Exclusively developed for the Playstation 3 platform, Ubisoft and Free Radical create the futuristic FPS Haze. Pumped up on a super-powered drug you will fight a war against a Guerrilla uprising in the not to distant future. Part Halo, part Half-Life with a dose of hallucinogens, Haze offers up some interesting questions while keeping the adrenaline moving as you peer through the haze of bullets, lies and deception.
From across the pod in Nottingham, Free Radical has put all there efforts into creating a unique first-person shoot for gamers who own a Playstation 3. Free Radical who is primarily famous from their work on acclaimed Time Splitters series. Free Radical fans, like me, have been looking forward to Haze for some time now, since Haze's announcement it has gathered a considerable amount of press. It's been three years since Free Radical's last project and as Haze completed its hefty mandatory install, I was curious to see what Free Radical and new Publishing mates Ubisoft have cooked up.
So far, I’ve seen the press on Haze which isn’t saying much for the game as its receiving average, to below average scores. As I played through the single player campaign I started to wonder why Haze was hitting such a low mark with the critics. I understand the games main grip, the poor graphics and standard gameplay, but that doesn’t mean Haze is a total bust. Haze might be a little disappointing because it’s one of the first highly anticipated third-party shooter for the Playstation 3 and expectations where set extremely high, but even though Haze might not be the so-called “Hallo Killer” it still is an interesting game to uncover.
Haze is for the most part you’re traditional action-based FPS. Like other games in the genre Haze tries to capture the feel of Halo by adding simple minded computer controlled squad-mates, driven by in-game cinematics while balancing the action between vehicle and on-foot mission segments. Interestingly, Haze runs its course without optimizing load times so the whole experiences plays out in one sitting. There is no mission structure, just a free running game with the standard invisible checkpoints. Haze isn’t hard, or too easy, it’s one of those games that feels comfortable to sit down and enjoy the experience without “playing” it too hard. In this fashion Haze reminds me of the fun loving times I had with Time Splitters, but that’s about it. Comparable, these games are nothing alike besides the science fiction angle and that they where both shooters. Where Time Splitters could take a moment to poke some fun and have a laugh or two, Haze is all serious business that never breaks it's over-dramatic presence.
In basics Haze does everything like other FPS games, however it also brings in a few new game elements, some that work, and some that don't. Taking the game into new territory is the inclusion of a military concocted wonder drug called Nectar and a plot-driven narrative that opens up the door to new gameplay elements and a new storyline arch. The plotline behind Haze puts the gamer in the boots of the impressible Shane Carpenter, a solider in the military branch of the Mantel Corporation. The Mantel Corporation mixes normal soldiers with the generically enhancing pharmaceutical drug Nectar. On Nectar, which can be administered during the gameplay, you are injected with a boost in your natural abilities including speed, accuracy, healing and strength. It also turns enemy soldieries into bright lighted characters in a darkened background which makes taking down the enemy’s simple, even when they are hidden in terrain.
On Nectar you really feel like a super soldier above the common thug. Of course taking too much of any drug isn’t good, and Nectar has its side effects. Giving your character over-doses will because you’re suit to glow red instead of yellow and cause you to loose temporarily control of some of your actions. This causes the character to become a danger to everyone around them including your squad. If a squad mate has overdosed, or been infected with too much Nectar they are pretty much a right off. With too much Nectar in your veins, the computer controlled characters go crazy and internally combust. You’re character will experience a change in your perception of the game world with altered colours on the screen, crazy noises being added into the mix and lose of control. In no way does this help your performance and even though you have a set amount of regenerative Nectar, you won’t want to over juice.
On the other end of the storyline is the segregated “rebel” population that the Mantel Corporation is attempting to snuff out. In the start of the game you will be on the chasing the heels of one leader Gabriel Merino, an accused skin wearer called “Skin Coat” by the Mantel Corporation. Yes, someone who wears the skin of dead people... or does he? During the chase of Haze’s Buffalo Bill you slowly start to see the world for what it really is. You’re perception will start to get a little hazy itself as your body slowly looses the proper dosage of Nectar. This leads the character into a plot twist, that you purposely see coming a mile a head of time... **minor spoiler alert** the chance to play as a member of the rebel faction who goes by the name The Promise Hand. Playing a rebel isn’t too much of spoiler since the game is based off letting the player experience two different styles of gaming and in the press since 2007.
