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Haze

 

Haze

ESRB: Mature - M
Platform: PS3
Category: First Person Shooter
 
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Developer: Free Radical
Publisher: Ubisoft

Features

1-2 Players (Offline)
Supported HD Output: 720p
Required Disk Space: 5 GB
Dual Shock 3 Compatible
PLAYSTATION Network Compatible
2-4 Players (Online Cooperative)
2-16 Players (Online Adversarial)

My first experience with Haze was in July 2007 while I was in Santa Monica attending the 2007 E3 Business Summit. We were given a sampling of quite a few games by Ubisoft and Haze was one of those games. My initial impression was somewhat favorable given that the game was far from release and the visuals and story seemed to be coming along quite nicely. I actually left the demo feeling quite positive that this game was going to rock. Fast forward 10 months later and Haze has finally been released to the masses. I have to say that my excitement was somewhat overzealous as the game just isn’t as great as I had hoped. After playing the final retail version I wish my initial thoughts could have stayed with me as my gameplay experience when reviewing the game left me with quite a few mixed emotions.

Graphics

Given that I saw an early version of Haze 10 months ago, and it didn’t look that bad, I was expecting the final version to knock my socks off visually, however this was not the case. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the visuals do show some of the PS3’s ability to do next-gen graphics. This is evident in the levels where there is ample use of shadowing and lighting effects (e.g. the jungle area). There is also great use of texturing too, but this is very inconsistent. For example, the hotel courtyard looks great and shows that Free Radical did put the hardware to use. However, a lot of levels are a stark contrast to this as they end up looking flat, muddy and somewhat lacking in detail. It is Haze’s inconsistency in the visuals that really disappointed me. What was even more shocking was that this game spent an extra six months or so in the shop and I didn’t expect this level of visual inconsistency to occur. As for the in-game characters, they weren’t too bad. The animations were pretty smooth and varied and it helped in making a pretty smooth looking game in this area. For you tech-heads out there the game manages to run at a very consistent framerate in 720p with very little issues of slowdown occurring. However some tearing and clipping did occur and this only reinforced the unpredictability of what you see on screen.

Sound

The audio in Haze is one of the stronger points, from the soundtrack to the sound effects. There is only one blemish in this area and it is the voice work, which I was very let down with. The main character’s voice isn’t that bad, and his dialog doesn’t hurt the game, but the supporting cast of characters is somewhat annoying. Mantel soldiers seem like university jocks who just stepped out of school only to land a job of hired killer for the corporation. And once you cross to the rebel side of the battle it really doesn’t get much better and you’ll find yourself somewhat annoyed by the repetitive combat chatter of your comrades. For a game that wants its theme to be taken seriously I believe that more work could have been done in the voice acting area.

On a more positive note the orchestral score that accompanies the action in Haze is very suitable and manages to match the on screen battles to a tee. It adds atmosphere to what you are doing and helps set the stage for some of the action you encounter. As for the sound effects, Ubisoft published games seem to manage to get most of it right in this area, and Haze is no exception. From the gratuitous explosions to the solid weapons sounds, everything manages to pull you into the action that much more. The first time I fired my assault rifle my subwoofer boomed and the sound from the rest of the speakers was crisp and clear. With that in mind I note that there is ample use of Dolby Digital Surround Sound should you have a great stereo setup to enjoy it with. Overall, except for the voice acting, the sound in Haze is pretty darn good.

Gameplay

The story of Haze has you playing as Shane Carpenter, a mercenary soldier who fights for the mega-corporation Mantel Global Industries. Mantel has developed a designer drug for its soldiers known as Nectar. This drug, when injected into the bloodstream, gives the soldiers what is best described as extraordinary capabilities. You will find that once hopped up on Nectar, Shane and his fellow mercs have such abilities as seeing enemies much better as they ‘glow’ with a yellowish aura, their aiming is improved and they can take more damage then usual. The negative side to Nectar is that if you inject too much you become out of control shooting everyone in a drug induced rampage, including your own teammates. Shane and his fellow soldiers are sent to South America to fight the Promised Hand, a group of rebels the soldiers are led to believe are bad people. However, what Shane soon realizes is that the rebels are only trying to expose what an evil corporation Mantel really is and what Nectar is really about. As you play as Shane you begin to learn and understand the rebel’s ideology and eventually find yourself fighting along side of them.

