Platform: PlayStation 3
When Free Radical first announced Haze I was fairly excited; although the developer has had few missteps in the past, the concepts behind the game sounded interesting and innovative. The developers, who ended up seeming completely insane, seemed to be putting their hearts and souls into the game, which was eventually confirmed to be a PlayStation 3 exclusive. Constant delays marred the game’s popularity and, over time, rumbles of trouble and problems with the game arose. When the demo finally arrived people were surprised at some of the problems, but wrote them off as possible demo issues. The final game has finally arrived after several years of development, and Free Radical stands to be judged for all of their promises.
The visuals are underwhelming at best, and awful at worst. Certain aspects, mainly foliage, stand out as being somewhat impressive, but any hint of quality is struck down by the other 99% of the game. Some trees may look good, but the game has graphical pops and texture glitches around every bend, leading to some of the most inconsistent and disappointing visuals this generation. Early screenshots of the title showed beautiful graphics, stunning textures and amazing looking environments, and the finished product has none of those. It appears that the developers overestimated their ability or the systems power, and instead of trying to better optimize the game they decided to blur everything as if it were smeared with Vaseline. Some textures will flicker with light when hit and others look like they are from Nintendo 64 games.
Haze’s story is supposed to be the highlight of the game, and I suppose it is. Some of the game’s early shortcomings are actually well explained a few hours into the title, so if you deathly fear spoilers I suggest you skip this paragraph. Players assume the role of Shane Carpenter, new recruit into the Mantel Corporation, which appears to be America’s military wing. Mantel employs soldiers and gives them a constant flow of a performance enhancing drug called Nectar, which improves the sight, speed, and stamina of anyone injected with it. It also has other effects that you learn later in the game, like prohibiting Mantel Soldiers from witnessing the horrors of war, which include blood, screaming, or dead bodies. When I first started playing one of the first things I noticed was that the bodies disappear. The fact that they actually explain this came as a pleasant surprise, and the game does a good job of using prior videogame knowledge against us in the same way that BioShock did. Holy shit, I just compared Haze to BioShock, I think I need to finish writing this…
The level design is some of the worst in its genre, with expansive environments that may as well be tunnels and linear gameplay that grows old fast. There is never more than one way to go about completing a mission, and even if there are a few paths leading out of a room there is often only one correct one.
Driving levels are as bad as they get, and introduce some new gameplay elements that further the “crappy driving level” section of shooters. Vehicles can only take a few straight shots without bursting in to flames, and your allies can take even less. The game’s solution to the overly fragile vehicles was to respawn them a few hundred feet away whenever it is destroyed, eliminating any urgency. It is usually easier to drive until you see a group of enemies, walk the next section, than jump into your new, shiny dues ex machina and continue.
Haze’s multiplayer doesn’t live up to expectations, as it throws all of its money on the differences between Mantel and Rebel soldiers. Mantel troops are able to use Nectar, which boosts their ability in combat, and Rebel soldiers rely more on booby traps and feigning death. This definitely leads to some interesting situations, as the differences are pretty big, but the gameplay still doesn’t hold up to any of the other shooters it is in competition with. Cooperative play works as intended, but the game isn’t fun enough to justify more than one play through.
When talking about Haze I feel the need to qualify everything with “it’s not that bad,” but in lieu of being too redundant it makes sense to just say it. Haze, as a whole, is a very bad game. It is extremely obvious that something went horribly wrong somewhere down the line in the development of Haze. If you were following the game since its announcement you may have noticed that there wasn’t any indication as such; the developers were always optimistic and enthusiastic about how the game would turn out. Haze being as big of a screw-up as it is comes as a real shock to me, like finding out that the lovely couple next door run a brothel. The real tragedy is that it doesn’t feel like a shoddily put together game, it is very obvious that the title has an immense amount of heart – maybe too much. Haze’s heart was apparently too big for its chest, and the finished product is quite possibly the biggest letdown this generation.