Some things I've learned....

(1) An Engineer can do with 10 cent what a fool can do with a Euro.

(2) "Puff" - unimportant; insignificant; unworthy of study by engineering students; waste of time

(3) It's better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you're stupid than to open it and prove them right!

(4) Blockwork people and concrete people can never work on the same site... Apparently they don't like each other....

(5) It's official; I'm fantastic!

Monday 26 May 2008

Haze - The Review

Last Saturday I managed to get my hands on Haze, the latest FPS from legendary developers Free Radical. I had been slightly put off by the IGN review which gave it a 4.5/10, but I can safely say - having now played through it in full - that it is not 4.5 bad. Yes it has flaws, but there are aspects of the game which more than makes up for them.

You are Shane Carpenter, a newly enlisted Mantel Corp Sergeant eager to taste his first sip of battle. The game opens with a first person perspective in-game engine cutscene. This is the style that all cutscenes follow during the course of the game by the way. You're rising on a platform to the deck of the Mantel Land Carrier when meet your squad mates for the first time. Everything feels good; the sun is shining, everyone looks well, life is good. As you stand on deck two large aircrafts fly over, with a roar from the troopers on deck - their latest shipment of precious nectar is here - when a rocket from the jungle cripples one of the planes. You are immediately dispatched to assess the damage....

As you drop down from your troop carrier you get a brief tutorial about using Nectar. Nectar is the combat enhancing drug used by Mantel troopers. You are always on Nectar, but controlled boosts allow you to shoot better, see enemies more clearly, take more damage and strike harder. Too much Nectar and you overdose, loosing the ability to tell friend from foe. This only happens once beyond your control in the course of the game. Nectar is designed to give you confidence and like any drug will want you coming back for more, and my God is that true. Ok, I've never taken drugs myself, but once you start juicing up on Nectar you feel invincible, and just want to use it more. So when you use up your initial six doses, the wait for them to regenerate - even just one capsule - can become agonising.

I'll be honest though - Haze is a shooter, and gunplay is quite solid. As a Mantel trooper you start off with an Assault rifle and a pistol. Both sides have a counterpart with the exception that the Rebels have a knife instead of a pistol and a gatling gun and flamethrower instead of a rocket launcher. All work well and you'll soon find your favourite. Graphics are ok. They're not the greatest out there and they certainly look better on a SD tv rather than a HD one, but this is a shooter, and graphics are one of the least important things, but graphics do help.

As you progress through the opening level you can approach a certain rock. You're hardly thinking about your surroundings when suddenly the screen shakes, the colour turns to black and white, the message "Nectar Disruption" reads on the bottom of the screen and lying sprawled on the rock is a dead body. Seconds later the Nectar reboots and the body disappears. Already it has you asking questions. This happens again in the 3rd "stage". You enter a room which is seemingly empty, only for your Nectar to go again. This time you can see blood smeared everywhere, bodies lying in heaps all over the place. The non-Nectar existence becomes more graphic when you go to pull a lever, and see your hand covered in blood. The Nectar disruptions become more frequent, and it is only when cut off from Nectar you realise how fragile you are. Without it, bullet shots are louder, you can see the bullets making contact with flesh, people are screaming. It becomes evident quite fast that Nectar is giving you an edited view of the world. It also becomes apparent that Shane is not like his squad mates, when they cut off the finger of the Merino, a man they have been led to believe wears a coat of human skin. This prompts Shane to switch sides.

It's far more elaborate than that though. The carrier bringing Merino and your squad back is shot down, and crashes in a swamp. As you emerge from the wreckage you learn that Mantel are after you because they cannot access your Nectar administrator. A rebel scout brings you back to their HQ. It is here that the effect of Nectar becomes more evident. Now fully off the drug, your former comrades (who were rescued from the wreckage by the rebels) try to take over the rebel base. Their suits are covered in blood, their faces shallow and their eyes bloodshot. This is a vast difference to the image given to the player when we first meet them on the land carrier. As a rebel, your tactics change, and you can no longer rely on Nectar to fortify your health. You can double tap X to do a roll, steal your opponents weapon, lay mines, make Nectar grenades, and wipe Nectar on your knife.

Gameplay is a lot more fun as a rebel. Though I am disappointed that we didn't get to play as a Mantel trooper for very long. The story is quite good - and graphical, particularly when you open a shipping container to find it full of Nectar troopers with no signs of bullet wounds on the corpses - but the voice acting is a litte OTT. There are no load screens in the game, meaning you could technically play it through without stopping. The levels themselves are as a result quite big, and it is often difficult to ascertain where one level begins and another ends. Another problem as a result of this is that it can often be hard to tell where you're supposed to go. There are sometimes flares on the ground to direct you, but finding the flares isn't always easy either! No loading screens adds to the story in a way, as games which use defined "levels" can sometimes feel a little disjointed. The games main holding point is that it can be played co-op style offline and online, and you don't need to start a new segment to do it. A human player can sign in and immediately take the place of one of the AI controlled allies. Speaking of AI, enemy AI is definitely one of the games low points. It's not great. Putting it simply. I did expect better, but rumour has it that playing on Hard mode is a real challenge.

Multiplayer is quite fun aswell, with the Team Assault mode standing head and shoulders above the other two. Online stats are also very extensive, and rewards are given for certain events. The back of the case indicates that there will be free downloadable content - here's hoping it's more weapons, modes and maps for multiplayer.

To sum it up, Haze isn't the greatest FPS ever, but it IS fun! I've certainly enjoyed it. The campaign could've been a bit longer but multiplayer can make up for that. Graphics and audio are ok, and gameplay is good for an FPS. Free Radical have sought to bring some new elements to FPS gameplay with the two asymmetric styles of gameplay and it does work!

Graphics: 7
Gameplay: 8
Sound: 7
Longevity: 6
Presentation: 6
Extras/Unlockables: n/a

Overall: 6.8

Now just to wait for MGS4. Oh...and the ending kindof hinted there might be a sequel...Don't know whether that's for better or worse....

~The Damo

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