When a game get billed as the next big thing before anyone even gets a chance to play it, suspicion and caution kicks in. It's nothing to be surprised over, as every generation has had games that were mega-hyped, but mega-failed to deliver anything of substance. Whether it's a promised Zelda-killer, a GTA-killer, a Mario-killer, a Halo-killer, or a Gran Turismo-killer, disappointment is almost always in-store. Among upcoming shooters such as Resistance 2, Gears of War 2, and Killzone 2, there lies a new intellectual property, and it's Ubisoft's Haze. Haze has managed to garner a fair share of its own attention, seeing as how the developers behind it have brought us FPS games such as TimeSplitters and GoldenEye.
This publicity has also earned the game more than its fair-share of hyperbole. And the Free Radical game has often undergone questioning of when it'd finally be released, as release dates always seemed sketchy. Well, now that we've played Haze, we understand why the game's release date was always such an issue...Haze doesn't really feel like a complete product. The game's name is actually quite apt of describing it.
From the get-go, Haze's story comes off as simple and uninspired - this is one story that you've experienced far too many times. You are Shane Carpenter, an agent of Mantel Global Industries. You and your fellow troops have a beef with a faction who call themselves The Promise Hand. As a Mantel troop, you have the advantage of access to this wonderful performance enhancer -- which isn't a blue pill -- called Nectar. Characters inject nectar into themselves which heightens a variety of their abilities. The most notable change is the ability to thermally detect enemies, as the nectar injection allows you to see an enemy's body heat - this'll help you spot threats from a distance.
When you've spotted enemies, you can pick them off with your weapons. As you'd expect, well placed shots to the head will neutralize an enemy immediately, where as shooting at a torso may require a few bullets. No matter what weapon you use, be it a rifle or a standard handgun, you have the ability to use a more precise, zoomed-in perspective to take down enemies from afar. The zoomed-in perspective isn't simple either, as it's assisted by the abilities of your suit, making distant aiming with even a handgun easy.
Additionally, nectar stabilizes your zoomed-in aim, as well. But before you think you can just juice your way through the game, you're limited to a capacity of five nectar injections. On the other hand, earlier on in the game, you can take one from a teammate if you're running low. Or you can wait for nectar shots to refill gradually as you play through a stage. Nectar an also do damage, as injecting too much can kill you, and have other negative side-effects that damper your abilities and perception (thus the game's name). A full injection lasts about a minute, which is long enough to get rid of a wave of enemies.
With the Nectar premise explained, allow me to continue on about Haze's poor story. Be forewarned, the following may be a bit spoiler-ish, so turn away if you haven't the foggiest idea of Haze's background...still there? So, the story is absurdly predictable, as you can see the game's plot-twist coming from a mile away. Shane realizes that the organization he represents is evil, and switches sides to loosely ally himself with The Promise Hand, the faction whose hordes of troops he killed. So now, as a member of The Promise Hand, you inherit new anti-Mantel abilities, such as throwing knives infused with an excessive amount of Nectar for an overdose kill, playing dead, among other tricks.
My complaints with Haze are that the game doesn't seem to break the mold of what most FPS games have already offered. Its firepower offering isn't new, as weapons do little-to-nothing to bring excitement to the table, unlike other FPS games. Which leads me to another issue that I have with the game; the shooting doesn't feel impactful. Where as in games like Resistance, every shot fired felt like it packed a punch, you don't get that same level of feedback with Haze - and I'm not even talking about force feedback from a controller. So there's this feeling that you're disconnected from the experience, and, in addition to the problems above, this creates a lack of immersion.
Then there's the troubled A.I. The artificial intelligence feels largely the same no matter what difficulty level you're playing on. They don't perform any advanced techniques, they don't seem to be adapting to your presence, they duck for cover randomly, as opposed to when you're actually shooting them, and so on. The A.I. feels more like a pack of randomly generated minions whose purpose is to run-and-gun, (not that they are randomly generated, but they act like they are). If you're looking for A.I. on Uncharted's level, this ain't it.
Multiplayer features aren't abundant, either. You have a choice of either 4-player Campaign co-op, 16 player Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, or Assault. That's it. More or less, you either play co-op, or a deathmatch variation. Not like multiplayer could've really saved Haze, as its hollow gameplay would've prevented enjoyment online. As far as other bits of value are concerned, Haze's core will barely last you 6-7 hours, so you're much better off doing something else with that $60.
Then we have the game's boring presentation, which isn't the least bit engrossing as I'd hoped for it to have been, largely thanks to the hyperbole of "freeplay" interactive cut-scenes. Not only are the cut-scenes barely interactive (you get to swing the camera around during a cut-scene), but they aren't even particularly entertaining, and the voice-acting is dreadful.
Visually, I barely gave the demo the benefit of the doubt weeks ago, I had suspected that perhaps textures could've been downsampled to keep the download size smaller. But because 1.5GB isn't exactly a small demo (one of the largest on PSN, actually), I was well aware that the possibility of the demo textures being a final product was good. Well, I was right. The same washed out textures from the demo are present in the final game, ruining practically every point of the game you look at.
To make matters worse, on top of being nothing remotely impressive, Haze actually runs at a sub-HD resolution of 576p, which technically makes it an 'enhanced definition' game, as opposed to a 'high definition' title. With GTAIV running at 630p (a number that's quite higher than Haze) it was forgivable considering its scope, but with Haze, it's rather pathetic. Haze's only redeeming visual qualities are its decent lighting effects, and that it runs at a solid 30 frames per second with no aliasing or screen tearing issues to be seen. But the overall aesthetic product is a failure.
As mentioned already, the game's audio isn't anything to behold. Normally, I suggest playing intense games with the volume up, and encourage people to look into surround sound setups just to enjoy the experience further. With Haze, I recommend doing none of that. The terrible voice acting mars the gameplay so much that Haze would've been better off with sub-titles, instead. Yes, it's that bad.
If you were expecting the next groundbreaking FPS with Haze, your expectations will be shattered. For a budget title worth $30, Haze wouldn't have been a bad game - considering that it offers half the experience of most other FPS games. But for $60, you're burning money. Haze offers little to no substance, a poor story, gut-wrenching voice acting, and a non-existent sense of immersion. Avoid this one at all costs, at least until you see it at the bargain bin for $10.
5/27/2008 Arnold Katayev