Review: Haze

There’s been quite a bit of shock emanating from the gaming community over Haze’s low review scores. After all, it’s one of those games that was just supposed to be good, as the hype machine would tell you. The announcement of its promotion to PS3 exclusive at last year’s E3 only helped to crank up the expectations another few notches, as it became the new poster child for Sony followers to prop up against their 360-loving counterparts. Looking beyond all the confusion of how the latest title from the studio responsible for Time Splitters could go so wrong, Haze itself serves as a crystal clear example of the danger of hype, and the immense disappointment that can follow.

One of the few things that always looked interesting about Haze, and still is, is the idea behind the storyline. You play as Sgt. Shane Carpenter, a member of the powerful Mantel Corporation’s private army sent to the Boa region of South America to liberate the native population from the tyranny of its cannibalistic tyrant, or so you’re told. Mantel’s contribution to battlefield technology is a drug known as Nectar, which is used to sharpen the senses its soldiers in order to make them more efficient killers, but also carries a more sinister purpose by creating a cerebral fog of war. This basically means hiding the ugly side of warfare, and the true reason why Mantel is invading the Boa region.

Now, don’t assume that I’ve just spoiled this fine tale for you, because Mantel’s sinister nature is made so obvious from the onset that there might as well be a text crawl at the bottom of the screen that reads “something’s not right here." The idea behind juicing soldiers with intentions of battlefield brainwashing is intriguing, but is so horribly told in Haze’s dialog and cut-scenes that the story somewhat loses its appeal.

Despite all that, the inclusion of Nectar is what actually sets Haze apart, allowing the player to shoot up (by pressing L2) during a firefight, causing higher resistance to damage, tighter aiming, and enemies to glow like fireflies. As you kill whilst in your Nectar high, the buzz will keep going, creating a kind of bloodlust that Mantel wants you to have. Just be careful not to fill the gauge too much, as an overdose will let the drug take control and have you firing and friends rather than foes. Your squad mates will supply you with more Nectar, giving proper, albeit selfish, motivation to keep them alive.

Ok, this is the part where I feel like I just wasted my time explaining this entire mechanic. Why? Because the game takes it away when Shane defects from Mantel, joining the rebels known as the Promise Hand at about a quarter of the way through the game, never giving any proper development to the story or gameplay, and making the shift an extremely weak one. As a rebel, you’re given alternative abilities such as stealing weapons from enemies, dodging, setting traps, and other basic gameplay functions that should be present in the first place, Mantel soldier or not. The use of a scope that came with being a Mantel trooper is also absent, making the change feel like a complete downgrade in abilities and gameplay.

One unique weapon that the rebels possess to fight Mantel soldiers are Nectar grenades that can be made from fallen soldiers and then used to cause the enemy to overdose and attack one another. Now you would think that given the “edge” Mantel soldiers have because of Nectar they would make for some tough combatants, but Haze drops another ball by giving you incredibly stupid soldiers throughout the game that strafe right into your fire, have no idea what the word flank means, and are easy to overrun. When taking critical damage, the game allows you to press L2, the former Nectar button, to disguise yourself as a corpse that the drugged soldiers are programmed not to see, but honestly they seem blind at any point, and can be easily maneuvered around before provoking a reaction.

Haze attempts to break up the repetitive, devolving gameplay with some driving sections, but these are hardly a welcome change of pace. While on foot, controls are fairly serviceable by FPS standards, but the vehicles handle like the poorly rendered blob of polygons they appear to be, and feel like they have absolutely no grip onto the surface you’re traversing. Haze’s 6-7 hour campaign is rampant with boring monotony, especially after Nectar is thrown out the door, which is really the only thing the game had going for it. Things can be a bit more enjoyable when playing either two players in split screen co-op or four online, but just a slight amount of extra fun results from having another trigger around, and the only moments there are to do anything together is hop on a vehicle and enjoy making fun of that mess together.

The Mantel-versus-Promise Hand dichotomy carries over into multiplayer, with one team playing as the rebels and the other the stoner brigade. The dangers of a rebel casting a Nectar grenade can create some pretty hairy moments when you and other teammates all overdose and start roid-raging on each other, but despite this interesting dynamic, Haze’s multiplayer as a whole feels pretty slim. There are only six different maps, and three gameplay modes. The regular deathmatch types are present, along with Assault, which provides each team with story driven objectives that involve scenarios such as the rebels escorting a leader to a helicopter, and the Mantel solders attempting to prevent them. The action for the most part doesn’t feel quite frenetic thanks to sluggish player movements, and the lack of variety in maps and game types allow Haze’s multiplayer to only be entertaining until you reach a solid impression of it as this reviewer did.

Graphics do usually come later in reviews, but in terms of mockery, this is truly a case of best for last, as Haze provides possibly the worst visuals seen on the PS3. Not only are the low-resolution character models and poorly detailed environments bad, they’re practically broken. Several glitches exist ranging from constant texture pop in, and other instances where the entire level will disappear. Add relentlessly overused motion blur effects for the first few chapters and you’ll feel like you’re actually on something.

Things don’t get much better when it comes to Haze’s frequently annoying audio. The score is nothing special, but it won’t drive you to reach for the mute button the way the poorly written and repetitive dialog will. Characters give absolutely laughable lines that are probably meant to sound serious, making the protagonist, Shane, especially uninteresting. During gameplay your fellow soldiers, Mantel or Promise Hand, are only given about three lines of dialog, and keep repeating the few phrases they know to the point that they actually make the game frustrating to play (as if the gameplay hadn’t already succeeded in that department).

If Nectar had been integrated more thoroughly into the single- and multiplayer offerings, then it may have overshadowed Haze’s other errors and elevated it to the status of average. Unfortunately, the game just doesn’t take advantage of any possible edge it could have had by removing Nectar far too early, creating a weak story and sinking gameplay. Taking away a player’s abilities and replacing them with no other compelling functionality is an enormous design flaw and will have you going through with drawl symptoms for the one aspect of Haze that gave an over-coating to its various other problems. I’m not being so critical of Haze because of any expectations it may have had thrust upon it as PS3 exclusive; it’s glaring graphical and design issues fail to live up to the requirements of any FPS game in this day and age, let alone the immense hype.

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