens to queer people even today.
At the end of the day, I’m very glad that The Game Bakers released the couple update. I really enjoyed playing through Yu and Kay’s story and I don’t think I would have if they hadn’t made that effort to help people like me (and people like my men-loving-men compatriots out there) feel seen. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who still feels put-off by it, given its missteps, but I respect the developers for going the extra mile – and believe me, I do recognize how much work went into this update even if it didn’t quite get to everything. Haven is a fun game with a big heart, and to me that counts for a lot.
More like GAYven, am I right???