Drug-addled mercenaries wearing glowing power armor trudging through the jungle with guns. What could possibly go wrong?
I think it's safe to say that very few people were madly trampling babies under foot to grab Haze on launch day. I know whatever atrophied dregs of enthusiasm I had breathed their last when I glanced at the back of the box and saw that it was an outdoor first-person shooter about space marines. "Whoop-de-fucking-doo," I thought. "I look forward to the vehicle section with horrible steering and spending half the game hiding under a table waiting for my health to regenerate." But then, up popped the hateful little angel on my shoulder who spends most of his time talking me out of buying a Cornetto every time I pass a 7-11. "Shame on you, Benjamin Yahtzee Sebastian Godzilla Croshaw", spake he. "Have you forgotten Call of Duty 4 already? You should give every game a chance to surprise you or you're no better than those dipshits who never played Mass Effect but condemned it as some kind of child-corrupting boob-stravaganza". I had to concede the point. And it's not like there are any other new games to talk about, unless I want to start oiling up my thighs for Age of Conan.
So, Haze. There's this impossibly well-equipped corporate army thing - who don't represent the United States, honest! - who invade some South American country and hit upon the world-beating idea of making their soldiers fight battles in a jungle environment with a bunch of glowing yellow lights strapped to their bodies. You start off fighting for the "camouflage is for sissies" crowd, but about halfway through, you realize that the huge, faceless corporation who controls their infantry with addictive drugs might possibly be a teensy bit on the amoral side and decide that blindly following orders is a mug's game, whereupon you defect to the opposing guerrilla army to blindly follow their orders instead. An unusual plot twist, which would probably have had greater impact were it not given away on the back of the fucking box.
The story is deeper than the usual "kill everyone who is different to us" military shooter fare, which I do appreciate. At the start of the game, your colleagues are a bunch of psychotic macho dicks, and it was a relief to find that I was supposed to think that, because I thought the same thing about my heroic squad mates in Halo, Crysis, Turok, Quake 4, and pretty much every game in which large men stand around comparing willies. The main character of Haze is characterized not as a wise-cracking walking armoury who lactates testosterone, but a naïve, whingeing, college boy soldier who can't function without mugs of warm milk and the occasional cuddle. Which gets a bit incongruous after he's mowed down enough people to populate Mozambique.
The overall message of Haze's story is that war is bad and there are no true heroes when death is on the menu, but combining that with whizz-bang shooty fun strikes me as trying to have one's cake and eat it - a phrase I've never really understood. I mean, I think it's perfectly reasonable to want to eat a cake that you have. There's not much else you can do with a cake, except maybe hide in one if you're a stripper. Sorry, lost my train of thought.
Haze is a game that can't decide what existing FPS it wants to rip off the most. Halo is the obvious candidate. It's even got the same title, give or take two letters. And the driving sections are identical, right down to the design of the gravitationally-challenged vehicles and the mounted turrets manned by tragic sufferers of the stupid virus. There's also a rusty old cargo ship level for fans of the one from Condemned 2, a very Quake 2-esque smelting plant, and most of the rest of the environments are straight out of the CryTek games. Although it forgets the crucial jaw-dropping graphics aspect, as can be evidenced by the hilarious 2D map backdrops during the transport scenes. They look like some guys are running past the chopper holding up cardboard forests on sticks.
Haze's one claim to not being the work of jaded hacks who could easily be replaced with a computerized FPS generator is the whole addictive drug business. When you're plugged into the Heroin-O-Matic, you can occasionally give yourself a quick fix to help out in battle, which strangely does not manifest as bullet-time. Pretty much all it does is make the enemies light up like Christmas trees, which is admittedly pretty useful with current generation graphics being what they are. But then, of course, since drugs are bad, this all goes in the bin the moment you join the other side. Here, a golden opportunity to deconstruct the genre by switching out the damage tanking gun fun for sneaky guerrilla warfare is tragically missed, when ultimately the only change is that the team switched jerseys. Your new rebel allies suddenly gain the same regenerative powers your former squad mates did, whose powered armour simultaneously gains an inconvenient weakness to bullets.
The nicest thing I'm prepared to leak from my cakehole about Haze is that it's at least functional, which is more than I can say for Turok. But it's insultingly-short and easy for a game that costs $110 Australian, money which could have bought a lot of Cornettos. If you have a liking for Halo, a crippling fear of trying new things and a desperate need to get rid of all your money very fast, then you should probably think about getting yourself sectioned. But until then, you might as well buy Haze, you mad bastard.
High as a fucking kite as we speak: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Personally I think it's a bit naïve to think it would take anything as drastic as a mood-altering drug to make army recruits act like juvenile fuckwits
Also note how the Haze trailer has absolutely fuck all to do with the actual setting of the game