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Critical Reception: Ubisoft/Free Radical's Haze

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines exclusively compiled online reaction to the Free Radical-developed Haze, a PlayStation 3-exclusive first-person shooter that "really is this year's most significant gaming disappointment," accordin
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Haze, a PlayStation 3-exclusive first-person shooter that "really is this year's most significant gaming disappointment," according to reviews. Critical expectations ran high in the months leading up to Haze's release. Developer Free Radical Design's previous work on the TimeSplitters series was met with widespread critical acclaim. Its PlayStation 3 debut would be matched up against established FPS hits like Unreal Tournament 3 and Resistance: Fall of Man. After spending its first week on store shelves, however, Haze earns an unexpectedly low Metacritic-averaged score of 57 out of 100. Matt Bertz at Game Informer rates Haze at 6.25 out of 10. "The year is 2023, and Shane Carpenter is the newest numbskull to join the ranks of Mantel Corporation, a multinational biotech company that fields its own army," Bertz begins. "Their secret weapon is Nectar, a supplement that gives soldiers increased fighting skills and a euphoric high that prevents them from experiencing PTSD." Bertz feels that Nectar gives Haze's gameplay a compelling boost. "On the battlefield, Nectar is a powerful tool. Inject the ideal amount and it increases your speed, accuracy, and awareness, highlighting enemies in bright orange," he writes. "If you take too large a dose or your Nectar tank explodes, however, your character will go berserk, shooting anyone in his crosshairs and sometimes even cooking a kamikaze grenade." This winds up being a short-lived high point, however. "Though the drug Nectar hardly makes Haze a good game," Bertz explains, "when Free Radical takes it away a quarter of the way through, the game world suddenly feels barren, and you long for one last hit to make the drab experience mildly interesting again." Haze's gameplay is otherwise problematic, according to Bertz. "The poorly implemented threat indicators make it tough to figure out where fire is coming from, and enemies display the intelligence of raging bulls, relentlessly charging you with total disregard for tactics," he says. "Haze also features the worst variety of weapons I’ve seen in a long while," Bertz continues, "and you’ll only fight variations of two enemies over the course of the campaign." Bertz finds that Haze can be enjoyable with others, but otherwise remains disappointing throughout. "Haze’s saving grace is its co-op gameplay, which can be fun when you shoot a friend’s Nectar tank from behind to watch him freak out," he says. "But these short experiences do nothing to offset the major disappointment the rest of the game delivers." GameZone's Angelina Sandoval delivers a Haze review scored at 5.5 out of 10, expressing similar disappointment with the underused Nectar mechanic. "The interesting aspect of Haze is Nectar," she admits, "but the game uses it more as a sort of gimmick and not a worthwhile tool that benefits the story." "With the L2 button you are able to administer a dose of Nectar that will allow you cause more melee damage, enhance your aiming so sniper shots are more precise, take more bullet damage and reveal the position of any hiding enemy thanks to enhanced vision that makes your enemies glow." Sandoval describes. "These sound like cool abilities but other Ubisoft shooters such as Far Cry have handled similar abilities far more effectively and a lot more fun than this game," she continues. "The only interesting slant is that you can overdose on Nectar which will cause your character to become disoriented for a limited time." In the absence of Nectar, Haze loses much of its appeal, according to Sandoval. "Haze is the type of game that shows all its cards way too early in the game," she says. "There’s very little else about the game that will feel fresh later in the game and the action quickly becomes repetitive and the story less interesting." Like Bertz, Sandoval also finds that Haze's multiplayer proves to be the title's strongest aspect, though online play may be of limited appeal. "The game also offers the option to play through the game’s campaign mode with a friend in co-op mode. Having a friend join you in battle allows you to reach checkpoints faster and take on hordes of enemies at a time," she writes. "You can play online but the game modes are the usual Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch variety that I don’t see gamers playing this one for very long online." "Haze for PlayStation 3 was a great idea and would have made a brilliant console exclusive but its various shortcomings make this a truly bland and uninteresting shooter with very little to offer," Sandoval notes in conclusion. "This is very unfortunate considering the fact that there are some fun moments scattered throughout the game and co-op actually works well." Over at Eurogamer, Kristan Reed scores Haze at 4 out of 10 -- a tie for the lowest score the title has received so far, according to Metacritic. "If there's one thing the world doesn't need right now, it's another spirit-crushing first-person shooter, but here it is anyway," he remarks. "And after enduring such teeth-grinding nonentities as Blacksite, Turning Point and Conflict: Denied Ops in recent months, the fact that such a respected, reliable developer as Free Radical Design can turn out such a desperately uninspired effort is not only a shock, but a massive disappointment." Reed directs much of his criticism at developer Free Radical Design. "One thing FRD has been exceptionally good at is making games with a style, feel and personality completely at odds with everyone else's," he recalls. "But, after a three-year absence, rather than launching onto the next generation scene with bold concepts and dazzling technology, Haze limps along apologetically - a stark demonstration of a developer completely out of touch with a genre it used to help boss." Haze's concepts, according to Reed, are executed with lackluster results. "The general premise of playing the soldier with a moral conscience is fine on its own," he admits, "and, yes, we get the fact that you're not supposed to approve of the antics and utterances of your meat-headed bio-enhanced squad-mates, but the ham-fisted execution is akin to being told the same rubbish joke over and over again." "It's a shame," Reed continues, "because the original concept of fighting on the side of a dubious corporate entity had potential." Reed finds that Haze's mid-game storyline change-up also falls flat. "Faced with a chance to take out the apparent source of the local evil, instead you predictably switch sides and begin to wipe out all the mouthy imbeciles you've been fighting alongside," he describes. "But as liberating as this might be in theory, the reality is dull: the absence of your Nectar-enhanced abilities turn the gameplay into a basic run-and-gun trudge." This trudge consists of poor AI and uninspired FPS gameplay, says Reed. "Enemies are predictable, idiotic, never work as a team, and seem strangely incapable of utilising the massive advantages that Nectar gives them," he writes. "Occasional attempts at giving the gameplay a little more depth and variety with switch-flicking 'puzzles', buggy-driving interludes or on-rails flyby shooting sorties only serve to underline the absence of inspiration and imagination." "You really have to wonder how it all ended up this dreadful, especially after all the time and resource Ubisoft and Free Radical expended telling people the opposite," Reed criticizes. "The combat's weak, the storyline's excruciating, it's technically deficient - Haze really is this year's most significant gaming disappointment." Despite promising gameplay concepts and the strength of Free Radical Designs' previous work in the FPS genre, many critics express disappointment in Haze. Though reviewers praise the potential of its Nectar mechanic, a majority find that Haze's gameplay is otherwise lacking and unrefined, and marks a major disappointment in the PlayStation 3's software lineup.

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