Get lost in the Haze!
July 23, 2007 – Everyone knows war is hell. But it’s generally assumed that it’s one of the grittier sides to human nature, and is not something that anyone plans for. But Haze, coming this fall to the PlayStation 3 and next year to the Xbox 360 and PC, explores the question of engineered combat. What if war was big business? What if conflicts around the world were orchestrated so that the privileged few could line their pockets with the blood of the combatants?
Haze is set in a futuristic world where this nightmare is the reality. You play as Shane Carpenter, who has been selected to be a soldier by the atrocious Mantel corp. Mantel, in its quest to reign supreme in the corporation-sponsored wars, has developed a rather “unique” supplement to give its soldiers. It’s called “Nectar,” and it increases skill and enhances your speed and agility to almost superhuman levels. But there are also dire consequences to this mega-juice. It may just even alter your reality.
Somewhere in the game you’ll change sides, and be free of the Nectar induced highs that have been suppressing you for so long. But you’ll also be free of the superhuman strength that you once possessed. And what of the rebel group Promised Hand? Are they any better than the megacorp Mantel? All is not what it seems in this Haze.
Sounds pretty gripping, eh? The story is what seems to be the driving force behind Haze’s experience. But trust me, the game does not fall short in any other area as well. One big area full of promise is the visuals. The PS3 version is getting the most exposure, and from what I’ve seen, it looks to die for. The action sequences look like cinema scenes and are fluid and full of detail. Fires burn and general mayhem is ongoing in the background, while the real action is captivating and brought to your attention in stunning detail. Footage from trailers shows even more smooth detail and fluid animation that is real-enough looking to make you do a double take. I’m not kidding. Look at it yourself.
But if you supersede the graphics and the story, you’ll find the element that excites me the most: The gameplay. The combination of the world-altering Disparity Rendering system and the always unpredictable Conspire A.I. system ensure an exciting and volatile experience every time you immerse yourself in Haze’s dark world. Combatants will behave in an erratic and unpredictable fashion, challenging you to the fullest extent.
Another big feature of this game is its ever-changing and evolving battle system. Since so many factors will be affecting the story and your character’s ability to fight, you’ll have to adapt to different forms of combat and different character statuses. And once you switch sides, there’s a whole new gameplay experience in store. Everything you learned during the first half of the game will be completely changed, and it’s a whole new battle system and a whole new game
In addition to the single-player story mode, Haze also features a relatively complex online multiplayer mode. This mode is co-op, so you can play with a local buddy and face off against a team online. And you’ll be able to play as either a Mantel soldier or one of the rebels. So it’ll definitely be a customizable experience, and there will also be several tie-ins to the one-player campaign to add yet another level of depth to the Haze experience.
Overall, even though Haze has been in the works for some time, this year’s E3 coverage upped the ante even more. And now we only need to wait less than four months to check this one out on the PlayStation 3 in its entirety!
Looking a little Haze-y
May 23, 2007 – If you were a soldier, would you take drugs that could enhance your abilities? Would you allow yourself to use a super-steroid to boost your battle abilities? How much of a performance enhancing drug is too much? Although most people will never have to ask themselves these questions, PS3 owners may have to tackle this issue later this year. I had the opportunity to take a first hand look at Haze recently and I came away distinctly impressed with Free Radical’s progress on the game.
Haze is apparently set in the near future, where a corporation named Mantel has become a near monopoly in multiple areas. However, one of Mantel’s most prized technologies is Nectar, a drug that gives people momentary bursts of superhuman ability. Mantel gives this drug to their private army, a squadron of soldiers that they use to crush uprisings against them. This is where the player comes in, playing from the perspective of one of Mantel’s private soldiers. Story details beyond this are a closely guarded secret at this point, but the game never takes you out of the first person perspective (like Half Life) and your character does have the occasional vision (a la F.E.A.R.), so we should be in for an interesting narrative.
