Shane Carpenter lacks in balls...
Reviews lately seem to be taking the easy way out and comparing everything to COD4. “Army of Two’s online isn’t as good as Call of Duty”, or “Everybody’s Golf World Tour is decent, but there’s no martyrdom”. But I’m going to review HAZE for what it is: The latest FPS from Free Radical Design.
You’ve probably heard already that HAZE is all based around Nectar, a performance enhancing drug that has its downsides. You take the role of Shane Carpenter, a character you you’ll probably grow to hate. He is very easily lead, and changes his opinion just because people tell him to, not the kind of person you want to play as in a run’n’gun FPS. You’ll spend your first two hours playing as a Mantel trooper, get hit in the face and quickly switch sides to rebel without putting much thought into it.
The opening mantel levels are uninspiring due to atrocious level design. When I finally started getting into a fire fight, it was over in an instance, followed by sluggish uneventful walking to the next one. This is my main gripe with the game. It’s inconsistent. It feels like the levels where designed by a 15 year old and haven’t been thought out correctly. However, the fire fights themselves can be quite enjoyable. Spraying glowing yellow Mexicans from across the room with a fully automatic gun brings a smile to your face. What this section is missing is good old iron sights. There are times when enemies are too far away to hip fire, but to close to use the nectar scope, and I found myself getting very frustrated trying to hit them.
The fun kicks in when you make the inevitable switch to the rebel side. Here you get to make use of several new features, including nectar grenades, weapon stealing and play dead. All of these come in handy regularly and add a nice variation to the game. The feeling of punching a storming mantel trooper in the face, grabbing his gun and annihilating him with his own gun is hard to beat, and watching mantel troopers freak out after getting nectar bombed is hilarious. Two abilities seem a little throw in though. The “booby trap” concept involves facing the ground and burying a grenade, which a lot of the time doesn’t make sense, as I wondered how wuss like Carpenter could dig a hole in solid concrete. Although this feature sounds cool in theory, I didn’t get to use this once throughout the entire game. Also just feel I should mention that the vehicle sections throughout aren’t really enjoyable. They’re all difficult to control, and can’t take much damage.
Maybe I should have mentioned it earlier, but you DO NOT want to play this in hard difficulty. The Mantel levels are a breeze thanks to nectar, but the difficulty suddenly spikes when you switch to rebels. One instance in particular led to severe cursing at the TV. You are stuck in a small room and have to guard a hacker while he tries to overload the servers of the system. Troopers rappel in from random corners of the room, and progressively start swarming in quicker. But oh no, these aren’t your regular troopers, these bastards aren’t affected by nectar grenades, and take a whole clip to drop them. I played this for well over an hour with three other guys helping me online.
The story itself probably looked great to FR on paper, but their execution of it is what held it back. It focuses on the lies behind the Mantel organisation and the mysterious nectar drug. It attempts to be quite dark at times, but the cartoonish graphics and mediocre voice acting prevent you from taking the game seriously. That brings me to my next point- voice acting. FR obviously tried to create a sense of immersion in the battles, as AI team mates shout words of encouragement. This is all fine and well for the first few levels with each side, but after hearing “Remember your promise to Merino!” for the fiftieth time, you can imagine that it gets on the irritating side. The rest of the sound effects are solid however, as gun battles are tense with the sound of assault rifles blazing coupled with rumble from the Dual Shock 3.
Graphics seem to be the thing most people complained about in HAZE. The player models are quite impressive though, along with the visual effects of nectar injection and overdosing. However, the environment textures leave a lot to be desired. While I’m far from a graphics whore, at some stages the poor graphics detracted from the immersion. I’m going to use an example from a cutscene. You watch a mantel trooper going insane whilst talking to himself, ending with him blowing his own brains out in front of his friend who then does the same thing. While this does sound like a dark and dramatic cutscene, any emotions created are immediately destroyed by the ridiculously bad blood effects. I’m talking MS Paint style bad. Another thing to note is how unrealistic vehicle explosions are. They go on fire first, briefly explode and then magically tires go flying in all directions but the chassis is nowhere to be seen.
I also experienced a pretty serious glitch when playing too. I was speeding through a vehicle level, and swerved to avoid an enemy drop ship, only to be sucked underground and left to fall endlessly through space. I had no option but to kill myself and try again. To my anger the exact same thing happened twice in a row. This makes me wonder how Free Radical couldn’t have came across this during those six or seven months they delayed this game.
HAZE does however slightly redeem itself by offering split screen co-op with the ability for you and your buddy to play online with several others. This lent itself nicely to those controller-through-the-wall moments on hard difficulty. Not much else to mention about co-op except that it’s fixed vertical split and the rest is exactly the same as single player. I didn’t get much of a chance to get to grips with the multiplayer but I did have time to note a few things. Split screen multiplayer option is nice, especially fun to be on opposing sides. Death match and team death match get old quick, and don’t offer much variety as there is only a handful of maps. Team Assault mode however is very interesting. This game mode gives each team objectives to complete in order to gain win, and the objectives are different for every map. For mantel it usually involves simply preventing the rebels from doing something. For the rebels it’s a little more complicated. One map in particular I enjoyed was entitles “P.O.W” (Prisoner of War). In this mode, the rebel team are being held in a circular prison, and have to escape handcuffed while being hounded by troopers. I had twenty minutes of solid fun with this game mode, which can't be said for many games.
Multiplayer aside, HAZE’s relatively short campaign doesn’t offer much replayability, although the inclusion of split screen online co-op does spice things up a little, even diehard fans will only play through it twice at max because of having to endure the slower sections. Core game play elements are solid and nectar proves to be more than just a gimmick. On the negative side, lacklustre graphics and bad level design mean for an inconsistent game. I personally am on the fence about this one, as there were times I was on the edge of my seat, and other times I was bored to tears. Friends looking for a fun split screen game should have a blast, but long time FPS fans will find it hard to justify a purchase.
Nectar spices things up
Some intense fire fights
Fun Co-op and multiplayer
Entertaining Visual Effects with nectar
Average-Sub Par graphics
Cab get slow/tedious at times
Overall: 6.5/10 = Not Bad