Shattered Haven is not your typical zombie survival game. You don’t spend most of the adventure staring down the barrel of a gun wondering if ammo or foes lay around the next corner. In the background to all that is forgettable story that barely functions as an excuse for all the mayhem that’s been unleashed. Shattered Haven, instead, seeks to deliver a compelling narrative through the game’s main characters while focusing the action on having you determine the correct way to get to the weapon that’s around the corner, rather than wondering if there is one. In many ways, it feels a lot like an old NES top-down scroller, like Lifeforce, StarTropics, or Fester’s Quest. (Ok, so the last one is just a litmus test for all you old-school gamers out there, but the others apply.) The overall narrative seems to strive for some of the same notes of family bonds and strength of humanity in the face of hardship that Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead hit so well. While Shattered Haven does a lot that is refreshing and new for a zombie survival game, it just doesn’t have that level of polish that would really put it over the top.
For nine years a man, his wife, and their daughter have lived in a sheltered compound while the “Grays” roam the world around them. One day, the man finds a woman and her son while foraging for supplies and everything pretty much goes wrong from there. The boy and daughter get separated from the man and his wife, who are now trying to track them down and, hopefully, achieve some semblance of normalcy again. Each half of this family will have its own set of adventures that reveal a little something about the world in which they find themselves. Your group will grow and you’ll have to care for these people using the money that you collect from completing levels to buy food and supplies. Not everyone can be saved, though…
The game’s action is perhaps best placed into the “environmental puzzler” category. Each of the game’s 100 levels will challenge you to eliminate all the “Grays” in an area using the weapons and other hazards that are presented to you. Occasionally you get a little bit of a leg up as some of these levels take place within the same world as the characters. This means that any objects, such as an axe or hammer, which you bring with you into the level, can be used there. Likewise, any tools you find can be taken back into the “overworld.” Many of these levels, though, take place in a separate sort of dimension where you can only use what’s presented to you and nothing comes back.
This screen was capped from a game that was running at a 1920x1280 screen resolution and then resized down
For example, in one of these levels there are ten “Grays” in the area that have to be eliminated. These particular types of “Grays” wander around the level in a fairly set pattern and pay no attention to the characters (unless they happen to get in the way). None of the usual weapons (anything made of iron or water) are present to use against them. There are, however, levers hidden amongst the beds of flowers that make up the scenery, which set off environmental traps to eliminate these undead. Trigger these levers at the right time to ensure the walking dead become a whole lot less ambulatory and then make it to the exit before a mysterious force chases you down and ends it all for you.
Other levels will have you going across one or more screens to find additional items or weapons to use, but the overall goal never really changes. There are bonus objectives, such as not taking any damage or killing certain grays before others, that you can attempt to complete for an added challenge and, more importantly, bonus money. These help to add some challenge and replay options, but it’s not quite enough. From a single-player perspective, it feels like there are just too many levels where your objective - collect weapons and kill the grays - is the same. Portal and Portal 2 both could be accused of the same fault, but they managed to overcome it by introducing some new mechanic with each “test chamber” that forces the player to constantly be thinking up new solutions. Shattered Haven, unfortunately, has no such mechanic when playing through the game alone.
Playing with a friend, though, seems to be the mechanic that the game’s developers hoped would keep things fresh. And it certainly manages it for a while.