Friday, February 5

Game review - Haze

    Haze was developed by Free Radical. Free Radical made two of my favorite games last generation, Timesplitters 2 and 3. While Timesplitters wasn't exactly the most revolutionary FPS trilogy ever made, it was so much fun playing in what could be called a spiritual successor of "Goldeneye: 007" for the N64. Free Radical was started by the team behind Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, and the gameplay similarities are readily appearent. The games have a great sense of humor, they were full of fast paced action, and they were challenging. They didn't really have much story to them, but Timesplitters didn't really need any story; it was fun anyway.

    Haze on the other hand is different - far different from their earlier projects. Haze was Free Radical's first venture into the current generation of gaming. They dropped the classic playing style and aimed for a more modern-style shooter. They attempted a serious story that doubled as a commentary on the concept of a privatized army. So how did this game fare up? Not very well to be honest.

    First I'll talk about the graphics. It looks like a PS2 game with high-def graphics; that's all there is to say.

    Now for the gameplay. Throughout the first half of the game, you're a soldier for a private army called Mantel. All the Mantel soldiers can use a drug called Nectar, which enhances their combat abilities. That's real great right? A game with pro-drug messages? Nectar highlights all your enemies in orange, making it easier to see them. It also increases your speed and toughness. If you take too much at once though, you overdose. When your overdosed, you partially lose control and start shooting at everything around you. Half the time I was waiting to hear someone shout out "I'm so high right now; I have no idea what's going on." Your teammates will occasionally overdose too; when they do this, run away or they may blast you in the face with their shotgun. I always killed them instead, cause you'll always get a replacement just around the corner. This Nectar gameplay is a great concept. The problem is, Nectar also makes the game way too easy.

    After a plot twist that you can see coming a mile away (more on that later), you join the rebels and fight against Mantel. In this part of the game, you can create Nectar grenades. Nectar grenades will create a clout of Nectar gas, overdosing any Mantel troops that are caught in the gas. These are kind of useless and you'll likely never use them. While your a rebel, the Mantel troopers are just like the rebels you fought earlier, except with glaring weaknesses. This is where you realize how truly awful the game's AI really is. Enemies just run at you or just stand in the open. They never use cover, they never hunt you down when you run, and they never use any kind of real strategy...ever. Sometimes they even run right past you, not realizing that you're there. Sometimes, they'll dive toward a grenade instead of away from it, other times they won't notice them at all. They used cover in Timesplitters, so why can't they here? Your AI allies are not any better, just running up and standing while they slowly kill your enemies. The AI in this game is mind-numbingly horrible. You'd think that with the drug they'd provide a decent challenge, but it's really no different from fighting the rebels earlier.

    There are many points where the game is trying to be epic, but it's hard to do that when you've only got four or five enemies at once. There are sections where a gunship is firing at you, but you can easily walk out of harm's way. There's one section where you fight a tank in a village, but the tank just keeps driving around in circles. Just climb up onto a building, and the tank won't even shoot at you. FAIL! You don't really care if an ally dies or not either, cause' the game will just give you replacements just around the corner. How did they get behind enemy lines? I have no idea, but moments like these seem to be common in poorly designed games. Overall, the gameplay is mediocre at best, and a huge disappointment coming from the makers of "Goldeneye" and "Timeplitters".

    The most annoying part of the game however, is that your allies never shut up. Every five seconds, someone has to shout out one of six or seven phrases, and this gets annoying very quickly. When your with Mantel, all you hear is "I love this s$!t!" (referring to Nectar), or "My mom would be so proud of me." Bragging, just constant bragging. It doesn't help that the voice acting is weak. When you're a rebel, you get things like "Death to Mantel!", "Kill or be killed.", or the horribly spoken "As Merino says, Mantel will fall today." SHUT UP! Just shut up! I lost count of the times I shouted that while playing this game.

    The game's story doesn't fare much better. The game begins with Sergeant Shane Carpenter(main character), who is a rookie Mantel soldier. Shane and his squad mates are in South America. Where in South America? No frickin idea; the game never tells us. Anyway, your there to fight the rebels. You overhear different Mantel soldiers accusing the rebels of cannibalism and skinning people. Alright, the rebels sound evil enough. Of course, even before the first mission starts, you can tell that your squad-mates are way too enthusiastic on killing. Before long, your Nectar administrator device starts failing, and you start seeing dead bodies and blood all over the place (with Nectar, you can't see blood or dead bodies.) These moments are actually kind of cool, and would be much spookier in a better game.

    You eventually crash-land in a swamp, and you hear over the radio that Mantel is now hunting you down. Why? Never really explained beyond "Shane Carpenter is now code 'Haze.'" What that is never gets a proper explanation, but my guess is that your Nectar administrator has failed and you're in withdrawal. You then learn that the rebels aren't cannibals at all, and they have no idea why Mantel is attacking them. Eventually you learn that Mantel is just a greedy company whose burning Nectar plants in South America so that they're the only ones who can produce the drug. Again, fairly decent plot twist, except you can see it coming a mile away. The game tries to make you sympathize with the rebels, but it's kind of hard to when all they say is "Kill or be killed!"

    The scripted dialogue is pathetic as well. There was one line where the rebel leader, Marino, is talking about how evil Mantel is. Out of no-where, he talk about how a baby was once thrown into a fire. The soldier then bit the baby's foot off. The baby did eventually grow up (wha?), but realizes that she's "Just a piece of meat." This line comes out of no-where, and is unintentionally hilarious. There are other examples of hilariously bad dialogue, but the rest is just lame. All the cutscenes that try to make you feel dirty or sorry for someone just end up being funny or boring. This isn't cause' I have no heart, but because of how poorly everything is written.

    Long story short, this game was just a huge disappointment. Now I am fully aware of it's lukewarm reception back when it released. I am fully aware that hardly anybody actually enjoyed this piece of undigested crap. I only played it because I loved the Timesplitters games, and it was dirt cheap. I kept hoping it would get better, but by the game's end it just dragged on and on. The final mission never seemes to end. Back when this game first came out, the PS3 was still looking for it's killer app. This game was hyped beyond belief, and many called it a "Halo-killer." These days, the PS3 is filled with awesome games, but back then they really didn't have much. I'm sure that if this game released today, the review scores would have been much lower. The premise has promise, but it fails to deliver in almost every way.

Two word review - Undigested Crap.

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