Hey look, it’s Free Radical Entertainment!
Oh, it’s good to see you. Have a seat, have a drink. Would you like a soda? A cookie? Duke brought some beer. Everyone came, and we’re all glad you’re here.
Free Radical, we’ve all had some good times with you. Remember Timesplitters? Of course you do. We’ve had some good laughs playing Timesplitters, Timesplitters 2, and Timesplitters: Future Perfect. What’s that? No, we can’t play Timesplitters now. We’re just having a little chat. Are you sure you don’t want a soda?
Let me be frank. We’re concerned, and it’s because of Haze, that first-person shooter you’re doing with that crazy story of redemption in the midst of a privatized drug war. I know it seems like a good idea at first, but we’ve seen the mediocre gameplay, graphics, and storytelling, and well, we think that Haze should be dropped like a bad habit.
Haze revolves around a drug called Nectar, which lets the stormtroopers of the sinister Mantel Corporation see what they want to see: Mantel’s enemies become glowing targets, and possible horrors like blood and gore become invisible. These ignorant troopers laugh like goofy frat boys as they wipe out the residents of a South American jungle. Their only worry is an overdose, which triggers a blind, indiscriminate killing frenzy, followed by an explosive death. Meh, minor detail.
Story Mode starts well enough, introducing guns quickly as you juice up like an MLB all-star and pick off rebel insurgents through Nectar-goggles. Then, as the fun fades, you wait for a big payoff like an explosion or a badass level set-up... and it never comes. Plot points whiz on by with laughably weak visuals, and though some rooms look big enough to hold dozens of enemies or a huge boss, Haze limits itself to small, underwhelming encounters.
Worse yet, your character, Shane Carpenter, whines and pouts all through the campaign. In comparison to his loud, confident companions, Shane’s soft, sensitive voice and constant hesitation make him either the worst action hero or the (second) most Canadian action hero ever, if not both. Shane needs a bottle and a blankie more than an assault rifle, but he’s your conscience-ridden killjoy of an avatar, leaving his cushy job with Mantel for an equally uninspiring tour with the resistance forces.
You can play Haze’s story campaign with three other players on the Internets, although to my surprise I preferred to play solo (and I’m a sucker for the co-op). The extra players either tear through the game too quickly, or they get reckless and then the whole team dies. Weak difficulty levels and the lack of collectibles suck the replay value right out of Haze, and whether you’re in a team or alone, you’re just putting in time to finish the game and put it on the shelf.
It’s more fun to shoot the other players anyway, right? Haze packs three competitive multiplayer games, including a simple ‘escort the truck’ challenge. Nectar is still a factor, with Mantel managing their doses and rebels trying to trigger overdoses, but mostly, players will snipe the hell out of each other with unusually long-range weapons. When my homing rocket launcher ran empty, I pulled out the starting assault rifle and hosed suckers down from two stories above.
Large, open arenas in the multiplayer maps give snipers more than enough room to work with, but Haze’s level design is generally dull and poor. Both the campaign and multiplayer maps are filled with unintuitive layouts and unrewarding dead-ends. Haze leaves flares in the most confusing spots, as if the artists and level designers simply gave up on clean area design.
Haze looks as bland as it plays. Highlights like the lush jungle, high-detail models, and destructible objects make the game visually tolerable in spite of disappointing explosions, low-res textures, and a lack of special-effects polish. For once you might actually miss the overdone bloom and filter effects which cover Gears of War and its next-gen kin in a suffocating layer of plastic-wrap shininess.
The sound and music constantly find the most irritating corners of your ear to hammer away. The slightly cheesy music hides behind six annoying voiceover samples, which play over and over every five seconds. Literally. The lunkhead Mantel soldiers yell the best lines, which are both silly and endearing, but their goofball voices ultimately drown the atmosphere in a sea of stupidity.
Haze at least tries to make some allegorical statements about society: the Mantels revel like hyperviolent gamers and launch a questionable invasion onto foreign soil like familiar world super-powers we may know. These parallels hint at Free Radical’s fun, satirical roots, but the meager story and dialogue fail to suggest any amount of substance in the script.
It’s not all bad, Free Radical. Haze is still a playable shooter, and it has all those overpowered weapons. This Nectar also seems kind of cool, but we’re worried that maybe it’s thrown you off-track. Resistance had impossible weapons, and Halo had vehicle playgrounds, and even Timesplitters had its comedy shtick. Haze is stuck spinning its wheels on this whole drug thing. At this point, a game as basic as Haze looks amateurish.
We know this is just a rough patch you’re going through, and we know that soon enough we’ll be playing TimeSplitters 4 and having a good laugh. Don’t think we’ll hold Haze against you or anything, we understand, and we’re totally cool.
Would you like another cookie?