It's fair to say that not all games have an easy developmental phase. Some, like Spore, languish in a kind of no-mans-land between design and release, presumably held down by the complexity of cross-platform design, and a healthy dose of developer perfectionism. Others, like Duke Nukem Forever, have become a kind of running joke in the industry, spoken in carefully hushed tones with the same reverence actors preserve for the word "Macbeth".
Haze hasn't had an easy run of it either. Originally announced at E3 in 2006 (some of you may remember that as the last year E3 actually mattered) Haze was supposed to be under development for the Xbox 360 and PC as well as PlayStation 3, and was all set for release around halfway though 2007. This of course was pushed back to the end of 2007, then May 2008, and shortly afterwards the Xbox 360 and PC platforms were dropped from the line-up. This whole affair couldn't have been managed worse if New Zealand Immigration had been in charge, and even poor Korn managed to get in on the act, going to all the trouble of writing and recording a song for the game a full seven months before they needed to.
Never mind, what matters now is that the game has been completed and is already shipping overseas. New Zealand won't see the title on shelves until May 30th, so we were dead keen to get our hands on it at Ubisoft's head office this morning.
For those who haven't been following the hype, Haze is a first person shooter set forty years in the future and centred around the acts of Mantel Global Industries, a shadowy multinational pharmaceutical company who have developed a superdrug capable of making soldiers fight harder, faster and smarter. This drug, known as "nectar", causes the solder to view the battlefield as a sort of utopia, and removes their ability to see war for what it really is, a complete bloodbath. You could almost view this as a sort of tongue-in-cheek commentary on the video game industry itself, as really the character you're controlling views the world just like a video game, which is to say, you're viewing your character viewing the world like a video game. Or something. Anyway, there's always a side effect, and it just so happens that overdosing on nectar causes your fellow soldiers to glow bright red, stagger around and try to kill each other, presumably the inspiration for which was discovered by the developers after a sketchy night at The Loaded Hog.
We are introduced to the story of Shane Carpenter at the beginning of the game. Shane is a soldier for the Mantel Corporation, and has been tasked to kidnap "Skin Coat", the leader of a rebel pocket army known as "The Promise Hand". Hordes of soulless Mantel employees have joined ranks alongside Shane, whilst being fed propaganda and continually doped up on drugs until they not only believe everything they're told, they actually enjoy carrying out orders. Sort of like working in a call centre, but with guns. Shane seems a little different to the rest of his comrades, who typically resemble the sort of brain-dead morons who high-five in public, and it's not long before he begins to perceive a darker side to the mind-control offered by Mantel.
Controls are as fluid as you would expect, and despite the notable disadvantage of using a controller in a first person title you can still pull off some fantastically accurate headshots. You have the traditional range of weapons available to you, including rifles, pistols and knives, and alongside a conventional grenade you also get the option to create a nectar grenade - an item that explodes and forcefully overdoses troops in order to make them attack each other - which introduces a concept that worked well during our play through.
There were no noticeable framerate issues during our demonstration, and although the graphics weren't out of this world, they're certainly more than capable for the FPS genre. Likewise the sound - the dialogue may be a little cheesy, however we can't help but think this is entirely intentional. It had grown on us by the time we had to put down the controller, and had the developers approached the story in any other way it just wouldn't have seemed right.
Although we only played the single-player campaign for a short time, we could see the potential in this title. There's been some criticism of Haze in the press, and without a full copy of the game we're unable to tell if this is deserved, but at least from our brief foray, the hallucinogenic world of nectar doesn't seem like a bad place to be. We're really looking forward to trying out the four-person co-op mode as well, Haze seems like the perfect title for this sort of jump-in, jump-out gameplay so stay tuned for a full review shortly.
In the meantime, you can check out what others have been saying in GP Forums, and there's even a playable demo to be had from the PlayStation Network.