Haze Impressions

We check out both solo and multiplayer demos of Free Radical Design's upcoming futuristic shooter.


Earlier this month, while attending Ubisoft's inaugural "Ubidays" event in San Francisco, we had an opportunity to check out a playable version of Haze for the first time. Currently in development at UK-based Free Radical Design, Haze is a first-person shooter set over the course of three days in the year 2048, by which time most of the world's governments have outsourced their military operations to major corporations. A group of rebels calling itself "The Promise Hand" is causing trouble somewhere in South America. As a sergeant employed by Mantel Global Industries, your mission--as far as we can tell--is to locate and eliminate the rebels. We weren't allowed to take the controls ourselves on this occasion, but there were plenty of Free Radicals on hand to talk us through both solo and multiplayer demonstrations.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

The first stage of the demo took place in a lush jungle environment where camouflaged enemies were almost impossible to pick out amongst the foliage. Fortunately, because you're working for MGI, you're outfitted with all of the company's very best high-tech weapons, gadgets, vehicles, and biomedical support. That last of these comes in the form of a performance-enhancing substance known as Nectar that can be administered to your body with the push of a button. Nectar not only makes you faster and more resistant to damage, but it also adds a number of special abilities to your arsenal. Perception makes enemies easier to spot by highlighting them in orange; focus offers a little aiming assistance to make it easier to kill enemies with headshots; foresight warns you of imminent dangers via a series of visible ripples on the screen that emanate from the enemy or projectile that's threatening you; and melee blast is a powerful melee attack. Like most substances that can't be purchased over the counter, Nectar comes with its fair share of side effects. The Free Radicals showing Haze to us hinted on more than one occasion that those side effects will feature quite prominently in the storyline. Details of Haze's story are, of course, being kept under wraps, but we're told that it'll have a quite sinister edge to it and that one of the subjects you'll be encouraged to think about as you play is the way that other games portray war. We've got one or two theories of our own on how Free Radical Design will achieve that goal, and after hearing about the content of the demos that we saw, you probably will too.

As you play through the three days during in which Haze is set, you'll move seamlessly--that meansno load screens--among a dozen different environments. These environments are known to include a jungle, a quarry, an observatory, a holiday resort, and a disused container ship. The first part of our demo took place in the jungle, which was the perfect locale to show off the aforementioned perception ability. As the Nectar was administered, we noticed that at least two components of the heads-up display superimposed on the screen-filling helmet visor are devoted to the substance. One indicator shows how many doses you have left, while another indictor shows the level of Nectar in your bloodstream. Other elements on the HUD included a health bar and a compass. The level of Nectar in your bloodstream is important because if you use too much, you'll overdose, which causes the screen to blur and enemies or allies to become indistinguishable. You'll also lose control of your trigger, which will automatically open fire on anyone who comes into view. Regardless of whether or not they're being controlled by the CPU or by up to three other players in a co-op game, your squadmates will be vulnerable to the harmful effects of Nectar in the same way as you, and we're told that as you progress through the game, you'll inevitably end up getting addicted.

Our second demo took place in the quarry locale and saw four Free Radicals teaming up in a co-op game. The choke points where gunfights took place were quite far apart, and to travel between them, the squad was using a black "Marine Buggy" that was somewhat reminiscent of the Warthog vehicle in the Halo series. In addition to the driver, the Marine Buggy had room for a soldier to ride shotgun on each side of the driver, as well as someone manning a rear-mounted turret. The driving sequences saw the squad coming under heavy fire, so the Free Radical that we sat with made a point of administering Nectar at one point and putting the foresight ability to good use. Every missile that hit the road was preempted by the aforementioned ripple effect emanating from what would become its point of impact, making it much easier to steer clear of them because there was very little warning otherwise. Proximity mines that lined certain portions of the dirt road gave off the same warning ripples when the demo player was using Nectar, and we suspect that the level would be almost impossible to complete without the drug. Even with the Nectar, we had plenty of opportunities to see the Marine Buggy taking damage, and by the end of the demo, it was a smoking, dented mess.

The third and final level that we were afforded a brief glimpse of during our demo was taken from later in the game. It tasked the MGI squad with locating and eliminating a rebel chief in an industrial setting. The whole environment's appearance was almost devoid of color, and perhaps as a result of excessive Nectar use in previous locales, the action had a much grittier feel to it. This was largely down to the enemies, who screamed and writhed around on the ground in agony after being shot, which was in stark contrast to the quiet deaths that we'd seen earlier. Perhaps it's only toward the end of the game that you'll get to see the combat in Haze for what it really is because you won't be in a "haze" anymore.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

Perhaps the most surprising thing about our Haze demo, given the game's futuristic setting and the fact that you're supposed to be equipped with the very best that MGI has to offer, was the distinct lack of a shiny, future arsenal. We asked a couple of the Free Radicals about it and were told that Haze won't feature a huge arsenal of different weapons, but you'll learn to use weapons differently as you progress. We're also told that you'll be limited to carrying just two firearms and two types of grenade at any time. When asking about some of the specifics pertaining to Nectar, we also learned that the Nectar in your body will replenish slightly every time you kill an enemy, making it possible to prolong the drug's positive effects by going on a killing spree. We look forward to bringing you more information on Haze as soon as it becomes available.

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