Our collective heart goes out to the developers behind Haze. Not the big-mouthed PR execs and the decision makers at Ubisoft, but to those guys that sweat blood and tears for the last two years to get the most out of their game with the restrictions they seemingly had in place. There isn’t a website on the planet that knows the particular politics behind some of the changes to what appeared to be an exceptionally promising shooter, but it’s turned out to be a real stinker: Haze is as average as beans on toast, and the biggest disappointment is that it didn’t have to be.
Free Radical have some exceptional talent between them, with the majority of the guys being responsible for the sublime Goldeneye and the much liked TimeSplitters series, the first of which was a real milestone for the PS2. Their debut next-gen title though seems to shun everything that we used to love about them – the graphical flair – the perfect control methods – the balls to try something different – and degenerates into about as standard a FPS as you can imagine without every really doing anything particularly right.
We’ll start with Nectar – the game’s unique selling point that had so much potential it hurts that it’s seemingly underused in the first half of the game and then relegated to a cheap weapon in the second, when the player eventually switches sides to the rebels. L2 administers a dose of the drug, which pumps up your senses and vitals enough to make you bulletproof and able to see enemies and incoming grenades. It’s a smart idea, but it’s never handled intelligently and just seems like one of those edgy features that hit the white board 2 years ago and then ended up in the game without the team really thinking why it would be a good idea.
And then there’s the dialogue. It’s unclear whether this is supposed to be hammy, but that’s by-the-by: overacted or not the script is risible, embarassing and about as subtle as an atom bomb. The idea is clever, the player is meant to feel like an outsider and not agree with the principles of your fellow soldiers, but when it’s done in such a crass way it just makes you want to start team killing the moment you gain control of a weapon. Thankfully you get that chance at 50% progress through the game although the effect is dulled by clunky AI and a lack of personality once you’re on the other side.
Scripted events occur occasionally to break up the squad-based fighting, but these are seldom little more than switches and the most basic puzzles, all of which we’ve seen before. Even the driving elements dotted throughout the story hark back to Far Cry in an unnerving display of selfless cribbing and the so-called team AI is laughably bad even when you take away the voice work, with your own soldiers happily wandering into your line of fire at every opportunity. Basically you’re in this alone, despite what the on-screen graphics are telling you, and you’re not in for a pleasant ride.
But there’s always the graphics, right? Well, much has been made recently of the game’s 576p resolution, but that’s not an issue to us – if that’s what the developers chose to use to keep up the frame rate (which is exceptionally smooth and locked at 30fps) but when it results in muddy visuals, upscaled to 720p (and probably again depending on your TV) it’s simply not good enough. Textures are ridiculously low resolution in places, the animation is staccato at best and the flame-thrower? Please no. Despite the variety and scope in the levels Haze manages to look as generic and dull as it’s possible to do, although the fancy eye candy of the zoom, blur and haze effects go some way to defining the game as ‘next-gen’.
Thankfully, multiplayer is much better. There’s splitscreen drop-in/out co-op for four players, which is a really nice touch, and the 16 player online deathmatches (and all it’s variants) include bots if required and several cool modes and built-in tasks which seemingly make for a much more solid gameplay experience. Perhaps it’s the lack of idiotic voices and predictable AI, but whilst it’s not going to suddenly stop people playing Warhawk and Call of Duty 4 the multiplayer in Haze is actually really good fun, lag free and rather exciting.
But that’s dependent on having people to play with, and although there are some things in Haze we like – there are some cool sections in the story, the weapons are mostly punchy and the visuals do try for that next-gen ‘wow’ factor – overall it’s a crushing disappointment and we can’t actually see that many people buying the game just for online play. With most of the score here reserved for the multiplayer and our unashamed love for Free Radical, it’s hard to recommend the game as it stands. Rent it, complete it over a weekend and forget all about it – this is one PS3 exclusive we really didn’t need.