HAZE seemed to have everything going for it. It was a hot new shooter that was supposed to take advantage of the graphical prowess of the PS3 in ways few developers had begun to understand. It was created by the team at Free Radical, whose pedigree speaks for itself with the Timesplitters franchise as well as having several of the Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark team members on board. It was all set to become the new hot title everyone would be talking about. Impressive graphics? Check. High-tech lethal weaponry? Check. Soldier on the box cover with a cracked flak shield over his face, signifying that players will assume control of a total badass who will eventually “see the light?” Check. Sterling gameplay with a solid story that delivers an experience every bit as good as we hoped? Hello? Hello? Bueller? Frye?
The title is set in the not-too-distant future of 2048, and the governments of the world have taken to hiring out their military operations to private corporations. (You’ve probably read that line three or four times and checked the title of this review twice, but I assure you we are talking about HAZE and not that other title released about a month later with a “similar” theme.) Players control a new soldier for Mantel Global Industries, a young man who felt that there wasn’t nearly enough killing, maiming and general bloodshed in his life, so he joins up with Mantel in the hopes they will send him to various locales in order to rectify that drought.
Throughout the course of the adventure, as you probably already guessed, the player learns that the life he chose is not what it appears and ends up becoming a freedom fighter for the underground resistance. In doing so he turns all of his pent up rage against his former allies within Mantel. This transition is so laughably bad and poorly executed that you may feel the urge to abandon the game as soon as it happens. During the course of the gameplay as a Mantel soldier, you are given access to a performance-boosting drug called Nectar that makes you more powerful, violent and hyper-vigilant. Enemies now shine out with a glowing aura and are much easier to snipe. Melee attacks pack an even more vicious wallop and a skilled player can keep the “high” going for quite a while. This feature is practically abandoned once you are no longer a soldier for Mantel, and strangely enough it seems that none of the Mantel soldiers seem to be using it when they attack you.
This very point brings the game’s main (and most unforgivable) flaw to the forefront… painfully stupid AI. Enemies tend to not even notice your presence half the time, and even when they do they seem to be more fascinated by your shadow than your body. At one point or another, just about every AI trapping can be found in HAZE, with enemies running repeatedly into walls, standing still while you shoot them, leaping onto grenades and just generally ignoring all the mayhem unfolding around them. Even your squad mates will become a nuisance as they repeatedly stand in your line of fire or simply run in the wrong direction. These are all shining examples of the type of mechanics within HAZE that will make most players stand up and cheer. And by cheer we mean eject the disc from the PS3 and see if you can hit the cat with it from across the room by winging it "frisbee" style. This cheer also serves to show everyone the skills you've earned from watching "Tron" fifty-six times.
For a title that was supposed to be a graphical delight, HAZE seems to have fallen far short of the mark. Textures are bland, ugly and at times decidedly clunky looking and lo-res. Character models are boring and emotionless, and a lot of the time the whole game looks like something more suited to the PS2 than a cutting-edge console. The game does manage to maintain its framerate without slowing down very much, which is a plus, but crap at high speed is still just crap. To its credit, the sound design is done quite well, with all the booming, cracking and zip you would expect from a bombastic shooter. The score is done really well also, with all the orchestral drama you would expect and it surprisingly adds some real dramatic tension to the action.
Another pro in this title full of cons is the control and weaponry. Everything about wielding these assault weapons and firing them feels right, looks right and sounds right. The shooting mechanics are smooth and the accuracy seems to be spot on.
Many shooters on the market that have delivered a weak single player campaign tend to deliver the goods in the multiplayer modes, and HAZE is, well, the title that disappoints in that area as well. The game offers three multiplayer modes for up to sixteen players: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Team Assault. The most annoying aspect of the multiplayer setup is the really horrid balancing issues, with most of the gameplay advantages going to the rebels who have a skill for “playing dead” and blitzing an opponent when they least expect it. The drug that can be taken by the corporate soldiers can actually be “overdosed,” leading to crazed and random control.
HAZE will go down in history as a missed opportunity. It certainly did not turn out the way it did from a lack of talent behind it, and will likely leave people wondering “what happened?” It is one of those titles that you keep playing for a while because you want to like it, and you tend to feel that perhaps it is just yourself that “doesn’t get it.” One thing is for certain… after spending considerable time playing the game, you won’t be shouting, “Come back, Shane… Come back!”