Review: Haque

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Review copy provided by developer

Several years ago, I played a small indie horror game called CAPSULE. It was only an hour long and consisted entirely of watching a radar screen, but it sold the experience with how convincing the presentation was. It’s stuck with me all these years, and now Haque is grabbing my attention in much the same way. While the core gameplay is decidedly familiar the presentation wrapped around it is not, evoking memories of dirty CRT monitors and obnoxiously clicky keyboards. It’s enough to elevate the game from just another roguelike, though if your focus is on mechanics it might not hold quite the same appeal.

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You have been chosen to save a blighted land from evil. As for what that evil is, or even what the land is, your mysterious guide is rather pointedly tight-lipped. The old man who advises you and interjects now and then is more interested in chatting about the way things used to be than how they are now, and is rather pointed in what he doesn’t want you to think about. Your quest takes you through a number of forests, swamps, caves, and ruins to face monsters of imposing size and aggression. You’ll have your trusty pet to help you, of course, as well as whatever gear and items you find along the way, but nothing will prepare you for the revelations to be had as your journey reaches its close.

I won’t spoil how the presentation of the game ties into the game itself, but the glitches when you get low on life and the initial DOS-esque loading screens aren’t just there for kitsch factor. The presentation of Haque is a part of the game in a big way, and eventually will cross over with the gameplay itself. Even aside from the creativity of that angle, the faux-CRT graphics complete with monitor smudges and scan lines do a lot to enhance the chunky pixel art of the game. All of your actions are also accompanied by old-school keyboard clicks, despite the game being entirely mouse or controller-driven. For us older gamers it can bring back nostalgia for classic interfaces, but even without that it’s a unique presentation in a crowded genre.

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It’s a definite plus that the presentation is so unique, because the moment-to-moment gameplay is quite a bit less so. In classic roguelike fashion the game is turn-based, determining how many times enemies and allies can move for each of your turns based on speed stats. Your race, class, and equipment determine your active skills, and can include anything from dashing strikes to poison clouds to turning into a werewolf. You’ll also have consumables like potions and smoke bombs if you can find them, and your trusty pet who, in classic roguelike fashion, is probably going to be a more effective fighter than you over the first few levels. After each level you get to pick one perk based on your race and/or class, but there’s no leveling up or tinkering to do with your stats aside from donning equipment.

At its core, the combat in Haque is the bump-combat you get in something like NetHack or ToME. The difference is that there’s less character progression and fewer tactical options here than in games like those. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you’re looking for more of a coffee-break roguelike than a mechanically deep one, but you’ll need to keep that in mind as you strategize. Funneling enemies through doorways and whittling beefy foes down with ranged attacks is key here, because your options will be limited once foes are in melee range. I do appreciate the varied class skills like stealth and transformation but in the end they mainly serve to help you survive or avoid melee combat.

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You’ll get a fair bit of variety from those randomized races and classes at character selection, which gives the game more of a “one more run” draw than just the combat would otherwise. Some of them are seriously inspired, like mushroom sorcerers and eagle werewolves (yes that is an eagle that turns into a wolf-person), and all have equally random pets from dogs and cats to penguins and candle-lit skulls. There’s definitely enough to dig into here, and the presentation paired with the intensely pleasant soundtrack is sure to keep your attention. It’s not the deepest or the most challenging roguelike, but the unique look and feel do a lot to carve out a place for Haque in the world.

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