As a member of the other side of the skirmish you will have another set of special abilities that rival the Mantel’s Nectar. One of those is the ability to play dead. Since, Mantel soldiers don’t see dead people (enter cheesy Sixth Senses joke) you can play dead by pressing L2 when you’ve been hit with bullets and spring up to surprise the enemy when they aren’t expecting it. On paper this idea seems very cool, but it’s a feature that seemed useless during the game. Don’t get me wrong, I played dead a fair amount, but it was just out of sheer curiosity and not because it helped my tactics or was fun. Staying in that frame of mind is the ability to steal the enemies’ weapon. Again, another cool feature on paper that really doesn’t need to be added into the game. The only time you would have to do this is if you are overly carless with ammunition. Speaking of ammunition a slowly building into the useful is the ability to change any time of ammo into the type of ammo for the weapon you have equipped in your hand. This is something that I was constantly doing and is a cool feature to have, mostly if you have one weapon you really like that you can’t scavenge off of the enemy, that’s you... sniper rifle. Lately, another feature that I never used much in the single player game, but is more useful online in multiplayer matches is the simple, but effective quick doge. Those rebels are slippery devils and the quick doge is how they do it.
Like I mentioned earlier, the gameplay mechanics in Haze is taken from every other FPS that has come out in the market which makes it easy to jump in and enjoy the action. The on-foot battles are far better then the vehicle segments that feel a little forced and unresponsive. Using vehicles helps break up the action from a straight shooter, however the loose controls make the vehicle seem weightless and too artificial in the game space. Like a lot of aspects in Haze, it game moments sounds better than they actually are. Blasting through a forest filled on a boosted ATV while enemies are waiting to ambush you around every turn sounds like fun, but it just doesn’t play out how it sounds and is a little underwhelming than what you would expect. If you want to get the most out of Haze you will have to turn off the brain a bit and just sit back and enjoy the experience for what it is. Like Michael Bay isn’t Martin Scorsese, Haze isn’t Bioshock.
One area of the gameplay that I found a little bewildering is how ineffective the juiced up Mantel soldiers are when you are fighting on the other side. While playing a Mantel solider you feel the benefit of Nectar as you have a clear advantage against the rebels. As a rebel it seems like you now have the advantage and the Mantel Corporation has forgotten how to fight. Nectar really never plays a role in the game even when the stronger enemies start rolling out. I definitely had an easier time taking out Mantel troopers as a Rebel then when the role was reversed. Adding a little more noticeable difference to the Mantel soldiers would have made the world of difference. A little FEAR could have gone a long way.
For the online modes in Haze you have a nice four player online co-op mode with support for two players on one screen. This will make a lot of gamers happy who enjoy having a few friends over to play through Haze. What I experience with the co-op mode with one other was a good solid experience. We never had any qualms with the how Haze implemented their co-op feature. Besides co-op, sixteen players can compete in a bunch of modes that pit the Rebels against the Mantel juice monkeys. Each side keeps their advantages which can make for some interesting online battles with rewarding accolades to brag about. Haze’s Multiplayer isn’t reinventing the wheel with its online component, but the co-op just might be enough to warrant a buy if you’re looking for a fun co-op game on the PS3.
For the graphics, an area where Haze has come out of heavy criticism are weak compared to other games that haven been released for the system. Underperforming, the blurred textures really push the game to look a below the standards of the PS3. Not to get the wrong impression, Haze doesn’t look utterly horrible, the game is good enough for the fast paced action the game provides, just don’t pause for too long to enjoy the scenery. The use of the yellow Mantel armour is a good idea that gives a solid diferencation between each faction. This is the highlight of Haze and everything besides the Nectar powered armour is straightforward from a design standpoint. The level design is all too familiar, along with the weapon and vehicles that inhabit the world. In one word, Haze is a little drab for those expecting blinding HD fireworks.
The audio is also a mixed bag. At times Haze can dig down and pull out some great voice acting and then it has soldiers shouting “meat” as they fire their machine gun into the sky. It’s an odd mix of seriousness and trying way too hard which is more apparent in some forced performances in the Haze-high cut scenes. Overall even though the fantasy world is a little too far from reality, it somehow works on its own level. The audio sound effects which include the weapons and atmospheric noise are good and sometimes fantastic in surround sound. For this the audio score gets a little boost because of its clever use of the audio, like when you shoot up a jolt of Nectar and you can faintly hear some heavy metal riff playing in one speaker, or the mumbled and jumbled up noise of when your hud goes down and Nectar is drained. You can hear the effort Free Radical spent on the audio and it works even without the endorsement of Korn.
Haze is the type of shooter that will be taken differently from every player. Some will love running around half blitzed on an adrenaline boosting Nectar, and others will find the entire experience a little shallow and contrived. However you take Haze, it’s clear it’s not the “Halo-killer” Sony has been waiting for, but really, does it half to be? In own merits, Haze is worth a rental if you enjoy FPS.