The Nectar in Haze is one thing that makes the game really stand out from other games. Apparently, the press of a button administers Nectar to your character, which enhances a number of his abilities. When using Nectar, your character becomes faster, foes are highlighted, melee damage is increased, and you are alerted to danger before it happens, giving you a Spider-Sense of sorts without the spider-bite. However, like any drug, Nectar isn’t something that you can take without consequences. Too much Nectar has a negative effect on your character, causing you to lose the ability to distinguish between friends and foes and inadvertently initiating friendly fire. Your foes will even take advantage of this flaw, and will attempt to hit you with Nectar grenades or even puncture your Nectar supply from afar.
One thing that is unique about Haze is that the game supports four player co-op, something that is unprecedented in gaming. Free Radical has promised that four people can play through the game together online. This should create some interesting and fun gaming moments with four individuals working together. I even had the opportunity to see a vehicle that the four players shared, with one person driving, one person manning the turret, and two on the sides with their guns at the ready, allowing them to fire their weapons while riding. In addition to the co-op, Haze will also support multiplayer versus, although there aren’t many available detail on this just yet.
The visuals in Haze are astounding and truly look next-gen. The stage that I saw was set in a jungle environment, and the foliage looked incredibly realistic. Especially impressive are the blur effects that start when the player is abusing Nectar, as the edges of the screen get distorted and the game world takes on an oddly focused look to simulate the Nectar advantage.
Haze is shaping up to look like a must play FPS, even in the hype of Halo 3. Free Radical’s pedigree with the TimeSplitters series is only more reason to expect a quality game when it releases later this year. Although the tone of the game is undoubtedly more serious than TimeSplitters (with the lack of monkeys), the gameplay should prove just as fun. We’ll see for certain this holiday season.
Would I Lie to You?
May 1, 2007 – Brains and brawn rarely meet in the FPS genre. Occasionally, a game will come along that is as smart as it is action-packed. Titles like Deus Ex and Half-Life immediately spring to mind. It’s not often that a game actually goes one step further, into the realm of satire. Free Radical has decided to try and walk this particular creative tightrope with their latest FPS, Haze.
We live in a strange time, no doubt. As our access to information grows exponentially, our individual liberties are increasingly under fire from a variety of sources, foreign and domestic, and the technologies meant to make our lives more fun and convenient often do just the opposite. It’s a technological and existential crisis we face, one which forms the central plot of Haze. Thirty years in the future, governments are essentially subjugated by massive corporate entities. No longer are militaries amassed for national defense, but rather military might is contracted to multinational corporations. The star player in the corporate world of Haze is Mantel Global Industries.
Founded by corporate dynamo David Bloomfield, Mantel has a hand in every major commercial endeavor from defense contracting to genetic engineering. Bloomfield himself is a bit like Tony Robbins mixed with Bill Nye the Science Guy, about three Red Bulls over his daily quota. His enthusiasm is contagious, contagious enough at least to inspire the Sergeant Jake Carpenter to enlist. That’s you.
As the old saying goes, the player gets to travel to new places, meet interesting people, and kill them. South Americans, to be specific, are the first target of Mantel’s horde-for-hire. Guerillas have been a continual thorn in the side of peace, harmony, and international commerce south of the equator, and you and your fellow servicemen and women are called in to extract it. Mantel not only backs you with billions of dollars in military firepower but also a handy pep-pill called Nova-Keto-Thyrazine, a.k.a. “NECTAR.” It’s the latest word in performance-enhancing supplements and, of course, Mantel Global Industries owns the copyright. Are there any unpleasant side-effects, you ask? Let me answer with another question. Have you heard of BZ? Google it, and just say no, kids. There’s obviously much more to Mantel Global Industries and NECTAR than meets the eye, and the player will unravel the truth as the game goes on.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of Mantel-supplied hardware to play around with. One can assume the standard array of handguns, rifles, and grenades are available, but aircraft with hovering technology and advanced body armor are also at Mantel’s disposal. Diverse weaponry is just another perk of global corporate domination. The leader of the opposition is a man with the somewhat cartoonish name of Gabriel “Skin Coat” Merino. As you could probably guess, it’s not just a cute nickname and more of an accurate description of his wardrobe. Still, all is not what it seems in the world of Haze, and Merino is probably no exception. Whatever the specifics of the plot, Haze looks really terrific.
