This posting of my review of Haze I wrote earlier in 2008 is in honor of a studio that brought us a beloved franchise (Timesplitters) and is, unfortunately, under a little pressure lately. Free Radical in no way deserves to be left out in the cold, and we sincerely hope that some investors step forward…soon.
My first review for PlayStation LifeStyle was for a game that unfortunately seemed to be receiving a lot of bad judgment from the mainstream media and review system. I am here, now, to present to you my review that is free from advertising dollar influence, uneducated opinions and presumptions, or game-to-game comparisons. This game is its own, and therefore deserves to be played and reviewed as such.
Haze, developed by Free Radical, under the publishing might of Ubisoft (purveyors of the critically-acclaimed Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six franchises), made its debut into a market that was inundated with shooters. Third-person shooters, first-person shooters, squad-shooters, tactical-shooters, RPG Tactical Squad shooters…you name it, it’s been done. I chose Haze as my first review subject here at PlayStation LifeStyle, so as to show you readers out there exactly what approaching a single game without any preconceived notions can do for your overall experience.
Since anyone and everyone seems to have been so concerned about the negative aspects of Haze, let me just go ahead and get the Cons out of the way first, so as to dispel any fears that the game is a disaster, which it is not, by the way.
I have seven small gripes that rear their collective heads when I play Haze. The first, and I’d say the most noticeable, would have to be the low-poly characters. Looking at your buddies and seeing corners jutting from their elbows, shoulders and feet is quite the eyesore. One can’t help but think that Free Radical doesn’t yet have a full grasp on how to get the PlayStation 3 to push a lot of polygons. Since it is indeed their first game on the system, I can let that one slide. No big deal, right?
It would have been nice if the polygonal issues stopped there, but alas, they do not. After you finish giving your in-game buddies a look-over, you happen to glance at a tree, and one can’t help noticing that the foliage, buildings, and environment as a whole is absurdly simple with tree trunks that look like hexagons and rocks that look like deformed trapezoids. Initially, Haze feels like a rather simple, cookie-cutter shooter with bland design and lack of passion during development.
Next on my black-list is the water. To me, there is nothing in an environment that can draw you in like a beautiful river with real-time world and character reflections, as well as perhaps some caustics, if the developer wants to take it to the next level. Unfortunately for Haze, it has none of those things being applied to any of its bodies of water. It hurt the game’s overall appeal, and it left the jungle environment feeling a little dry
Proceeding down my list, I now come to the lack of a character shadow. If there was one element I wish could be standard in every game….it would be to make sure your player character has a shadow. Shadows lend a sense of weight, realism and presence to any given object or person….especially yourself. When I look downwards in the game, I expect to see a shadow when the sun is shining bright in the sky. Wouldn’t you? I will say this however, at least Free Radical had the sense to give your character visible legs. That much I can appreciate.
Fifth on my list is environment destructibility, or lack thereof. I must mention that I do not expect all games to feature this, but if the idea fits into the context of the game, then why not implement it? My reasoning is that, in a jungle setting, why do bullets and grenades not affect the surrounding foliage? Trees should be falling, leaves should be blowing all over the place, branches should be falling down….why must everything feel so….static? Once again, if you are a designer that wants to give characters a real sense of presence, then they MUST affect the environment around them. That is the only way to truly make an impacting experience that lasts in a gamer’s mind. Aside from this, take notice that you can destroy simple wooden fences, little barriers, assorted small scattered barrels and objects, and such. I will not neglect to mention that.
My last two little issues here are both sound-related, so I’ll throw them together in one paragraph in the interest of saving space. Firstly, when driving a vehicle, a squealing sound is heard when braking on a dirt or non-pavement surface. That should not occur, and I wonder how complicated it must be to get a hold of a sound byte that would make more sense, such as an off-road vehicle spinning its tires in gravel or dirt, or a truck slamming its brakes on a dirt road. That aside, my second sound issue and final grudge against Haze is the repetitive taunts, exclamations, and cries of fellow and enemy soldiers. You’ll most definitely hear many of the same phrases repeated over and over again, and you’d think that with 50GB of disk space available there would be a *little* more dialogue options available to NPCs.