Gameplay wise, fighting for one side or another changes the way you play the game. As a Mantel mercenary Nectar allows for you to be a super soldier who can run amok quite easily. The added power boosts of the Nectar drug are pretty cool and make for a funky part of the game. However, a short while into the game you lose your ability to use the Nectar drug as you defect to the rebel side and begin your battle against those you once fought with. Here you gain a new set of abilities that makes for a somewhat different game. The main ability that is worth noting is that you can play dead if you find yourself low on health. Here the Mantel soldiers will ignore you and after a few seconds or so, or if you press X, you will pop up and once again enter the game. It is fun mechanic to play dead only to rise, kill your foes and then take a look around the area for any ammo or health items. You will find that this ‘play dead’ aspect is quite useful and something that you will use more then once during your time as a rebel soldier. Also worth noting is that as a rebel you can also use Nectar against the Mantel soldiers by forcing an overdose and having them kill each other.

Now even though it seems pretty good so far, Haze becomes quite a mixed bag of experiences after this. Let me explain.

First off I need to talk about the AI offered in the game. It is here that I was first disappointed in the gameplay. The enemy AI offers up somewhat of a challenge, but a lot of the time they acted so brainless that I wondered what the hell they were doing. Behaviors included such stupidity as running right by me when I was in clear view to just standing there as a grenade landed at their feet. These actions really had me puzzled. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t this mindless all the time, but given how many instances of such that I came across I really started to question things. As for your squadmates that you fight along side with, well they are just as prone to idiocy. They don’t take cover as often as I had wished and there are frequent times when they just seemed to get in the way. As Haze is an Ubisoft published this title I wish they would have given some of their other developers styles to Free Radical that would have allowed me to use some sort of squad or soldier control to move them around or get them to hide behind cover when they really needed to (e.g. GRAW or R6: Vegas).

In terms of level design, there are some really great levels and gameplay experiences, however there is also some really bad stuff found here too. Right from the get-go you are treated with a jungle level and really can get ones hopes up. If anything I got the feeling of FarCry as the jungle looked and felt that good. However as I progressed through the various levels offered my emotions were sent all over the place from feeling good to feeling somewhat disappointed. For example, there is a level where you find yourself in control of a turret from the air and it is just great. I enjoyed this ‘on-rails’ experience given because it felt so well implemented. However even with the brilliance that can be displayed you hit some real dogs too. A prime example of this are the levels where you actually control various vehicles. The control is so frustrating that not only do you not enjoy the experience; you don’t enjoy the level designs themselves either as you are fighting to control your vehicle. It is this see-saw battle from good to bad design that really took some wind out of Haze’s sails.

On a much more positive note, the FPS mechanics of this game gets the job done as one would expect it to, and it should given that it is developed by Free Radical, a company with a reputation for making great games in the genre. The shooting is awesome and the various guns just manage to feel right. I found myself using the assault rifle quite often as it was just the right gun for me. There are other weapons too such as shotguns and even a flame thrower. The majority of them manage to reinforce the game you are playing as they feel that good. Aiming with each weapon, no matter which faction you fight for, is well balanced and accurate for each gun. Once you start fighting against your foes in the various levels offered you will make you smile as the gun mechanics help your gameplay experience.

In terms of the length it takes to finish Haze it is not nearly as long as I would have hoped. You should be able to finish this game in about 10 hours or so depending on your skill level. This was very surprising to me given that I had a lot of expectations that the story and experience would be much longer then this. But of course there are other areas of the game that help add some longevity to the title.

Haze offers an online drop in anywhere cooperative mode for up to four players. Now I am a REALLY big fan of this type of mode as playing though any game’s campaign, even a second or third time through, is quite enjoyable with other people. And of course the more the merrier and allowing for up to three other people to join the fun is an added bonus. Haze ramps up the difficulty during cooperative play as there are more then person playing. This made for a more challenging game and added to the enjoyment of the title. And remember those vehicle sequences I spoke about early on, even they are somewhat better when played with other people. At the end of the day I would have to say that Free Radical managed to add to this game with the inclusion of a cooperative mode.

As this is an FPS, what would it be without any online adversarial modes? Free Radical made sure to add this area of gameplay, but as with the single player, it is a mixed bag indeed. Up to 16 players can take to the battlefield in one of three modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Assault. The first two are self-explanatory and anyone who has played any FPS games is well aware of what they are. As for the last mode, Assault, this is where the bread and butter of the online adversarial gameplay lies. Here you are broken up into rebel and trooper (Mantel Soldiers) teams and you take on each other in opposing objectives. You will find that there can be some very intense and much focused battles in this mode given that you are either attacking or defending your objective. Of course this is also where the most strategy is involved of three online adversarial modes as you need to either coordinate a well planned attack or implement a solid defense. An added bonus to the online modes is that if you are playing in an unranked match you can add bots to fill the unoccupied spaces of other players. This reminds me of the times that I played Perfect Dark Zero during the launch of the Xbox 360. A few of my online friends and I would play online and manage to add some bots to fill the lack of other people. Overall the online adversarial modes aren’t bad, but they are nothing special either as they just don’t offer anything innovative in this area.


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