Haze must be one of the games with the lowest reputations on the Playstation 3, being seen as a failure by both critics and public alike. It was even voted as the worst game to be released on the PS3 by readers of one magazine in a poll, but is its reputation really deserved?
The game certainly arrived on a tidal wave of hype from the publisher, who described it as a 'Halo beater'. Although it was not the first time that a new FPS had been compared to the classic Xbox franchise, I think it was a combination of the over the top publicity with the reputation of the developer, Free Radical, that led to it being seen as such a disappointment when finally released. Free Radical had previously been best known as the creators of the classic Playstation 2 series, Timesplitters, and some members of the team had worked on the legendary Nintendo 64 title Goldeneye 007. This obviously led to heightened expectations for their first game on what was a new platform at the time.
Essentially a fairly standard FPS, Haze did feature a few innovations. The game is set in the near future where national armies have been replaced by a private corporation called Mantel Global Industries, which is now tasked with all peacekeeping operations which would previously have been the remit of the UN. The player assumes the role of a Mantel soldier called Shane Carpenter whose squad has been assigned a mission to eliminate the leader of a guerrilla movement in South America who has been accused of war crimes such as ethnic cleansing. As well as using conventional weaponry Mantel soldiers are also issued with a performance enhancing drug called Nectar.
It is an interesting premise which gave the game the potential to explore themes including how profit motives affect warfare, could armies utilise pharmaceutical innovations to give them an edge in combat and so on. The storyline draws on various science fiction movies such as the Alien series (Mantel's logo is noticeably similar to the Weyland-Yutani corporation) and Starship Troopers (the influence of propaganda as a motivation for warriors). Unfortunately this potential was wasted due to poor scripting including dialogue which sounded like a first draft, and a storyline which although not bad was too superficial to explore any of the concepts introduced in any real depth. Another issue was the quality of the voice acting which although never sinking to the depths of the first Resident Evil game, isn't particularly accomplished either. At times it sounded like the cast had just been handed their lines and made to read them immediately. Haze really needed a high level of maturity and sophistication to pull of the type of story it was trying to relate but really failed in this area. A game with a similar narrative style was Far Cry 2 which was so much more succesful, benefitting from not only superior scripting but also far better performances from the voice cast. In Far Cry 2 the mysterious bad guy known as the Jackal was both brilliantly played and had wonderful dialogue; Haze's equivalent Merino was mediocre in both respects and so never became all that interesting.
Carpenter was a protagonist who was hard to relate to as well. Usually games take either the approach of a mute lead character or use one with a lot to say. The halfway between the two style employed here was not very effective. With Carpenter not saying much it was very hard to understand his motivation and consequently he did not seem a very believable character.
The gameplay was mostly not particularly different to any other FPS you might have played previously. The guns handle well enough with decent shooting mechanics as you would expect from the Timesplitters team, though the amount of recoil on some weapons is a little excessive. The arsenal is pretty much the standard selection of shotguns, sniper rifles etc. It would have been nice to see some innovations in this aspect of the game. Using the Nectar drug was fun, however as you do get a sense of power from it. The enhancements provided, including the ability to zoom in further with scoped weapons and highlighting enemies did make the game a little too easy when playing at standard difficulty setting.
Level designs were poorly implemented with some areas being ridiculously large for no apparent reason except maybe to make the game last a bit longer, and confusing layouts. It was often hard to tell where you were supposed to go next despite the use of direction markers. There was the odd vehicle section which did give the game some much needed variety. These parts worked well enough, but weren't actually as well done as their equivalents in the PS2 Red Faction games. Some, such as a scene where you control a helicopter's gun ended far too quickly, giving the impression that the game was rushed out. Occassionally the game has a go at a setpiece action scene, such as one where you are on a ship that rocks around as it comes under attack. It does show some evidence of ambition on the part of the developers but the results don't approach the quality of the Uncharted series, sadly.
The AI wasn't great either. Enemy soldiers showed virtually no sign of tactical awareness, preferring to stare at neighbouring walls at times rather than the direction of gunfire, and they don't favour using cover much either. Your fellow squad members make some attempt to help out but are similarly incompetent so aren't much use. You can revive them if they take too many hits but there really wasn't much advantage to be gained by doing so. They also seem to appear and disappear in a fairly random fashion, giving the impression that the game was never quite finished.
Graphically, Haze was completely unimpressive in general. Some of the design was not bad and the first sections in the jungle actually work quite well. There were a lot of problems however; interiors were very poor with extremely bland decoration, textures are mainly rather lo-res and the animations were stiff and unimpressive. It mostly was closer to a PS2 quality than you would expect.
Eventually the whole thing wraps up in an assault on a land carrier, which is like an aircraft carrier which travels on land rather than water. Surprisingly, this level was quite accomplished, combining an attack on the carrier from a moving vehicle then driving on to it before progressing through the carrier on foot. It is a shame that the quality achieved here was not matched elsewhere.
Haze also featured several multiplayer modes, including the option to play the campaign online with up to 3 other players, a novelty at the time and rarely done later. The competitive modes were also quite decent with good game balance and a neatly designed use of the abilities featured in the campaign. They aren't anything outstanding but are certainly worth a few hours of your time.
In conclusion Haze is by no means one of the worst games on the PS3. It had a few interesting innovations in fact, but the end result was just too mediocre to succeed. There are so many other FPSes available that a game needs to be really special to stand out; Haze lacks a unique selling point that would make you choose it rather than the other big hitters of the genre such as the Killzone, Resistance or Call of Duty series. A brave attempt at something a little different which didn't turn out as well as it could have done.