Haze is bananas -- at least, that's what Rob Yescombe was saying about the game before people could get their hands on this PS3 title at PAX. Up until this past weekend, I had no idea what Haze really was. Sure, we've posted about the game quite a few times, but I just never paid much attention to. It's safe to say now though, after having some hands-on time with this game, it's going to be a most own for me next year.
Haze is like your standard FPS game with a twist. YOU CAN DO DRUGS! Or rather, take a substance called Nectar that will aid yourself and your fellow solders. The ten minute long demo starts you off as a Mantel Global Industries soldier sent in to take care of a situation only you and your special forces can handle. The MGI are so caring and considerate, they've equipped your suit with tons of tricks. For starters, you don't hear the screams and pains of anyone you kill. Furthermore, you won't even see their blood! Here's the best part though! The bodies of your enemies that you've killed will disappear as if you were playing a videogame! As scary as an idea like this sounds for a real life adaptation, let me tell you about the best part of being a Mantel Global Industries soldiers: Drugs are A-O.K, so long as it's called something nice like Nectar.
Alright, enough of being a little sarcastic bastard. The Nectar concept is actually a really unique game play element that helps raise the bar on the FPS genre. You can inject some Nectar into yourself which will give you more stamina, precision aiming and turn your enemies into bright beams of energy to help you see your enemies more clearly. In the first level of the demo we played, the Jungle Level, seeing your enemies in this way helped out a lot. You have to be careful though -- take too much Nectar and you'll start to overdose and confuse your allies as your enemies. Speaking of allies, Haze is going to be an online four player co-op game.
The demo we got to play was set up into three parts. You first start off as a Mantel soldier being dropped into the jungle. One thing I noticed was that the level was very detailed and lush. I didn't have time to sight see though because the Rebels came in and started shooting me and my team almost immediately. After taking out the small group and traveling into the jungle for a bit, an in-game cut scene takes place with a couple of planes doing a bomb run on a group of targets. After this is over, your team goes further into the jungle and takes on more enemy Rebels. As soon as this group was cleared, the next part of the demo loaded up.
The next level had you still playing as the Mantel soldier and dropped you off next to some vehicles in a canyon. The vehicles are very reminiscent of the Warthog from Halo: One person drives, one person mans the chain gun and the other two take up the side seats. I quickly regretted taking a side seat and wished I drove instead because whoever was driving in this demo sucked ... balls. After flipping the vehicle a few times, we made our way through the canyon avoiding Rebels, giant explosions and falling rocks. Nectar can still be used while driving but no consequences have been implemented yet for OD'ing while riding shotgun. I believe there is a consequence for OD'ing if you're the driver, but I couldn't tell if it there really was one because my teammate's driving skills was horrible.
After that little bit was over, the final stage of the demo is loaded and you're on the Rebel side. The first thing you'll notice is that you're a lot faster and can jump higher now that you aren't wearing the suit. Of course, you're more susceptible to damages and can be killed faster. Which brings me to an awesome feature of the game while playing as a rebel: Playing dead. An option will appear while you're getting shot at and if you time it right, you can fall to the ground and pretend you were killed. So when the Mantel soldier focuses on a new target, you can spring back up to life and surprise the bastards. This feature will also work in the multiplayer as well.
Another thing the Rebels can do is take the Nectar packs off of the dead soldiers and either strap it to a grenade or soak their knife into the Nectar. Then, you can throw the grenade or knife into a soldier and cause them to overdose and go crazy on other Mantel solders. You can also shoot the packs on the Mantel solders to create the same effect. After messing around as a rebel for a few minutes, the demo finally ends.
So far, I really like what I've played. The graphics are great, the controls are responsive and the concept is awesome. My only problem with the game though is the A.I. There virtually wasn't any brains on my enemies. I would find myself just staring at Mantel soldiers on the last level standing around or continuously running into walls. It's still way to early to judge this game harshly but I do know that Haze has chance for success on the PS3 (And maybe Xbox 360 ...) that can truly compete with the Halo franchise.
I'm rather jealous of our dear Hamza at the moment. You see, as a massive fan of Timesplitters 2 -- and Free Radical in general -- I was seriously looking forward to Haze at Leipzig this year, and while I did have a great time having the game demoed for me by FR's David Doak, I tragically didn't get to play it. Not only that, but having read Hamza's report, it seems he got to play exactly the sections I only got to see. Peeved. Very peeved. Watching Haze being played and hearing it explained is one of those hideously frustrating "Just gimme the goddamn pad!" experiences, and I'm not going to be happy until Mr. Aziz and myself are on a equal footing. But why am I so hyped up?
For a start, the use of the Nectar mechanic in Haze is fantastic. It's a great example of one additional element being explored to its fullest in order to really add a whole new angle to a game, and the amount of offensive and tactical variety it seems to add has really got me interested. It's not just going to be great for letting you take down Mantel troops when playing as a rebel, or mess with your friends in multiplayer though. It was explained to me how the use and eventual loss of Nectar throughout the single player campaign is going to be used for some seriously dramatic effect, as the protagonist starts to doubt the world he's living in, and eventually has the true horror of what he's doing shown to him. Aside from boosting combat abilities, Nectar sanitizes the violence of the game, and I find the use of that as a narrative tool as exciting as anything that it can do as an in-fight augmentation.
It's also going to add an interesting psychological element to multiplayer too. It'll be great charging into the fray with pumped-up Mantel troops on your side, but will you really be able to trust your buddies? One Nectar injection too far and your wing-man could suddenly become your enemy and need taking out by one of your own team. It's a fun mechanic and one that's hopefully going to add a great deal of tension to team deathmatches.
Speaking of multiplayer, what I saw seemed to be a great blend of tactics and on-the-fly anarchy. One of the things that pleased me most about the Haze demo in general was the sheer slickness and nippy tempo of the whole thing. Slow or clunky movement can kill an FPS for me, particularly in deathmatch, and I was really happy to see that Haze seemed to move along at a fair old whack, much like my beloved old TS2.
As I begrudgingly said in my intro paragraph, I haven't played Haze yet, so I unfortunately can't write as much as I'd like to be able to right now. What I will say though, is that having seen what I've seen and heard what I've heard, I can absolutely believe that Hamza had as much fun as he said he did (Swine!), and that having had my suspicions confirmed, I'm going to be trying to get my hands on Haze as soon as humanly possible.