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Space Haven gives you a choice: befriend a cannibal or freeze in the vacuum of space

To survive players must keep moving

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Two red-shirted characters hold weapons up against two other AI characters. One has a white flag over their head signalling surrender.
Two pirates surrender to a player-led boarding party in Space Haven.
Image: Bugbyte via Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The colony simulation genre is known for being pretty slow, often lacking the action-packed pacing common in other kinds of video games. Space Haven, which was released into Steam Early Access in late May, uses the same sort of complex, layered systems that make games like Dwarf Fortress and Rimworld so satisfying. But it also introduces a sense of speed and momentum that other games in the genre lack.

In Space Haven, players are tasked with shepherding a small crew of survivors off a dying world and across the galaxy to safety on a new planet. Standing in their way are multiple warring factions and the cold, hard vacuum of space. On paper the premise sounds a lot like FTL: Faster Than Light, but Space Haven’s complexity sets it apart.

Space Haven gave me control of every single aspect of my spaceship, right down to the color and style of the interior bulkheads. I was free to make my ship entirely self-sustaining, a sprawling vessel filled with engineering facilities and food production labs that could keep my crew going for weeks on end. Alternately, I could outfit my ship to be a pirate vessel, moving from one target of opportunity to another, taking what I needed to survive by force of arms. There’s even serviceable real-time tactical gameplay, which allows you to board other ships and take crews prisoner.

The catch is that whatever choices I make have to be made quickly. Fuel rods, which keep the ship’s internal systems humming, are consumed night and day. I can loot them from abandoned derelicts scattered around, and I can to manufacture them from materials that I mine at remote asteroids. But there are only so many fuel rods to be had inside a given system. The driving force in Space Haven comes from this scarcity of resources. It’s best to grab what you can and keep moving.

Three player-controlled characters wearing speacesuits explore a frozen ship. A hull breach has scattered debris in the bottom of the scene.
Exploring derelict spacecraft can be harrowing, especially if there are giant insects on board. Ichor on the floor and walls here shows the aftermath of a boarding action. Ice covers the floor and ceiling.
Image: Bugbyte via Polygon

Traveling from one star system to another requires a hyperspace jump. Crossing the gap between stars means putting the crew into suspended animation, and building the necessary hypersleep chambers requires very rare resources. That makes for some fascinating choices.

Do I decommission part of the grow lab to reclaim what I need for a fifth hypersleep chamber? Or do I just push someone inconsequential out the airlock and put the pedal down?

In my first playthrough I never got the chance to make that decision. That’s because a fire broke out inside the prison block that I had only just outfitted a few days earlier. The smoke and toxic gasses quickly overwhelmed the prisoners. Blocked from reaching the airlock, my crew was trapped on the bridge. The ship eventually ran out of fuel rods. Two made a run for it, only to asphyxiate halfway through engineering. That’s when the heat shut off, freezing my other two crew members in place at their stations.

In another playthrough, my ship was destroyed by pirates while trying to flee a contested system. On another, I found a derelict ship floating around a distant moon, only to discover a hypersleep chamber inside. The survivor quickly joined my crew. She was different, though; I found her eating human remains in the break room two days later.

A data log in the Starfarer series titled “Hear your babies crying” tells the story of a crew lost in space ... just like yours.
The game has several other narratives that play out in parallel to your own, shared in the form of datalogs found scattered inside other ships.
Image: Bugbyte via Polygon

Space Haven isn’t finished yet, and it’s not properly balanced. Some close-quarters weapons are wildly overpowered, and there’s no armor that I can find to counteract them. The crews on enemy ships never tried to board me, and rarely put up much of a fight when I boarded them. You can create a fleet of ships if you want, but there’s little benefit that I can find as it’s incredibly hard to keep them all fueled up and moving at the same time.

But the systems that rule Space Haven work, and they work exceedingly well in concert with resource scarcity to make a compelling management sim. While developer Bugbyte keeps working on it, you can have a pretty good time just sitting in the game’s sandbox mode building out the perfect spaceship. But I recommend playing through the campaign mode. Even in its unbalanced state, it’s still the most consistently exciting colony simulation game that I’ve ever played.

Space Haven is available on Steam for $22.99, and is compatible with Linux. Mac, and Windows PC.

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