Hauntii is a twin-stick shooter like no other, with plenty of visual style, and a narrative that draws you in from minute one.
A lot of Gamescom is spent rushing around, dashing to make it to your next appointment and hoping that you're only five minutes late rather than ten. By the end you're tired, mostly ready to go home, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a gem when it pops up.
Hauntii was one of the last games I got to play at my time at Gamescom. It's a game about the afterlife. You spawn in as the titular Hauntii, in a place you don't recognise, without any memories of who you were in life and why you've been left here. Early on you'll get access to your primary fire and dash options, which allow you to clear out any shadowy creatures and avoid the darkness that stretches out endlessly beyond the small specks of light you encounter.
Hauntii isn't your typical twin-stick shooter. It's not about overloading you with enemies, making the gameplay frantic or putting the pressure on. It's about a story, Hauntii's story, to be specific, as we discover more about them and their quest to fly high with the Eternians, which are basically this game's version of angels. The narrative is the focus here, and it means that Hauntii has a slower, more relaxed pace, where you've got time to breathe in the gorgeous environments. With a unique sketch style to the visuals, I did find myself just quietly taking in the views on more than one occasion. The character designs are great as well. Cartoonish and cuddly, they invite you to the afterlife in a way that makes it seem a lot less daunting.
Just because the game sets itself at a slower pace and the visuals are amazing doesn't mean that there's nothing challenging about Hauntii. You're not just on a sightseeing tour here, and you will have to tackle enemies, even if they're not as intense as some other twin-stick shooters. The gameplay also leans on the haunt mechanic, where you can shoot an object or part of the environment and haunt it. Sometimes this will unlock a pathway for you to explore, or give you an advantage against certain enemies. It's an interesting mechanic that keeps the shooting from becoming too monotonous.
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Hauntii doesn't look to be an incredibly long game, with the experience taking about 10 hours, based on what I was told by the developers. But, with narrative adventures like this, there's no need for it to drag on, and there's a lot of replayability to be had if you want to collect all the memories that you can. It's a world that's easy to get lost in, one that feels full of passion from the developers in everything from the aforementioned visual style to the music queues. I was ordered to keep my headphones on and I'm glad that I did throughout my time playing Hauntii. Not only are you treated to a wistful soundtrack that brings you into the afterlife and all its mysteries, but there's also some great sound design in the combat and audio queues for certain events. When you stray too far from the light, for example, both the video and audio give an oppressive atmosphere, making it feel like you're being smothered by whatever beings lie in the dark.
In a genre that's usually about fast-paced combat, Hauntii is a breath of fresh air. Hopefully it's narrative can stand alone as a strong enough pillar to sell it, but from what I've seen so far, it's off to a solid start.