This weekend, intrepid PSU reporter Rob Zwetsloot got his hands on Haze at the Play.com Live event. Known among his peers to view FPS single player modes with mild indifference, will Haze lift his apathy?
Looking around the middle level of the show, you can’t help but notice the presence of Haze. A few separate booths circle a food stand emblazoned with Haze boards, and helpful Ubisoft staff greet you and introduce you to the demo pods of the game.
The demo itself contained four levels of the single player campaign, set in forest and desert environments. We spawn as the protagonist, Shane Carpenter, with an Assault Rifle and a side arm among our AI controlled team mates. A brief cutscene sets up the level, and in this particular one it seems we’re looking for a crashed aircraft.
Looking at the screen, the HUD is clean and uncluttered. A thin compass shows your heading and objective location at the top, while nectar and health are shown in the bottom corners. Weapon information concerning rounds and magazines are shown on the gun you are using, with outline of selectable weapons in top right corner and remaining grenades in top left. Also, like the Metroid Prime games, you can see a small part of your visor on the bottom corners of the screen, but this does not affect your view in any way.
Using your weapon is a standard affair. You get an onscreen cross hair for rough aiming, and can press L1 to go into aiming mode, similar to Call of Duty. The main rifle does a decent job of mowing down the bad guys you’ll encounter, and your AI team mates seem to be proficient enough with it to not require you to be Rambo.
The crown jewel of the weapons we encountered was the default side arm you receive. Equipped with a scope, it’s similar to the Magnum from the original Halo, albeit with the power of the Magnum from Gears of War. Effectively, you’re carrying around a hand cannon with a sniper zoom, and because of this, we ended up entering many an area and sniping soldiers with it. Shots from this thing tended to floor any opponent, and the gun itself had a meaty recoil to match. We likey.
In close range however, it’s better to change to your assault rifle, as the rate of fire on the magnum is very low. There is a melee attack in the game, but the range of it is not very large, and is more used in situations where you turn round and someone is right freaking there. A developer told us that this is because “we didn't want people to get into those button mashing melee contests”, and that we should “think of it like a special move, like a Dragon Punch”. To get the most out of it, timing and distance must be very accurate, but the rewards are worth it.
Going back to weapons for a moment, you have so many magazines, and when you reload any rounds left in the discarded magazine are not kept, much like Battlefield or Flashpoint. You can, however, pick up more magazines like you would ammo in some games. You can also pick up weapons from fallen Promise Hand men. They’re rifle has many more rounds per mag, and you can then obviously pick up your foes magazines. This comes in handy if you run out of ammo for your main rifle.
So how does it play? Well for those who don’t know, one of the key features of Haze is the nectar, a performance-enhancing drug that you and your buddies can take. It increases your speed, highlights enemies, and gives you a greater resistance to damage. You can merely tap L2 to administer a quick dose, which will fill up about two-thirds of your Nectar metre, or you can hold it down to increase your dose.
When you’re sufficiently high enough on the stuff, enemies are highlighted in yellow, and your in game speed is increased. Both of these are good, as the character's movement in the game is very sluggish when not pumped up with nectar. Also, in some areas that are quite dark, it can be hard to pick up where you’re being shot from. Injecting some Nectar and surveying your surroundings will help you quickly locate any guerrillas baying for your jacked-up blood.
The nectar also has the effect of ‘highlighting’ your shots in a way, whether its because of the small spurt of blood from the impact on the backdrop of the luminous yellow or just making the spurt more bold we didn’t quite ascertain. Either way it makes shooting ranged opponents much easier, as you can tell whether or not you’re actually hitting them, and where.
To balance out the benefits you get from the nectar, you only get so many doses of it at the start of the level, and each dose runs out after so long. However, killing enemies gives you a ‘boost’ in your nectar, so chaining kills makes your dose last a whole lot longer. This helps drastically when you’re trying to defend a position from waves of guerrillas, as you can last with a minimal amount of Nectar use.
To add to the balancing, you can overdose on the stuff if you try to inject yourself with too much at one time. This causes the player to initially start swaying wildly, and if any friends are in sight, your gun will start shooting on its own to replicate loss of control. At times like this, you cannot tell friend from foe, as everyone is just a black silhouette. Eventually you will recover, and the nectar meter will go down to show how much time you have left until you do. Overdosing is fairly annoying when it happens, so you soon learn the limits of using your nectar in the best way.
There was a brief driving section where you manned a jeep not unlike the Hellbender of Unreal Tournament fame. Two of your teammates could sit on either side of the jeep and fire out, while a third can operate the mounted turret on the rear. The section was a bit like one of the many driving bits in Halo, although dismounting during fights was far easier than trying to run your foe over. This, in some ways, is better as it keeps the action a little fresher.
Graphically, the game looked fairly good, although character eyes would stay firmly in place, giving them a creepy, glazed expression most of the time. Still, it ran smoothly without any noticeable slow down, even with grenades and guns going off around the place. The cutscenes were well animated even with the unmoving eyes of evil, although some of the character dialogue felt like they were trying to copy some of the machoism from Gears of War. However, this seems like it's probably part of the plot and part of the effect the Nectar has on the soldiers.
Overall, for an unfinished product, Haze was an enjoyable experience. Going around blasting luminous people with the magnum was a great joy, although on the flipside, the rest of the experience felt like most other shooters out there. As it’s not finished, some of these niggles may be ironed out, but either way, it’ll be interesting to see how all this carries over into the multiplayer, especially as multiplayer tends to make or break a lot of FPS games.