If there’s one developer you can almost guarantee quality from, it’s Free Radical. Since they were formed from the ashes of the Goldeneye team, they’ve developed three hugely successful TimeSplitters titles and the somewhat overlooked Second Sight. While each game has entered a well established genre, they always managed to add something to the gameplay that made them feel fresh and innovative. Now Free Radical is bringing their unique sense of style and humour to next generation consoles with Haze.
The year is 2048 and governments have outsourced military operations to private multinational corporations. In Haze we play as Jake Carpenter, a newly enlisted soldier fighting for Mantel Global Industries in a corporate army. Sent to a war-torn country in South America, our conflict begins against The Promise Hand, a vicious rebel faction. Little else is known of the plot, but it seems that Jake will begin to question whether the cause he’s fighting for is the right one at all.
The same arcade-style first person shooter gameplay returns, albeit slightly toned down from what you’ve experienced before in TimeSplitters. The story will play a much bigger role this time and Free Radical are anxious not to make the single player something that you’ll play once and never touch again. As a result, the entire story mode will be playable in co-op mode online, with up to four players fighting at once.
Mantel have all the latest military technology, including a performance-enhancing serum called Nectar. Once administered, you’ll find yourself quicker and more resistant to damage. Your senses are also heightened by the drug, with enemies glowing orange and an ability to focus more accurately and pick off enemies. Best of all is an imminent danger warning in the form of a series of ripples flowing from your enemies’ weapons. For instance, if a grenade lands near you then a wave will emit from it a couple of seconds before it explodes, allowing you to take cover in time.
Nectar, like all drugs, has its side effects though. Relying on it too much will cause you and your squad members to become confused and start shooting at anything that moves. Rebels will also seek to give you an overdose with a Nectar grenade or puncture your tank and flood your mask with a noxious gas. The decision of whether or not to choose the side which uses Nectar in multiplayer will therefore be a crucial one.
Haze will debut on the PlayStation 3, followed by appearances on the Xbox 360 and PC. The power of the next-generation hardware appears to be making a big difference, with the 15 hour story mode including no loading screens whatsoever. A mixture of around a dozen indoor and outdoor environments will feature, including a jungle, a holiday resort, a quarry, an observatory and a container ship. Some of the larger ones will also feature a drivable buggy, a bit like the Warthog in Halo.
Needless to say, the game’s looking extremely polished visually, even at this stage. The ever so slightly exaggerated proportions are straight out of Free Radical’s other games and give it a unique aesthetic. A lot of work has also gone into the graphical representation of Nectar use, with reality distorted and enhanced in real time as you play.
Haze’s impending success shouldn’t be taken for granted, but given Free Radical’s credentials in the genre, you’ve got to admit that it’s looking like an extremely promising game. The futuristic setting may not be the most original, but you can expect the story to take a less than straightforward approach to war and exploit the reasons behind what you’re fighting for. A clever plot, coupled with the intense gameplay we’ve come to expect from Free Radical will definitely make Haze one to watch.