Other than Metal Gear Solid 4, Haze is undeniably the PS3’s biggest forthcoming exclusive. With its confirmed release date nearing, it’s one of the many PS3 games to get people talking right now, joining the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV in the ranks. Why? In short, Haze looks absolutely amazing. We say it looks amazing, and visually it does, but the graphical side of Free Radical’s upcoming shooter isn’t the only cause for shouting from the rooftops. It’s the narrative what we’re truly excited about. The cynical amongst you will assume all that’s on display here is standard futuristic war fare, but there’s a lot more to it than that!Set in the year 2048, a war has broken out in South America, where a group of rebels known as The Promise Hand are trying their… hand at causing the collapse of the government, hoping to replace it with their leader, Gabriel Merino, known to his friends (and enemies) as Skin Coat. Why would this be, then? Does he take a certain fondness to wearing skin coats? Not far off, Sunny Jim! What this warlord does is kills his enemies then ‘relieves’ them of their skin, before having it made into leather to add to his coat. Clearly the observant among you will have sensed that something’s terribly, terribly wrong here, and that’s where you, Sergeant Shane Carpenter, come in.You fight for Mantel Global Industries, a multi-national corporation with its own private army for hire, and this is a game, so Free Radical wants to make sure that if you want to kick some ass, trouble is just round the corner. With the advanced technologies in the period the game is set, Mantel’s biomedical department has developed Nectar, a substance that enhances performance on the battlefield. Under the influence of it, you’ll move more swiftly, enemies will become easier to see, and targeting will be semi-automatic, too. However, as years of schooling have taught us, all drugs come with side effects and Nectar is no exception. Blurred vision is one of the drawbacks making a comparison to real drugs and the other is that it’s not possible to tell if you’re shooting an enemy or ally, since they all look the same when you’re positively high.
This is where the darker side of Haze comes into play. With the building dependence on Nectar there are always a lot of questions left unanswered and things are rarely what they first appear to be. As your actions are being monitored and Nectar is making the boundary of reality unclear, The Promise Hand tries to persuade you that what you’re doing is wrong. From this point it’s completely up to you what to do next – it’s within your own decisions that you can decide to join the once enemy forces, leaving behind the technology and support you had at Mantel. As Free Radical puts it, Haze is two games in one… if you decide to join The Promise Hand the game will be a lot more tactic-focused. Things won’t be as safe, and it’s a case of the survival of the fittest. It’s unknown whether there will be a right or wrong answer to the questions you create throughout the game, though the potential for over four combinations of different experiences is there, depending on what point you decide to swap teams, or indeed, if you stay with your friends from the beginning.To sway the player’s opinion on whether they should join Merino’s side or not, by becoming a member of The Promise Hand you’ll be given a few things that are otherwise locked away in a proverbial chest. Chiefly, the advantage you gain from becoming a rebel is in the form of the sweet Nectar drug and how you can use it not necessarily for yourself, but against the Mantel forces. In other words, you make them overdose on the drug instead of using it for tactical gain. Let’s elaborate: smearing a grenade with Nectar then hurling it at enemies will create a cloud of deadly gas; stabbing a knife into a Nectar pack then throwing it at an enemy will put a dangerously high amount into their bloodstream; finally, you can do the thing you’ve always wanted to – shooting soldiers in their Nectar packs, causing it to be sent directly inside them. What this will do is send Mantel soldiers into a frenzy – sometimes you’ll need to watch out in case they spray a burst of fire all around them, other times, you can just stand from a safe distance and watch as they try and shoot their own feet!
