Review: Haze

Haze.jpg I really don’t understand all the Haze hate. True, it’s not the blockbuster PS3 exclusive hit it was hyped up to be, nor is it free of numerous design flaws, but then again it’s hardly some terrible, broken mess of a game that you should avoid like the plague as it has been portrayed by much of the gaming press. In fact, I think it is well worth giving at least a rental, especially if you’re an action junkie with friends around to team up with.

Haze has so many compelling ideas behind it, but the main problem is that most of said ideas just aren’t executed as promised. For me, the shallow, lifeless narrative is the biggest disappointment. It tells the story of one Shane Carpenter, a new recruit to Mantel Global Industries’ army of drug-enhanced super soldiers who believes he’s taking part in a noble mission to eradicate a resistance group known as the Promise Hand but eventually realizes that Mantel is using the powerful performance-enhancing drug known as Nectar as a form of mind-control and thusly switches sides to lead the rebel faction in its efforts to overthrow Mantel’s oppressive rule.

Have you seen the cult action flick Equilibrium? Haze’s plot plays out exactly the same way: hero starts on mind-control drug thinking it’s good, hero begins to realize maybe the drug isn’t so good and stops taking it, hero joins resistance group to take down the evil corporation. The difference is Christian Bale’s John Preston is way more badass than Shane Carpenter, the cast of characters in general is weak, the voice acting is pathetic and the entire script just plain falls flat. It’s almost as if Free Radical built the game first, then realized it needed a story to tie everything together and went back at the last minute to slap one on.

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Much like the story, Haze’s Nectar-based gameplay mechanics come across as poorly thought out and sloppily executed. Through the early missions when Shane is a Mantel soldier, you are able to take doses of Nectar in the heat of battle to gain a thermal vision ability called Nectar Perception and boost your speed, accuracy, strength and damage resistance for a short duration. While that may sound cool on paper, when actually used during gameplay these effects never seem to matter. There’s supposed to be a balancing act between using Nectar in short spurts to enhance your abilities while at the same time making sure you don’t go too Nectar crazy and risk an overdose, but the idea never comes to fruition. Except for scripted moments in the storyline, I never overdosed even one time throughout the entire game (or in subsequent co-op sessions). Free Radical definitely needed to take some notes on how Crytek implemented the suit ability system in Crysis. Haze’s Nectar system seems like it wants to pull off something similar, but ultimately it doesn’t work out nearly as well.

Similarly unbalanced is the game’s play dead mechanic. Throughout the second half of the game when Shane becomes a resistance guerrilla, he gains the ability to play dead in place of his former Nectar dependency. Again, the concept sounds interesting in theory but in reality isn’t properly executed. At any time you near death, you can click the L2 button to fall down and play dead. This grants you time to recharge your health and avoid the Nectar Perception of the opposing Mantel soldiers, then when your attackers look away or walk by you pop up and take them down by surprise. As you can well imagine, this ability makes the game far too easy. Even worse is how playing dead throws the online play completely out of balance. Playing on the guerrilla team in an online match is such an unfair advantage.

For all these negatives Haze has holding it back, it still manages to provide a good 8-10 hours of exhilarating, run-and-gun first-person shooting. The guys and gals at Free Radical, a team famous for the TimeSplitters franchise and being comprised of former members of Rare when the N64 classics GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark were created, know how to make fun FPSs, and the core shooting model in Haze still shows that.

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While weapon diversity is sparse, firing the weapons that do make up the game’s arsenal is wholly satisfying. Graphically, the game doesn’t quite live up to its billing as a PS3 exclusive built to tap into the console’s full power, but it’s hardly ugly. In fact, unless you specifically set out to examine everything up close and nitpick at the texture work, the game has an appealing style about it that I found plenty attractive. Many of the level environments are quite large in scale, too, and likewise there are some truly memorable set-piece battles contained within that’ll leave you in awe.

Another strong point to the Haze experience is its 2-4 player co-op mode. Unlike the poorly balanced competitive online play, the co-op play runs smoothly and is a synch to get in and out of. Playing through the campaign with a few buddies, or heck, even random strangers, provides the perfect atmosphere to simply savor the game for what it is without getting overly critical about its flaws.

Haze has ultimately become a victim of its own hype. Because many of its selling-point features weren’t fully realized, it’s easy to jump on the Haze-bashing bandwagon without giving the game an honest chance. You can bash and flame me all you want for saying this, but I honestly see no difference between Haze and the Halo games. I see both as straightforward, no-frills shooters that are heavy on fun but light on depth and innovation. And that’s fine. Not all games need to be timeless epics. Sometimes the simplest gaming pleasures come from the most rudimentary of shoot-em-ups. Trust me, if you block out that critical voice inside your head and just play it for what it is you’ll find that Haze offers a solid FPS experience sure to scratch that itchy trigger finger of yours.

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Pros:
+ Satisfying core shooting mechanics
+ Interesting level environments set the stage for some truly epic set-piece battles
+ Jump-in, jump-out co-op mode is great fun

Cons:
– Weak story further crippled by some of the worst voice acting and dialogue in recent memory
– Nectar and play dead mechanics are poorly balanced
– Unbalanced competitive online play

Game Info:
Platform: PS3
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Free Radical
Release Date: 5/20/08
Genre: FPS
Players: 1-16 (2-4 in co-op)

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!