OK! All done with the negatives! Not so bad, huh? Fortunately, none of the aforementioned issues are game-breaking in the least. You’ll also be surprised to discover that I am now ready to discuss three and a half times more positive things about Haze! Also, the positives mentioned here carry far more weight than the negatives just listed up above. With that said, here we go!
First on my list of praises would be the texture work. It is made quite obvious early on in Haze, that the textures are doing the most work when it comes to detailing everything you see. Free Radical didn’t implement a high polygon count, but instead they used decent texture work to give everything a pretty good look to it. Trees have the impression of vines wrapping around them, the ground has OK-looking detail, and everything in general is fixed up to look appropriate in its given environment. Also sporting good textures are the characters’ faces and weapons. It’s very clear that most of the work went into those two areas. I’m glad these two areas were more detailed, because character faces and tools you utilize are what you interact with the most.
Secondly, the Artificial Intelligence is decently challenging for a first-person shooter. It’s not going to win any awards nor is it smart enough to do your science homework for you, but the enemies can at least do two things quite well: Flanking, and attempting to flush you out with grenades. Flanking is a key component of good AI, I believe, because I don’t believe in “camping” in one spot forever, and neither do your enemies, in Haze. If you decide you just want to sit there, you’ll eventually have to deal with either one of the aforementioned tactics. You’ll see a grenade flying towards your face, or you’ll be presented with a couple of soldiers rushing your position. Enemies in this game don’t sit still, and it’s always adding to the action, in a good way. As a side note, the soldiers always seem to stay at a range that best benefits their currently equipped weapon.
Lighting is done pretty well in Haze, with High Dynamic Range lighting playing a large part. HDR is always a treat, because it mimics how the human eye reacts when moving from light to dark areas, or vice-versa. Explosions and gunfire all produce large blasts of light that visibly light up the environment around them. Character lighting is done well too, with realistic skin tones and conditions based on the type of lighting going on in the current scene.
Animation is done well, and there are different reactions from enemies depending on where you shoot them, which is a nice touch. Characters emote nicely, with eyebrow-raising and head-tilting, hand-waving, finger-articulating, and general body language being pretty convincing, as far as conveying emotions goes. No complaints. Lip Sync is a difficult thing to do properly, and Haze rides the line between good and above average. Most of the time, the characters’ mouths match well the words they are saying. There isn’t any fancy tongue or teeth-showing, but the mouths and lips move mostly how they should.
The next positive are the effects. Motion blur is used when moving your view around, and it’s done very nicely. Particles are present, although not in huge numbers, the amount that is there is appreciated. Smoke drifts from your guns after you fire them, and your vision gets tweaked in convincing ways when you are high on Nectar (performance-enhancing drug used by the Mantel forces), or walking through a cloud of it as a rebel. Ageia was chosen to power the environment in Haze, using their own Physx engine to great effect. With the inclusion of such an engine, the vehicles handle differently, the grenades bounce off walls and surfaces, rocks tumble and roll, objects have a sense of weight as you knock them around, and explosions send things flying. As a last note, the framerate of 30fps holds up nicely throughout all the action, and that is a big comfort. Only rarely does it drop, and during nothing but the biggest of encounters.
Yeah, so the effects are nice, but how does it look and feel controlling it and making everything happen? Wonderful! Haze’s controls are well-refined, and through a simple, slick-looking interface you are presented with very clear objectives, and manipulating your character is not difficult at all. In fact, the view and everything associated with it are very effective and aesthetically pleasing. Simplicity and beauty in design is in full force through Haze’s interface. Get to know it. You’ll eventually become one with the controller, not even bothering to follow the on-screen prompts anymore, because you’ve learned to flow with the action. Cheers all around to the interface designers!
