What this leaves you with is a deeply average FPS with very little that you haven’t seen done better in Halo 3, Half-Life 2 or Call of Duty 4. Enemy AI is weak and Free Radical appears to have lost the ability to construct interesting levels with challenging choke points, set-piece fire fights or tactically interesting encounters. Instead, you sort of wander from one bunch of enemies to the next, shooting them when they’re kind enough to pop out from behind a barricade or wander into your line of fire.
One section seems to merge into the next without leaving any real impression, and the vehicle sections thrown in do little to improve the general run. In this respect, Haze can’t even compete with Halo 1, let alone Halo 3. And, please, aren’t we all past the ‘find the switch to open the door’ stuff yet?
It does get better. The ludicrously telegraphed switch of side from Mantel trooper to rebel brings with it the loss of your Nectar abilities (you won’t miss them) and several new skills that make the game a bit more interesting. You can confuse your former allies, now deadly enemies, by shooting the Mantel administrator on their back or creating Nectar grenades that emit a cloud of the stuff. Overdosing on the stuff, they’ll then happily fight amongst themselves.
You can also lay traps by inserting grenades into the ground (how this works on stone, steel or concrete is one of the game’s many mysteries). It’s also at this point that level design picks up a little, as you face some tense confrontations in the wrecked hotel or fend off a Mantel attack on the rebel village. For the odd moment here and there, Haze actually does feel genuinely exciting.
But there’s always something to stem that sensation. Whether it’s one of those limp ‘destroy that tank’ exercises that even Medal of Honor has grown tired of or the sheer number of times you’ll hear the same five or six phrases repeated by Mantel or rebel troopers, you can’t help thinking that Haze is – for a massively hyped, oft-delayed, so-called PS3 showcase title – a little bit amateurish. Who on Earth thought that this stuff would pass muster after last year’s wave of great shooters? Has anyone at Free Radical played an FPS since TimeSplitters 3?
Meanwhile all those cinematic elements that could have been the game’s saving grace turn out to be more parts of the problem. It’s all hugely well meant and clearly deeply felt, and I can see the ideas and the ironies and the story arcs in place. All the same, the emotional experience you’ll have won’t be one of self-questioning or profound understanding – it will be boredom, annoyance and a desire to mock. The big moments are fluffed by poor staging, woeful acting or bad writing, and frequently all three.
To borrow from Oscar Wilde, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the “I’ve done something bad” scene near the end. The game is more effective when it soft pedals its points, as when you realise that the approach of one side is not so different from the other’s, but compare Haze to the way Bioshock handles its narrative themes, and it’s like putting the product of a sixth-form drama class up against the works of Arthur Miller.