One of my favourite TV shows is The Rookie, because you never have any idea what could happen next. No episode can go more than five minutes without some kind of twist, often with no relation to anything that has happened up until that point. Like, you think the stand-off between criminals and their victims in a courthouse nuclear bunker has been resolved, but it turns out that while the camera was off him, a lawyer got stabbed by someone else. Hauma is bringing that kind of energy to the visual novel space.
You play as Judith, a former detective and champion boxer who's wrapped up in solving the case her grandfather was working on before he died. On its face, Hauma is therefore a detective game in a pretty cool 2D comic book-style, with a slightly worse version of the Frogwares Sherlock Holmes mind palace as your inventory of clues, which you combine to logic your way through puzzles. But at the point where you're in a tunnel under the ruins of a Nazi temple in Munich, having discovered that the MacGuffin is a shin bone carved with the recipe for an eternal life drink (which was stolen by some nuns and taken to Bavaria, and then the nuns all got pregnant I guess?) - and, secondly, having recently survived a massive explosion at an Oktoberfest beer tent - you kind of think, well, things have gotten quite out of hand, haven't they?
Hauma is obviously going for an Indiana Jones vibe. Your key source is your grandfather's journal, which is full of notes and diagrams on what he researched. Whenever you find anything new, your best bet is to try mashing it into the notebook in your (slightly disorganised) mind palace, which usually transforms an item in your brain inventory from 'weird painting of bird' to 'symbol of immortality'. You can also mash different thoughts together for a similar effect, although sometimes it feels like the game is operating on its own slightly unfathomable logic about which connection is the correct one at that moment of the story - very much like a Frogwares Sherlock Holmes game, in fact.
But you've got your quasi-religious MacGuffin, you've got your clues and secret entrances hidden in plain sight - often in an old and municipally significant structure - and, you know, Nazis. I don't object to Nazis being in your story on principle; Indiana Jones built a career around it. But the word 'Nazis' appears in every flavour summary of Raiders Of The Lost Ark I've ever seen, while Hauma's Steam page references "the city's past", which is quite coy. In the context of the supernatural-ish mystery, of course, you are literally punching Nazis (the advantage of being a former boxing champion), so no worries there, and in the end, Hauma functions as a surprisingly decent historical and cultural tour of Bavaria's capital.
It also wildly varies how much work you need to do to as you toddle around. Sometimes it'll largely be done for you, if you can deduce the right action to take, while other times you'll be given an extremely complex cypher to solve. But to its credit, it usually gives you a brute force solution if you can't be arsed peering at a screen to combine geometric shapes in the right order. In fact, I was mostly slowed down by an unfortunate bug that sometimes didn't register the next thing I needed to click on as something I could, unless I left the room and walked back into it several times.
Each scene is a 2D location with static 2D characters, going for that stylised noir comic book look. There are a lot of great colour contrasts (yellow and turquoise, bright pinks and oranges) and generally each scene is really fun just to look at. There aren't loads, in fairness, because it's a really short game, but the art is probably the most accomplished thing about Hauma, and leaves a strong impression. Hauma is fully voiced, too, so the minimal-to-non-existent animation doesn't stop the game feeling alive. Interestingly, though, there's no obvious visual change for flashbacks that happen early on, involving a magical scorpion-skin cigarette, and I was slightly confused on the order some things happened.
But like The Rookie, it kind of doesn't matter if you lose the thread a couple of times, because Lord, some scenes escalate out of all proportion either way. Judith's most reliable sidekick is her brother, a stoner crossed with an encyclopaedia, and he of course gets kidapped, Judith's grandad's journal is taken, there are more explosions. In some respects, this is par for the mystery course. But it's things like Judith musing that she needs to show the mysterious bad guy that she's serious, and the correct response being just to get out a pen-knife and threaten him in a room full of people, that really made me giggle. Like, sure, that's one way to do it, Judith. Hauma is a bit frustrating in its main puzzle process (i.e. smashing thoughts together seemingly at random), but boy howdy, like a Roman watching Russell Crowe behead an opponent in the arena, you will be entertained.
This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by publishers Assemble Entertainment.