Crossing the bridge away from Nectar, there are of course other reasons you’d perhaps feel more secure as a rebel. Out of the heavy Mantel-supplied armour, you’re less protected. “That’s not a good point!” cry about three of you! No, it’s not, but since you’ve got less on your shoulders, you’re much more agile, letting you roll all over the place. Like a teenager in angst, you can fake death. If you’re able to get the timing right, you can fall to the ground when you’re being fired at, and since most of the Mantel soldiers are pretty much intoxicated with Nectar, they’ll have no reason to believe they haven’t just killed you. Now you wait until their back is turned and fill them with lead! As you might expect, though, this is unlikely to work very well when there are large groups of enemies. The third and perhaps niftiest ability Sergeant Carpenter will get is being able to recalibrate ammo to make it fit his gun… we’ve no idea how it works but damn, it will come in use!To top the single-player campaign off nicely, we’re told the experience will be entirely seamless. From the moment you take control, there will be no loading screens, no mission select screens and like many shooters these days, the camera angle never changes, apparently, meaning cut-scenes will be viewed like the rest of the game. Nice!The campaign can also be played co-operatively with up to three other people, with the ability to jump in and out of the game with the click of your fingers… in layman’s terms, if you come to your senses and realise your friend is actually crap at the game, you can unceremoniously speak the words “Oh, is that my mum calling?” before leaving the game in a hurry. It’s marvellous what can be done these days, wouldn’t you agree? As for the multiplayer side of the game, details are currently rather scarce. From what we do know, though, each map will be objective-based with is own mini-story that is related to the single-player’s in some way and we’re also assured there will be a large maximum player count combating Resistance: Fall Of Man levels.
Haze’s expected release date is May this year following numerous previous delays. We’re not going to go over-the-top with this ending paragraph – we’ve broadcasted our thoughts already, and all we can really add is that Haze is going to be, in a few words, one of the best shooters on the PS3.Haze Q&A//
We talk to developer Free Radical about its upcoming first-person shooter…Steve Ellis, DirectorDerek Littlewood, Creative DirectorRob Yescombe, ScreenwriterWhat are your ambitions with this new franchise?
We want to redefine the intensity and variety of emotions a player can experience in an action FPS. We want Haze to become the definitive next-gen shooter and maintain Free Radical's reputation for developing some of the best games in the world.How did you first come up with the concept of the game, and how has this concept changed as development progressed?
Free Radical is renowned for innovation in first-person shooters – and Haze will continue this trend. We have honed our skills in delivering action-packed gameplay, and with Haze we will be wielding all our experience and making sure that we bring something particularly exciting to the table.From the birth of the concept for Haze, one of our chief priorities has been to deliver a genuinely moving and emotional experience – but never at the expense of the gameplay. The narrative is packed with rounded characters, each suffering or succeeding in their own human journey.Our art team is the envy of the games industry. Our guys are world-class, and Haze has provided the perfect forum for them to step out from the trademark art style of TimeSplitters and to really show what they can do. The realism of the environments in Haze is really going to blow you away.
The game is definitely very close to our original intention. So in terms of development, our ongoing task has simply been to find as many intelligent ways to facilitate that action/emotion experience as possible. Ubisoft's input has been invaluable thanks to their own experience in creating tactically rich, narrative-led experiences.What dark truths will you uncover about Nectar and/or Mantel?
Haze is just the tip of the iceberg. Carpenter is not some superhero who’s going to discover the inner-workings and industrial secrets of a multi-billion dollar corporation and bring them down. But what he will do is learn something about himself, and about his perception of war. Maybe, just maybe, the player will too.Of course, there are secrets you will learn – in fact, there’s a rather important one in particular – but if I told you then they wouldn’t be secrets, would they?What will be the role of importance of your teammates when on the rebel side?
As a Mantel trooper, you don’t really need anyone. You’ll have a squad with you, but whether they live or die isn’t of great importance to you because Nectar makes you so damn tough. But, as a rebel, you need as much firepower as possible to take down the Mantel guys. Hence why you’ll have to learn to give your teammates medical aid if they get hurt.Will you have access to different weapons when playing the rebels than on Mantel’s side?
Other than all the ways to use Nectar against the Mantel guys, the rebels have their own weapon set. We’ve made a point to keep the weapons as realistic and ballistic as possible. We didn’t want to have some crazy laser gun in there. The reason behind this thinking is that really, Nectar is your best weapon whether you’re with Mantel or The Promise Hand. It’s all down to how you use it.How is it to develop on PS3? What can you do with this console that you couldn’t do with previous-gen consoles?
It’s great. Working on PS3 has allowed us to create vastly superior environments that verge on photorealism – full-screen effects, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and obscenely complex shaders. It’s more challenging than ever before, but the power is greater than anything else that’s out there.