Video games, particularly shooters, have to open with a bang these days. It can be a man in a green suit shooting down from the sky, a dash through a sinking, swaying, tilting frigate, or the one free man’s first person journey through a beautiful locale. In truth, there is no perfect formula, but when a company gets it right it shines through in the final product. Regardless of how close to real life the shooter is, and in spite of the themes it portrays it has to entertain from the very start, grab your attention, and make you want to play through the rest of the title. I guess you can figure out where this is heading by now…
Yes, Haze does indeed start at a snail’s pace, showcasing its supposedly intricate story to viewers. Unfortunately, this showcase also boasts an introduction to the game’s characters, characters that are arguably the most annoying in a FPS game ever. Not only are they cringeworthy, the story they partake in is portrayed in the most condescending nature possible, almost preaching to viewers with every cutscene that passes. What’s more, the voice acting, animation and overall visual look of the game doesn’t do much to impress either. All in all, the opening just leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and sets off a million and one alarm bells ringing in your head for what awaits over the next few hours.
However that’s just the storyline, and there have been many games with a less than spectacular story that ended up impressing in the gameplay department. Could Haze be saved in that regard? Unfortunately no, that does not come to pass either, as the game significantly falters in that aspect, messing up right from the outset to be honest. The incapable AI is evident from the second you get into your first large scale fight, with your team running headfirst into battle without any semblance of thought, shouting annoying catchphrases. Then there are the enemies who do exactly the same, predictably running out into the open, easily getting shot down.
It really does not matter which side you are fighting for either. How much Nectar you’ve dosed up on does not help. It really does not matter if you play dead, and you won’t care if you can make people overdose by shooting them in a certain place. Even with all these gimmicks, no matter how contrived they may be, the game fails because no one on either side seems to want a work as a team. Working your way through the game is just an exercise in experiencing once giant clusterf**k of a battle after another, with not one memorable moment standing out over the 6 hours playtime. A few puzzles thrown in here and there and the buggy-driving sections, which are buggy in more ways than one, stupidly exaggerated physics don’t help either.
Of course, you could always pin your hopes on the game’s multiplayer aspects as Free Radical certainly has the pedigree to impress in that area. Unfortunately, there is not much on show that hasn’t been done before, and done better by someone else. In fact, Free Radical themselves have already given us better multiplayer offerings with the Timesplitters games, so seeing what’s on show in Haze feels like a dour step back from their preceding efforts.
Action is limited to just 16 players, not 24 as promised which is not a good start. Furthermore, there are just three basic modes to play through (deathmatch, team deathmatch, and assault) and six maps (with small and large configurations), which is just not enough to keep gamers interested nowadays. Free Radical does however deserve a pat on the back for including bots as part of the competitive multiplayer, but it is just one cheery note in a myriad of absolute failure.
At best the single player could be labelled as a near-reasonable effort, and the multiplayer aspects could be called somewhat-capable. However, that is nowhere near the quality needed for a game with such sweeping hype behind it. There is just much more wrong with the game, with something new to annoy around every turn. You can’t help but feeling mostly resentful as you experience what’s on show. In truth, that’s about the most cheerful emotion you could muster as you’ll mostly feel angry and at times be outright maddened at the developers for the mess they’ve created.
Of course, stuff like the four player co-op options help the game’s appeal somewhat, but when the core game is so incapable of exciting it is hard to remain all that keen for any of these other modes. Obviously, the game falls short of the likes of Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4, that should be highly evident by now, but even if you were to just mark it up against its PS3 peers – Unreal Tournament 3 and Resistance – it is bettered in just about every area by those two as well.
Over the past few months Haze was billed as the next big thing for first-person shooters, using themes such as oppression and drug abuse to give the game a serious tone to take the genre to the next level. Regretfully, the fairytale Ubisoft hoped for when they signed on to publish the game has truly turned sour and Free Radical have fallen flat on their faces in an effort to create anything of worth.
Not only is the game a mess on a technical level, with pop-up graphics, pop-in textures, clipping and chugging framerate it is also years behind the curve in the gameplay stakes. Gunplay truly is mediocre at best, animation is literally laughable, and the voice acting honestly sounds like something from a bad radio play.
I suppose genre aficionados might find something to like, but even the most stalwart FPS lover and the most ardent PS3 and Free Radical fanboys should still be able to see Haze falls miles short of living up to the hype.
Regardless of its name, it’s still clear to see Haze is a disappointing game based on a weak premise that has been half-heartedly realised. As a result it is all too easy to label it one of the greatest disappointments the industry has seen in the past few years.