Have or have-not?
Winter is upon us, and with it come headaches, sore throats and the sniffles. While there's nothing wrong with one sick day nuzzled under cozy blankets with cocoa in hand and the warming glow of video games on the TV, it's no Sunday picnic when you aren't getting any better.
What if we all had persistent, fatal colds? Let's say a tyrannical overlord was withholding the one and only cure. Balto the sled dog is already dead and stuffed, so he can't retrieve the remedy. We would be utterly helpless...though I doubt we'd make very good slaves in between hacking up phlegm and getting snot everywhere.
In Haven: Call of the King for the PS2, the people of a distant planet have been infected with a deadly virus, leaving them at the mercy of the villainous fiend, Vetch. Among the downtrodden masses is a boy who dreams of a better life, a world free from the grasp of tyranny. This boy of prophecy is the one called Haven.
In his dreams, Haven envisions a mystic bell high atop a distant mountain. The bell will ring with salvation, hailing a long forgotten king to return to the world and vanquish evil. Plus, you get to leave school early.
Haven boasts several different gameplay styles, from the standard third-person platformer to shooter-on-rails a la Panzer Dragoon, and even multiple vehicles across land, air and sea. Each of these different game styles acts as an autonomous event in the progression of the game.
Impressively, these different events are tied together by the complete absence of loading screens. The only loading screens you'll see are when you first start up the game. By using story cut-scenes and transition montages to mask the loading, the game is able to move seamlessly forward.
Yet this forward momentum is just that - forced and linear. The lack of load times only knits the different pieces more closely together. There isn't a point in the game where you are given the chance to control your own destiny. While you can go back and play previously completed sequences from the Options screen, it just isn't the same. Haven holds your hands and takes you through its paces as if to say, "Here's the platform area. Finish this, and we'll go fly a spaceship for a bit. Then we'll run around some more."
"Running around" through the platform events come off as a standard, undisguised item hunt. Even the plethora of NPC villagers is nothing more than non-interactive scenery that just gets in the way. Armed with only a magnetic yo-yo and an energy shield, Haven must repeatedly search out small quotas of feathers or cogs to move on to the next event. Gee, how original.
One big problem is that when Haven is damaged, he is still immediately vulnerable. Thus, he can be juggled between attacking enemies, often taking more damage than necessary. To solve this, the game does offer infinite lives, so you can just try, try again.
Throughout the vehicle events, Haven will more often than not still have to hunt for those elusive gears. Other times, he'll have to race against other vehicles. It's decent fun, but nothing to write home about.
Another event is rail-shooting. Haven takes control of the turret of a moving train or boat and dishes out bullets to the approaching enemies. There are also shooting events where Haven controls the vehicle as well, such as interstellar dogfights. While the difficulty of both styles of shooting event is adequately challenging and sometimes even employs a deft sense of timing, the pacing of these events tends to drag. Just when you've had enough shooting, you have to go through another lengthy round.
Some of the events are much more creative. One has you flying around stealing Emu eggs during the day. When night falls, you hightail it back to camp in order to gun down irritated Emu parents and keep them from retrieving your stolen horde. Can't they take a joke?
Also noteworthy are the sequences when Haven is put into a hamster ball energy shield for some Marble Madness/Monkey Ball style challenges, as well as the handful of clever, original puzzles in the cavernous underground realms (look ma, no crate puzzles!). Sadly, the one last kick in the head for this game is the awful final battle, done as a rhythm game of timed button presses.
The quality of the graphics varies. Outdoor environments are doused in an over-saturated color palette, though the framerate is smooth enough. The detail work in some of the interior dungeons offers some sharper textures and compelling lighting effects. The camera does its job but faces the typical problems. It tries to give you what it thinks is the best possible view and sometimes, you will disagree.
And then there are the insects. At one point, a sea of squirming, well-animated bugs spew forth from an urn, covering every square inch of the floor. It was enough to make my skin crawl. Props to the developers for the best bugs ever.
The richly orchestrated soundtrack reminds me of The Neverending Story. While the music is remarkable, the sound effects and the voices are typical and average.
While largely derivative, the story has a few nice moments and provides an adequate backdrop. Despite appearances, Haven makes for a decent character, and thankfully, Vetch makes for a strong bad guy; he looks like a lizard skeleton version of Emperor Palpatine. Most of the supporting characters are flat.
Though it's admirably ambitious, Haven is crippled by trying to do too much. Instead of simply having these separate parts strung together, it would have worked better had the game allowed you to switch from any of these game styles at will. I think that was the original idea, but sadly it all turns out overly scripted and directed. These less than stellar parts add up to a merely average game. Looks like we're still out of a cure for the common cold.