In the world of UK game development, Free Radical is probably one of the more closely scrutinised studios around. Both with and after Rare, the team has created a string of first-person shooters such as GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and TimeSplitters. With Haze, the studio hopes to take this experience and marry it with a brand-new politically charged storyline. We recently had the chance to play a number of stages from the upcoming PS3-exclusive shooter in both single-player and four-player cooperative modes. From what we experienced, Haze blends a pretty unique storyline with some solid, enjoyable gameplay in the campaign. A highlight of Free Radical's works to date has always been engaging and compelling multiplayer, and Haze will support up to 24-player online play--the only problem is that the multiplayer content is still under embargo. Until then, let us present to you the campaign side of the game.
For those who are a bit sketchy on the game's premise, here's a quick recap. Haze is set in the near future, where nations have been outsourcing their military forces to corporations such as Mantel Industries (think RoboCop). Mantel, engaged in a war with rebels in an unnamed South American country, has its own private army of troopers that rely on a drug called Nectar to offer heightened senses, reflexes, and strength.
In addition to its benefits, Nectar also has a downside. The drug is highly addictive and, playing as a Mantel soldier, you'll experience some of the nasty side effects when you're not dosed up on the juice. You can also easily overdose if you're not careful. If this happens, your vision will blur and you'll become a gun-wielding maniac shooting at anything that moves, whether it's friend or foe. Rebels can also trigger an overdose with a well-placed melee attack to your back, where the Nectar regulator sits. For more information on the abilities of both troopers and rebels, see our previous coverage.
We played through a number of stages, including the jungle of the Selva region, where you start your journey as a Mantel trooper. Throughout the game, you'll play the game's protagonist, Shane Carpenter, who undergoes a crisis of conscience as he suffers through the nasty effects of Nectar withdrawal symptoms and detox to see what the world looks like without the drug's feel-good effects. After this plot twist, which occurs halfway through the game, you'll switch sides from Mantel trooper to Promised Hand rebel.
In the first rebel level we saw, we answered a distress signal from a container ship not far from the Promised Hand's hideout. While fighting your way through the rusty tub you eventually stumble upon the transmitter of the signal, who provides some clues on the purpose of Mantel's presence in the region. The next stage, Dientes de Vaca, involves a mountain ascent using a rebel pickup truck. Running the gauntlet up the mountain, you encounter a number of trooper barricades, and if your vehicle takes too much damage you need to jump ship and steal a Mantel vehicle. The rebel truck is pretty easy to handle and not overly sensitive, but like other vehicles that we've tried in the game, it can flip if you hit an unstable patch. Bailing out under heavy fire is never a wise plan of action, because there are plenty of intense firefights to keep you occupied on your way to the summit.
Throughout the game you play as a four-man squad, and Haze supports four-player co-op and two-player split-screen. Joining as an additional player is easy, either from the same console or a local network (and should be just as easy via PlayStation Network). Extra players will take the place of a computer-controlled team member and if they drop out, the system will resume control. If you die you'll get back in the game at the next checkpoint, so even if your aim is lousy, you won't be condemned to the sidelines.
The final rebel level we saw, Mirador del Aguila, involves infiltrating an observatory that sits atop the mountain. Throughout the rebel missions you'll be given directions from the rebels' leader, "Skin Coat" Merino, and interact with your teammates, so even if you're playing by yourself, it's not a totally solo affair. While some of the dialogue comes across a bit strained and hammy, the general storyline is pretty intriguing, and getting to the bottom of Mantel's end plan seems compelling enough to keep you going to the end.
Haze's graphics still look a bit rough, especially the particle effects spraying out under vehicles. The game's environments appear detailed, although some of the indoor environments are a bit on the bland side. Haze's artificial intelligence was generally pretty good and enemies didn't waste time firing lead at you, although teammates occasionally did weird things and didn't always follow our lead. On occasion the physics were also a problem, and caused vehicles to become stuck in precarious situations which were hard to get out of. We also found that the game's collision detection didn't always work, with AI-controlled soldiers standing inside solid objects at times.
For more information on Haze, check out our previous coverage and stay tuned for more details on the much-anticipated multiplayer mode in the coming weeks.