Haze - Review
By Dillon - May 24, 2008
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Keep Nectar off the streets.
Haze is the highly anticipated first person shooter from acclaimed developer Free Radical (Time Splitters series). Unfortunately, their first game running on next generation hardware fails to meet expectations in many ways. One of the weakest aspects of Haze is the visuals, even though the developers only needed to concentrate on one platform (PlayStation 3). The sound effects are decent but the dialogue is repetitive and the voice acting is downright awful most of the time. A potential strong point could have been the story but a terrible execution ruins an otherwise interesting plot. Gameplay can be fun, but most of the time it’s either extremely mediocre or just plain bad. The major redeeming factor in Haze is the online play, but is it enough to save the package as a whole?
Usually when a game is exclusive to a single platform (Uncharted: Drakes Fortune PS3; Gears of War 360) it has the potential to really show off that particular system’s graphical prowess, so you’d think Haze would look great, right? Wrong. While Haze has it's brief moments of semi-beauty, most of the time you’ll be staring at a bland, blurry, and/or muddy texture. Whether that texture pops into view or just slowly meshes into existence...who knows. It’s hard to believe this game looks as bad as it does, yet there are so many glitches everywhere you look. You will encounter a few moments where you say, “Hey that looks kind of nice...” but it happens sparingly.
The game only looks worse when you go online. It even resembles Counter Strike at times, and that’s not a good thing. You don’t often see a game this generation that looks this dreadful, but at least the framerate holds up nicely. It’s not perfect and you will see dips here and there, but overall it’s fairly steady. At first glance Haze has a nice art style, but the technical side of the engine just cannot hold up to current standards.
Welcome to the jungle, we've got... not much.
Haze’s audio reminds me of another game I reviewed, the first in fact. You see in both these games, the sound effects are actually pretty good. The gunfire and explosions sound decent and luckily that’s what you’ll be hearing most of the time. Unfortunately like that other game the dialogue is terrible and the voice acting could deafen you for weeks. Lines like “boooshhh!!” and “It’s like stealing candy from a crippled baby!” show the depth of character in the Mantel troopers. All of these meatheads have some sort of testosterone filled line to spit out. Flip sides to the Rebel fighters and you might just need ear replacement surgery. The constant lines they scream are unbearably repetitive the more you play. By the end of you game you’ll have most definitely muted the voices.
Yet another similarity to that unnamed game (Lost Planet) is the atrocious music blasting in your ears. As a Mantel trooper you can administer Nectar into your bloodstream. Apparently as a side effect to this drug corny music plays upon administration, as if you were watching an Uwe Boll movie. As a whole, the audio is neither good nor bad, but about the same amount of both.
A story can look very interesting on paper, but you have to execute it correctly. Haze fails at a good or even decent execution. The story unfolds in a very uninspired and boring manner. You are Shane Carpenter, an elite Mantel soldier. Mantel is the largest Private Military Corporation in the world. Mantel uses Nectar (A drug that enhances a person’s combat ability...at a price). Mantel wants the rebels dead. Why is anyone’s guess as you’re never really given any explanation for what you’re doing as a trooper.
I guess that’s a good enough reason for Shane to defect to the rebels. The rebels are not quite as advanced or battle hardened in combat, but they still hold their own well enough. The problem with the story is not the tale itself but the way it is told. You really don’t care about anything that’s happening in Haze at any point in time. I see what the developers were going for- you play as the bad guys then switch to the good, but it doesn’t work well at all. It might if you felt attached to any of the characters but that’s impossible since they’re all so shallow. Even the main guy, Shane, is a whining loser who you just don’t want to play as. Not to mention Haze has a terrible intro and the worst ending in a videogame I’ve seen in a long time.
Now you’ve seen the worst Haze has to offer... terrible graphics, so-so audio, and a poorly executed story. Gameplay manages to improve over these categories marginally. It can be fun for about 25% of the campaign. The other 75% is either mediocre, frustrating, or abysmal. Most of the fun comes in the form of straight up shooting. There are also vehicle segments and on-rails sequences, but they range from boring to just plain ridiculous. While the shooting can be a little fun, the weapons lack power and variety. You’ll often ask yourself why you continue to play since it’s likely you’re just not having any fun.
It’s definitely worth noting that Haze tries very hard to get you to stop playing for the first two hours of gameplay. Playing as a Mantel trooper just feels too easy and you’ll be very bored for the first 3rd of the game. It does pick up speed once you switch sides as the level design for the rebels fairs much better.
Haze has some stuff to like, and it can sometimes stand out as “not just another shooter”. Unfortunately most of the time that’s just what it is, another mediocre shooter, or worse. The gunplay feels fine, but the controls will definitely have to be customized from the get go as the default setting is terrible. When playing as a Mantel trooper you feel powerful, but when playing as a rebel the opposing Mantel AI is just plain stupid. They never take advantage of the Nectar powers available to them so the whole game comes off way to easy. You will get stuck on some parts, but that’s mostly due to bad level design. As for the Nectar itself, well, let’s jut say it’s got my vote for gimmick of the year. It doesn’t add anything to the experience and I was glad to get rid of it while playing as a rebel. Another note, the sense of direction is not very good and having to look at these bland levels for too long may hurt your eyes a bit.
Run to Dagobah!
If you’d like not to vomit while playing haze I suggest taking off the character swaying option. It’s disjointing and somewhat immersive at the same time. Too bad that when it's turned off the movement feels kind of static and plain, but it also helps you aim. Auto targeting is also something I’d recommend you turn off as I found it more harmful then helpful.
Playing through Haze once won’t kill you but I don’t think you’re going to want another go at it. The last confrontation in the game is ridiculously easy as I took them out in 3 seconds. After that you’re greeted with a failed attempt at a cliffhanger. Instead of wanting more you’ll most likely just say “what...? that’s it...?” so overall Haze is a very mixed bag gameplay-wise.
So Haze’s single player is a whole lot of disappointment, but what about online? Thank Neptune for it. If you do not have an online connection and/or you have no interest in Haze’s online component then do not buy the game. Rent it maybe, but the online in Haze is the real standout feature and it’s obviously where the developers spent their time. It feels like a mix between Unreal Tournament and Counter Strike. Of course it's not nearly as good as either of those respectively, but it still has a good feel to it. There are three modes- deathmatch, team deathmatch, and team assault. All of which are fun and one of which is somewhat original. Team assault is obviously the original one with many different team based objectives to fulfill, most of which are fun and creative. The online system itself works really well with a lobby system and player awards after each match. In our play test we also experienced minimal lag, which is always nice. There is also full 4-player Co-op support for the entire single player campaign...it's still not fantastic in any way, but it's much more enjoyable with friends.
Haze had loads of potential but it falls short in so many ways. The online sort of helps pick up the slack, but for $60 it’s just not worth it. If you are a fan of the FPS genre I think you’ll enjoy Haze to a certain degree, but only as a rental. If you’re low on games it won’t kill you to pick this up for a rental fee, but a full price purchase I cannot recommend. In fact I discourage it wholeheartedly.
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