Trailers and screenshots from the game show a high amount of graphic detail and realism, and the stills look about as good as the cinematics. The jungle is lush and vehicles and explosions are rendered in the high detail next-gen systems were made for. There seems to be a lot of attention paid to the cinematic quality of the game, as the trailer makes major shifts between the polished Mantel image and the reality of combat on the ground.
In terms of gameplay, it seems to utilize the standard FPS format. While the single player mode is the focus of the game, a standard multiplayer mode is available as well. The folks at Free Radical seem to have invested as much in the story and concept behind the world of Haze as the gameplay itself, so it remains to be seen if the game will suffer for it. In the meantime, you can delve into the dystopian world of Haze by visiting Mantel Global Industries’ official website, www.mantelglobalindustries.com. It’s a little thin on content but offers a chance to get a feel for the game with its sly satire of corporate culture and media.
There’s not a lot of room in video games for big ideas. Writing has always been an integral part of video games and even mega-hits like World of Warcraft can get a little wordy. At the same time, trying to say something about the status quo is liable to turn off most gamers, especially the steely-eyed, blood-hungry FPS market. Developers like Oddworld’s Lorne Lanning can pull it off, but only through novel concepts and eminently playable games. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and whoever said shoot-em-ups couldn’t be fun and smart? With the release date pushed back for further game development; confidence at Ubisoft seems to be high. If their ornate displays at previews are any indication, they’re gearing up for a big-budget event release, one which will match the ambition of a game that dares to blend shooting with satire.
The ability to mock that which most frightens us is one of the greatest and most crucial ironies of human existence. As our world grows ever closer to the one depicted in Haze, satire is more important now than ever. It’s the last thing one would expect from an FPS, but with the ever-growing popularity of gaming and the blurring line between games, film, and TV, it’s an idea whose time has come.
Free Radical Design flex their creative muscle with an all new shooter by Patrick Evans
July 8, 2006 – The boys down at Free Radical Design have been around the block a few times. The creative minds behind perennial FPS console favorite Timesplitters, the experience behind Free Radical is tough to match in this cut-throat industry. So when they announced a next-generation project that wasn’t Timesplitters, the industry took note.
Twenty or so years in the future, national defense is handled by privatized security firms sporting the most highly trained soldiers using the most advanced weaponry available. Haze’s trailer, which is available to view on their official website, plays like an army recruitment video for a firm called Mantelcore. Showing soldiers supplying refugees in a barren desert, playing football on an aircraft carrier, and later taking bullets to the shoulder without blinking, this Mantelcore paints the perfect picture of the ultimate soldier. That is, until this soldier goes crazy, ripping equipment from his armor and shooting a row of televisions playing the recruitment clip.
Not too terribly much is known about the plot of Haze. As a member of this privatized military force, you will travel with squadron members into heated environments under heavy fire. All the media displayed so far, from the E3 demo to the screenshots, place this title in a jungle, complete with beautiful waterfalls and lush vegetation.
War shouldn’t be this beautiful, but games like Haze, and to the same extent Crysis, manage to make the jungle look photorealistic. Leafy undergrowths sway while you hunt photorealistic enemies acting in unison, using precision tactics and well-placed grenades. Not only is the environment beautiful, but the AI seems to be a thing of beauty as well. While the enemy will be very dangerous armed with these tactics, your squadron will also be equipped with deadly intelligence capable of holding its own against the guerilla onslaught. Commanding these troops will be very simple as cover, deploy, attack, and follow is all mapped on the D-pad, allowing for quick decision making in the heat of battle.
Free Radical has hinted towards an interesting aspect of gameplay that will enhance the experience in the jungle. Civilians will inhabit many different battlefields, placing them directly in harms way during the firefight. More importantly than that, there will be decisions that must be made throughout the campaign as to what to do with certain people and their villages.
Stout veterans of the FPS world, Free Radical is exploring new territory with Haze. Squad tactics and morality systems is new to this team, but what we do know is that they are capable of visuals and gameplay that matches anything else out there. Shooter fans looking for a little morality with their gunplay should be pleased from what we have seen thus far. Haze’s release date has not be officially announced, but we do know that it will be out sometime next year.