It’s a PS3 exclusive, afterall…
Free Radical are known for producing top-notch first-person shooters (see Timesplitters and Goldeneye), so it should come as no surprise their latest endeavor is in the same genre. Originally announced as a 360, PS3 and PC title, Haze has since found exclusivity on Sony’s hardware. Using their own proprietary graphics engine, Free Radical’s newest FPS tries to push boundaries, in both the technical and philosophical senses, but what we’re left with is a game which doesn’t do much to fuel the PS3’s exclusivity cause.
War, what is it good for…
War is an irrevocable outcome from an inability to understand an antagonistic side. The selling point in Haze is a story component meant to highlight two sides of a battle field. For each warring group (the Mantel Corporation or the Promise Hand), they have their reasons for fighting, and believe their cause is the most just. There is no objectivity or good versus evil in war, technically; instead, there are only differing opinions on who is the bad guy.
That’s the premise behind Haze, anyway. The year is 2048, and you are a Sergeant straight out of college: Shane Carpenter. To begin with, all you know is you’ve joined the Mantel army to help people in a time of conflict. You join up with Sgt. Morgan Duvall, and company, and soon find yourself fighting the rebel group, the Promise Hand, who has apparently been committing acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing, at the discretion of the group’s leader, Gabriel “Skin Coat” Merino.
The game is fairly straightforward, but the story is meant to be something bigger. In this case, it’s hard to tell if the developers wanted a serious game to contemplate moral dilemmas, or a satirical one. Either way, gameplay is divided into two parts: Mantel and rebel missions. After awhile you learn Mantel has come to the Boa region of South America to extract Nectar, a chemical agent the group administers to its army to enhance speed, vitality and reaction timing. Eventually you’re painted as a traitor with weak convictions, as you become disjointed from the Nectar system, join up with rebel group and become a Code Haze.
It’s not to say that the script doesn’t try, but in the end, the story feels contrived. Over-the-top dialogue, mixed with an underdeveloped philosophical debate about good versus evil, becomes a forgettable context for simply shooting the other guy. When the story is over, you might find yourself scratching your head wondering what just happened, or just not caring about it completely—some segments switch to a Condemned-like vision, with swears being bleeped out in one section, in a game that is filled with obscenities.
Well, at least it plays well, right?...
The story is obviously the focus of the game, as just about all parts of it revolve around the narrative. Sadly, just as lacking as the story itself is, so too are other elements.
Like the publisher’s Vegas titles, missions are handled in a streamlined manner, with flights in helicopters or rides in trucks between missions. Very seldom do you have to sit through a loading screen, as there are in-game, non-interactive cinematic sequences. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a bad thing, as the sections flow nicely together; however, as was said before, the dialogue is uninspired and tries too hard to delve into deep philosophical inquiries. The inability to skip these sequences, complete with voice-overs which make it too apparent they have been done in a studio, leave you without any reason to replay the campaign a second time.
One is such a lonely number…but four doesn’t make it better…
Things aren’t much better if you decide to make a go at the game with three other friends online, or another buddy locally. When playing cooperatively, the story makes little sense, since your partners also assume Shane's identity. Playing with a friend locally offers the same confusing experience, at the price of a fixed vertically-divided screen; there is no option to switch between horizontal or vertical displays.
Not to mention, the game is short to begin with, and can be played through in about six hours or so—it would be less if not for the in-game cinematics. However, if you chose to play with competent human players, instead of the near-useless A.I., expect to breeze through game on the hardest difficulty.
Yes, I blew up a tank with a handgun and a couple of grenades…
On the technical side of things, the experience is just as disappointing. While animations move well during the cinematics, and smoke effects look superb, everything else falls short. Character designs are fairly basic, with each side having three distinct classes of soldiers. This makes sense for the Mantel soldiers—who look like a cross between a bumblebee and Lord Helmet’s soldiers in Space Balls—but as for the rebel group, either the same guys fight over and over again, or they’ve somehow figured out cloning by 2048.
Filter effects look nice, with real-time dynamic lighting, but explosions are fairly underwhelming. There is also a claustrophobic feeling to the game, as the term “corridor shooter” has been taken too literally. It’s great to see the enemy try to flank you, but when you run into invisible walls, there’s something lacking in a game. The visuals are there, but tiled tree lines, boring level design and plain textures don’t produce much excitement. Also, even running at 30 fps, the game can slow down with a lot of explosions and other on-screen happenings.
To go along with the sub par voice-overs (except Merino), are a handful of repetitious battle-cries, which your compatriots will yell every two minutes as you progress through levels. All is not lost, as other audio effects sound great, like giant mortar guns firing rounds with a thunderous boom.
Other, simple, elements round out the less-than-stellar experience that is Haze. Each side only has a few standard weapons, which can take out just about any vehicle. However, the drivable trucks and ATVs don’t handle especially well, and only add to the unrefined feel of the game.
Both sides have their strengths and weaknesses—Mantel soldiers have Nectar to regain health quicker, run faster and spot enemies easier, while the Promise Hand can feign death, scavenge ammo to turn into ammo needed, use Nectar-infused weapons to cause Mantel soldiers to overdose and go into a blind rage, or roll for evasive maneuvers—but the mechanic does little to add to the it’s-just-another-FPS reaction.
Well, there are bots…so, I guess you’ll always be able to play multiplayer…
Along with online co-op play, Haze offers adversary game types as well. You have your choice to play with up to 15 others in six different maps, with your standard Death Match, Team Death Match and objective-based games.
You can choose to tweaking game options and map rotations, but the best part is the availability of bots, which can be replaced by real players as they join. Unfortunately, even having bots to fill online games doesn’t save matches from being played in maps that are entirely too big for even 16 players.
Ultimately, Haze is still sitting in the wake of Call of Duty 4, and falls into that category of being just another FPS. The game tries to include different content with Nectar abilities and rebel dynamics, but a confused story, lacking gameplay elements and technical bugs bog the game down from being a stellar PS3 exclusive. It’s worth a rental, but know that Haze isn’t a name you want throw out there next time you’re having a console-focused debate.
+ Bots in online play ensure you always have 16 players
+ Great animations give characters a “realer” feeling
+ Tries to death with the philosophical/ideological dilemma of war
Oh, hell no:
- Short campaign, without the ability to skip in-game cinematics
- Overacted, “Huh?” plot
- Mantel-Rebel dynamic misses the mark