REVIEW: Haak (2022) – A post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk metroidvania

Metroidvanias are getting to a point where they’re a dime a dozen these days, with at least a few coming out every few weeks or so. I’m not complaining, because I’m new to the genre, and I’m now getting to play catch-up with some of the hits. 

But the slightly over saturated genre makes it so most big games industry outlets don’t cover very many of the indie metroidvanias anymore. Every once in a while, one will slip through the cracks and make it big, but most gain a small following among those in-the-know.

That’s the case for Haak, a relatively new game from Blingame, a Catonese-speaking development team, that has received a fair amount of good word of mouth over on the metroidvania subreddit this year.

Haak is named for its main character, which the developers say is Cantonese for Black. Haak has a brother named Baak, which is White in Cantonese. I have played through the entirety of the game and am still unsure of the significance of the meaning of the names. 

Haak finds himself chasing up leads in an effort to put a stop to a mind control scheme by an evil man in black. He also takes on side jobs from various NPCs in the game’s several little settlements, including one that has a treasure trove of abilities and upgrades to claim as you continue to find collectibles scattered across the game’s numerous zones.

The game features an interesting cast of characters trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk setting complete with evil robots, crazed-people and strange creatures to fight. 

And while the game’s combat is solid, it hardly feels like the point, as it tends to focus on interesting, challenging platforming, movement mechanics, exploration and collectibles.

There are a handful of bosses to beat and a few areas that will lock you into a room until you take out some enemies, but it doesn’t have as many boss fights as other metroidvanias – in case you’re looking for a more combat-centric game.

Like any good metroidvania, Haak feels very rewarding because continued exploration, especially of previous areas, but now with new abilities, always adds even more abilities or upgrades for existing abilities.

The genre is known for games that offer satisfying progression and gameplay loops, and Haak hits the mark on both.

It’s also a continually more and more interesting story that unfolds over the course of the game. It even involves an inception-style quest where you invade the mind of a character to try to change it.

There is a full quest log in the menu that allows you to track your progress through main and side missions.

There are also a fair amount of quality of life improvements to the proceedings, including a quest log entry that keeps track of passcodes you accumulate throughout the game that are used to open locked doors.

And if painfully difficult boss fights aren’t your thing, Haak offers vending machines just outside of boss rooms where you can buy buffs for yourself, and sometimes debuffs for the boss encounter, to help you get through them. 

BUT, buying those help items slowly lowers your skill/difficulty rating as you complete the game. If it’s any consolation, I typically found that a bit of backtracking for some upgrades was usually the key to getting through any of the boss fights, such that I rarely felt the need for the help.

Nevertheless, it’s a clever system that allows you to choose how difficult you want the game to be, without giving you the standard “easy, normal, hard” modes.

If I had to complain about the game’s explorable zones, I’d point out that though there is some variance to them, many of them look pretty samey, considering you’re often exploring robot-filled, post-apocalyptic bunkers and buildings. Yet that never bothered me because of how each area offers quite a variety of interesting, challenging platforming sections that make good use of the movement mechanics.

The only complaint I have about the story is its lack of resolution for the main character’s central motivation. The main conflict in the game does come to a satisfying resolution, but Haak’s main driving force appears left to be continued in either a DLC or sequel game.

Despite these minor complaints, I’d call Haak a great entry in the metroidvania genre. It’s one that quickly sunk its hooks in me, and thanks to its compatibility with the Steam Deck (it’s also on Switch) I literally couldn’t put it down at times.

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