There are games that, when released, are real stinkers. Universally panned, abused, and slammed. But like Roger Ebert's stress relief reviews, some of these games really don't deserve it and some games are given a horrible reputation in conjunction with "pile on syndrome." Games that have been bashed this horribly are often victims of the pleasure found in writing a horrible review and that is the point of these blogs. Was H4.5E truly that bad, or did it find itself in the middle of the well documented antiSony propaganda machine and overhyped by the publisher?
In the first part, I'll be going over the history of the studio, the game, the troubles prelaunch, and the reaction. In the next part, I'll be playing the first half of the game, followed by the second half, and then the conclusion. In other words, expect me to get 4 seperate blog posts out of Haze. Ubisoft should be paying me for this but fine, whatever. My pain is your pleasure.
Free Radical is one of those companies that had a very loyal fanbase. Second only to Turok: Rage Wars, their Timesplitters PS2 launch game was rare in saying, "fuck single player, people loved Goldeneye Multiplayer." Because of this dramatic shift, Timesplitters single player campaign was essentially running a course of levels. Retrieve the item, escape, win. The gem of the game is that it's multiplayer content, including a level editor, was a bevy of wealth which, true fans, could mine for hours upon hours. Trust me on this as my game saves tell the tale better than I.
Timesplitters 112 hours
Timesplitters 2 178 hours
Timesplitters 3 213 hours
The reaction to this focus, however, was largely scorn. You see, we are used to fighting games having no focus on the single player content (and to this day we still support Capcoms laziness in this area) but it's rare to see it in a shooter. Other games, like Chromehounds and Warhawk, have also taken abuse for this focus. And so, with the sequel, Timesplitters 2 added a robust and massive campaign. Considered by many as a true successor to Goldeneye, this is where the fanbase truly came in. While review scores of Red Faction 2 and Timesplitters 2 were similar, Penny Arcade once famously suggested that the choice and play of Red Faction 2 was a leading cause of lepresy.
In an era where super powered games were largely dungeon crawlers, Free Radical attempted Second Sight. Another mistimed release, it went face to face with Psi Ops. In the game, there were several sections where the morality of killing was called into question and it laid the ground work for Haze's ambitions. Otherwise, Second Sight game and went with barely a notice as Timesplitters 3 was announced.
Timesplitters 3 focused on Cortez and cranked up the humor. Considered one of the funniest games of last generation, it also introduced online gameplay to it's already massive multiplayer options. This, however, fell upon deaf ears. Like many, Jeff Gerstman stated in a gamespot review, "In a world where Halo 2 exists, why do we want Timesplitters: Future Perfect?" Suffice it to say, it did well but the luster of Timesplitters 2 was apparently wearing off and their next project had to be ambitious.
Supposedly the worst graphics ever...
Another Exclusive in a Crowd of Hated Exclusives
Looking back at the reactions to PS3 exclusives, it's a wonder we're where we are today. Resistance sucked compared to Gears of War. (which was like comparing The Beatles to Lady Gaga, but this is the face of games journalism then and now) Untold Legends sucked compared to Oblivion. Heavenly Sword sucked because it was too short. Motorstorm sucked compared to Forza. These are all comparisons that were made at the time by major gaming news outlets. The attitude was, if you were a PS3 exclusive, you took a LOT of heat before you even came out. Is it a wonder, then, that this was also the era were many games were breaking exclusitivity? Haze held true on pledged allegiance, and some might say (Fox News tactic, gotta love it) it took heavy abuse just for this fact.
The other aspect was Ubisoft, not Free Radical, was overselling this game. "The $70 million dollar Halo killer that's the reason you bought your PS3 and will crush Xbox 360. Pay attention kiddies, this one will destroy you all and make you it's bitch." Haze was getting two very different messages sent out. On the publisher side of things, Haze was going to topple the gaming industry and recreate shooters in its image. From the developers side of things, they were talking up what they were trying to accomplish with the story and attempting to attach morality to shooting games. One story was told in every magazine, at every press conference, and on every gaming blog. The other story was being told exclusively through Game Developer Magazine and Gamasutra. So it's easy to see how one story was being outshouted by the other.
But Free Radical also had other problems. First, what they were attempting to accomplish was never done before and only dabbled in with titles like Second Sight and Bioware game.s (Which still limit their morality to "kill babies" or "save guy") So there was no roadmap on "this is how you paint these characters a certain way to imply emotion connotation." The other, and perhaps biggest issue, was Free Radical had no experience on a next gen platform and Cell, while more powerful than the architecture running Xbox 360, was still largely unknown, untested, and only Insomniac, Kojima Productions, and Naughty Dog were making huge strides unlocking this machine and more importantly, sharing this information. Bogged down, inexperienced, and reviled, Free Radical marched on until Ubisoft finally said, "finish it and ship it or we pull the plug." Of course this is unprovable and it's mostly heresay, but that was the general attitude. Finish Haze, release Haze, and move on with your life.
Generic yet cool soldier design...
We Love To Hate You
What Haze tried to accomplish was attaching morality to the killing in every shooting game out there. A rough trick to be certain. They attempted this by focusing on a shifted perception towards a righteous cause, the kinds of tactics that have been proven in almost all theatres of war. That was the core concept of the game.
When Haze dropped, like all PS3 exclusives at the time, it had the heavy burden of validating the hardware. Haze, as a game, had to prove it was worth $660 dollars, a task rarely expected of games in any other era. Some reviewers came forward and said, "Not a good game, but playable." Would it have dropped in the middle of titles like Prey and The Darkness, the bar would still be set pretty low. Modern Warfare, Uncharted, Warhawk, and even Halo 3 had all come out, adjusting the bar far beyond reasonable expectations. Right around the corner, and even more damning, MGS4 was due in less than a month. As a symbol of the much hated PS3, or a failure to live up to the hype, Haze rubbed some people the wrong way and boy, were they going to pay for their crimes.
After Haze's public shaming, the game refused to shift copies at retail. Within two weeks, $20 was being marked off MSRP leading Ludwig Kietzman to associate Batman's difficulty disposing a bomb to Haze's ultimate destiny. (Yet these same parallels were not being made for Portal 2, Hot Pursuit, Mortal Kombat, or other games people liked) As I followed Haze's progress through interviews on Gamasutra, I was shocked at the reaction and wondered if I should wait. My copy was acquired for a scant $10 and sat on my shelf until recently, when I booted up and installed the game...
Next Episode: My Early Days In Mantel... read