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Haven: Call of the King

First Impressions - Midway's jack-of-all-trades turns out to be Jak of Naughty Dog's trade, but Tom still likes it

Haven has been applauded (mostly by publisher Midway) for offering a complete mixture of genres in one product. But it's not a dreaded party game, it's a Jak & Daxter style adventure. Well, let's call a spade a spade - it's a Jak & Daxter rip-off. Virtually everything, including the menu interface, the on-screen text, the world design, the smooth, rounded, wide vista'd game engine, the tasks, the main character's abilities, the collectibles, even the presence of a natty sidekick - it's all ripped straight from Naughty Dog's seminal PS2 platformer and repackaged by Traveller's Tales. But get this: it's been repackaged rather well.

In fact, I was a bit pissed off at having to throw down the pad and get on with some work this morning. Generally speaking, any early morning slouch involves TV and breakfast, rather than games and excitement, but having been woken at some godless hour by an over-enthusiastic transatlantic phone call ("but it's midday in En-ger-land!?") and settled myself down with Haven, I'm rather inclined to say it was worth it.

The ship you rode in on

I am Jak's seamless environments

Throwing you straight in at the deep end, deposited on a wobbly jetty by an enormous schooner, your little character (and he looks tiny - some sort of Hobbit reference perhaps), you gaze around at your eerily J&D-esque surroundings. The bridge is made up of individual wooden planks, each lovingly textured, and the grassy hills which jut out over the ocean ahead are finely detailed but ostensibly flat. A bit of fiddling with the Dual Shock reveals a familiar X jump, square attack combo, with a sort of ethereal shield on circle and a freeform camera controlled by the right analogue stick, which can of course be centred by tapping either L2 or R2. Double-jump? Check. Lasso-style attack (with a yo-yo)? Check. The ability to grab ledges and pull one's self up? Check. It's all very unsurprising and comfortable.

Moving inland, you start collecting egg-shaped objects, and it's only in situations where you're adding to your collection of trinkets (eggs, feathers and other task-specific items) that you see the HUD, which also tracks your health (you have a certain number of hearts to extinguish through negligence before you're deposited back at the start of a section). A quick tap of the start button reveals lots of J&D-style options in a shamelessly J&D-esque menu system. This lists your current objectives in a given area in a bit of detail. It's actually a bit odd that so little effort has been put into disguising the extent of the similarities here - if anything, it's as though the developer is flaunting it, arguing that they can do just as well if not better.

Déjà vu, anybody?

I am Jak's shadow

Well I don't know about that. For a start, the visuals aren't up to J&D. The draw distance is immense, but there's no 60Hz mode (everyone jeers), there's a lot less definition and clarity to the design, and the main character (and his winged sidekick Talon) are dwarfish and rather chunky. Animation is uniformly adequate, but little more. Enemies zoom around the landscape, or pop up from beneath the foliage, and wield clubs, projectile weapons and bad breath, but they don't have the liveliness of their J&D counterparts. The hero's jumping animation is particularly awkward, matching the game's jumping behaviour. There's almost no animation in fact, and the double-jump merely has you miraculously change direction upward again on descent.

This doesn't detract too much, however, and once you've collected three cogs littered nearby, clambered across another rickety bridge, and negotiated some platforms (complete with jumping fish to dodge), you can install the cogs on a defunct manual lift and haul yourself up to the top of the island, avoiding some fire and gas exhausts as you go. Once at the top, you enter the Chamber of Doom. Quaint? Very.

Our hero slashes with his yo-yo

I am Jak's levels-within-levels

But the Chamber of Doom is a revelation. The object is to collect five red feathers and then call for Talon. Each feather is hidden behind a simple puzzle and the area (much like the name) has glorious Indiana Jones/The Mummy overtones. As you nab one feather, the ground below you sinks and hordes of black death beetles are unleashed. Should your feet fail you, you'll suffer a rather unpleasant death at their many, many hands.

Elsewhere, you have a floor tiled with arrows. On the other side of the room is a doorway, and beyond that the next feather. Step onto an arrow pointing forward and all the tiles ahead of it fall to the floor far below. Step back off and they return. The trick is to navigate your way across without coming unstuck and having to begin again, and not jumping either, because if you do, all the tiles fall and spikes thrust out from the wall to impale you.

Back to the list. Exploding barrels? Check.

I was Jak's first hour

So far we've ridden zip-lines, evaded death beetles, negotiated an underground maze worthy of Indiana Jones himself, escaped said maze as it collapsed dramatically around us, and not once - despite the shameless embezzlement of virtually every aspect of the game - wanted to let go. Haven: Call of the King is, on first impressions, intensely derivative, but decidedly enjoyable on account of it. Hopefully Traveller's Tales can keep this rather entertaining fraud going for a decent length of time, and build up a nice (perhaps even funny) plot to go with it. If they can, then this could be one of this year's sleeper hits.

But what of the many, many genres claim? There's little evidence of it yet. Find out whether Haven lives up to its ambition and if Traveller's Tales can pull off a cheeky success story in our review closer to the game's November 15th release date.

Haven: Call of the King screenshots (PS2)

Haven: Call of the Consoles