Last Thursday, the green-lit title Haven Moon saw its debut on Steam and the Humble Store. The game’s lone developer, Francois Roussel, boasts that he’s spent over 20 years conceptualizing the point-and-click puzzle adventure title, and is shameless in crediting Haven’s artistic stylings to Myst. But for an indie developer, the attempt to replicate a franchise made iconic for its immersive world and eclectic puzzles seems a bit too ambitious. Has Roussel created an original story with mechanics that could reel in Myst nostalgics? Or did his premise fall so short that the connection is missed entirely?
In Haven Moon, you fade-in on an island. You have no backstory, or any idea as to how you even got there. From the plot (which is only given to the player through hand-written notes of the affluent brainiac scientist, Ektor Turren), you must have come from the planet Menra–a now uninhabitable planet brought to shambles for some stock reason you’ve heard a hundred times. An introductory note left by Ektor informs you that you are on a chain of small islands on Selos, Menra’s moon planet. He would be there in person to tell you, but the success of his Ateon teleportation system hardly keeps him in one place. Your objective is to traverse Turren’s man-made islands and explore his ingenious inventions in an effort to understand his legacy.
Although games in this genre are oriented towards puzzles and item hunting to defer from a lackluster story, the game cannot hide what isn’t there. The first distancing point is that all exposition comes from hand-written notes with questionable grammar and phrasing. All the notes are from Ektor’s point of view, and are constructed in a way that seem more informative than personal. It just felt like blocky exposition, and neither character felt like they had an authentic voice to sell the limitation of having no budget for voice acting. There are two endings to the game, and both were rather abrupt and forgettable. I had no emotional investment in the game’s dialogue or thematic constructions aside from the inevitable frustration that stemmed from its challenging puzzles.
Aside from its confusing story, its core movement and puzzle mechanics were solid and live up to Myst fan expectations. The mouse-only control scheme seems different at first, but totally intuitive for a point-and-click game. Its mix of audio and visual cues to overcome obstacles were effective in sussing out unique puzzle quests, but on the whole I felt that the game was far too short. With a walk-through, I’m confident that you’d be able to finish the game in less than ninety minutes.
I went in blind before I became utterly stumped by the final puzzles, and used a walk-through to finish the game in three and a half hours. I encourage players to only spoil the game for themselves when they feel absolutely hopeless – while there are some nice eureka moments for people who pay attention, there were some easy-to-miss details resulting from well thought-out puzzle design. I will say that at times Roussel could have added a few more notes to hold the hands of the weary player. Even though I cheated towards the end, I caught myself in awe of Roussel’s immaculate attention to puzzle and level design.
Graphically, this shouldn’t be too vexing on your machine (it was created on a Mac, after all). The textures didn’t really pop in the way that a modern first-person adventure title should, but it does not hinder its atmosphere present throughout the islands. While Roussel says that the world was influenced by the works of the French novelist Jules Verne, the game emits a steampunk vibe that furnishes most buildings and artifacts with polished brass, wooden interiors, and metal coils. Skies and weather effects were vibrant, and the water wasn’t too much of an eyesore. Environments look original and inviting. You’d be hard-pressed to not want to explore every inch of these small and beautifully detailed zones.
Sound-wise, Haven Moon’s near-perfection in scoring was offset by a poor foley effects and sound transitions. I give full credit to Leo J. Russlan – his taste in classical scoring shined through in every zone. Its mellifluous construction was commensurate with Haven Moon’s original level design and helped establish a calm and casual vibe indicative of cherished puzzle games. However, as soon as you left zones the transitions would just drop, which became a bit of a nuisance until you walked into its stellar oceanic ambiance. Although I’m sure this came down to budget, I would have appreciated some basic foley sounds such as footsteps, and stronger sounds pertaining to electric currents.
Haven Moon is definitely something fans of Myst or puzzle junkies should look into. The story isn’t much, but you can really fall in love with its challenging puzzles and environments (that’s enriched only by a soundscape that easily makes my list for favorite game scores of 2016). It’s retailing for $15 USD now. I’d say to wait for it until it goes on sale, unless you’re jonesing for a short but complex puzzler.
Haven Moon was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer.
Developer: Francois Roussel | Publisher: Francois Roussel | Genres: Adventure, Casual, Indie | Platform: PC, Mac, SteamOS + Linux | PEGI/ESRB: E | Release Date: July 8th, 2016 (PC/Mac)
P.S: For more information on the game, the developer is very involved in his own Steam discussion forums. In the past 24 hours, Roussel’s pinned a community-made walk-through (thanks rgomez246!), addressed a common bug issue, and explains to players new to the nuances of Myst–that you should not just beat it all in one setting, but critically think about what your next move should be. While this might go beyond the scope of the review, it’s a pointed note on the binge nature of how we as players game. In the ephemeral gaming culture of hoarding titles and having backlogs, the post made me think about how much I appreciate how much effort goes into thinking up mechanics in a game. I’m usually in a hurry to play through a game to move onto the next that I really don’t take the time to cherish all of its nuances. A cynical part of me thinks that this rhetoric is just meant to justify a short game, but right now he makes a salient point.