Moving on to sound, you’ll first notice some very well-done voice acting. I thought it was a bit corny at first, but once I actually played the rest of the game, I discovered that it was just those particular characters that were meant to sound and act like that. The voice actors did a great job of conveying raw emotion through some pretty tense, and even sensitive moments. Humor is ever-present from certain characters in Haze, and it’s well-appreciated, as it’s a welcome break from all the intense action sequences you are put through on a regular basis throughout the campaign. Besides voice acting, the sounds of the weapons, explosions, and vehicles are all of high quality and much variance. The grenades and rocket launchers let out a nice booming sound, whilst the shotguns pack a huge punch. Melee combat sounds are done well too, with the satisfying cacophony of your opponent’s bones breaking from the sheer force of your foot, fist, or weapon making solid contact with their body ringing in your ears. As a final note in regards to sound, the soundtrack, although slightly subdued (and nothing award-winning) is fitting for the situations you come across. It’s made up of varied electronica and orchestral pieces. Most firefights are accompanied with electronica, which is quite nice because it increases the tension and the overall feel of pressure and excitement of the ensuing gunplay.
Haze’s story consists of two points of view. Now mind you it’s not two SEPARATE points of view (two people)….it’s just one person going through a change in perspective. That’s why I think Haze’s story is so great because you eventually start to see things that were hidden from your original perspective, and it’s a very exciting “revealing” process that is full of emotion and powerful feelings emanating from your main character. There are touching moments in Haze where your character begins to realize certain things and the emotional impact of it all is heard and felt through well-done voice work. All in all, I would say that the story in Haze is definitely worth any attention you give to it, and if you don’t pay attention to FPS stories, I think Haze would be a good place to start trying. There are two things that really should compel you to start trying, and they are:
Nectar – This “performance-enhancing” drug used by the Mantel forces for the “benefit” of their soldiers has a huge impact on the story that you’d be foolish not to take notice of.
Impactful Scripted Events That Matter – Haze is full of scripted events that reveal emotions and feelings from your fellow NPCs and your main character himself. You’d do well to listen and absorb every line of dialogue and every second of cut-scene happenings. Trust me.
Lastly, I’ll speak of Multiplayer. There are co-op campaign modes (local and online), and traditional competitive modes. All work as stated, and are very fun and entertaining, with the right people of course. I left two gameplay mechanics to the end of my review, and one mechanic is called “play dead”. While able to be utilized in single player, it’s more fun and rewarding to pull it off against friends online. What happens is, when you are a rebel player and your health is nearly gone you can choose to pretend to have died on the battlefield, laying on the ground motionless. What usually follows is an enemy running by….prompting you to “rise from the dead” and shoot them in the back as they continue on, completely unaware. It’s a unique approach to multiplayer strategy, and properly utilized, could really help you in battle. Just beware of people with happy trigger fingers who shoot anything on sight, be it dead-looking or not!
The second mechanic is the utilization and counter-utilization of Nectar. Mantel troopers use it to enhance eyesight, enemy recognition, and strength along with speed. When Nectar-enhanced, your melee strikes are VERY powerful, and you run fairly quickly. Enemies are highlighted, and your zoom distance is increased as well. PLEASE NOTE, however, that Mantel troops may overdose on the drug, causing them to spray bullets at their friends involuntarily and their vision to tweak badly. Rebel troops can use this to their advantage, seeking to overdose all Mantel soldiers in an area, causing them to take out their own forces. It’s really thrilling to see it in action, and it never ceases to be useful.
I hope you enjoy Haze, as I did. While it was not worthy of any Game of the Year awards, it did separate itself from the absurd amount of shooters out there with a completely unique story. The graphics aren’t anything to gawk at, but after a while, you’ll be too much into the story and the dynamic gameplay to worry about it. Finally, try the campaign co-op, because when you play Haze cooperatively with humans, good teamwork results in amazingly efficient progress through missions, and it’s quite rewarding and pleasing.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
Fun, dynamic gameplay that stands out.
Multiplayer is good, and cleverly uses mechanics from the Campaign.