I originally posted this in the What are you playing? thread at the OTP forums, so it’s even less structured than my normal blog posts, but I think it’s worth reposting here since it fits into the general theme of the blog.
Haze is interesting. I’d read that it was completely generic, and in terms of gameplay, that’s pretty much true. However, I find the themes in the narrative extremely interesting, and I’m impressed with how they tied some of that into the gameplay.
Major spoilers follow.
The way they play with the first-person perspective is brilliant. Quick summary: you start out as a mercenary working for the “Mantel Corporation” with a bunch of stereotypical idiot infantry-types. You’re apparently there to put a stop to the genocide and war crimes committed by an insurgent organisation called the Promise Hand, so you’ve got justice and righteousness on your side, but it’s immediately clear that something is amiss because you’re constantly being treated to a shot of a soldier stim called “Nectar”.
During these first couple of missions where you work for Mantel, you begin to experience anomalies as your Nectar shots fail. First time this happens, you’re approaching a downed Mantel dropship, and suddenly the game turns greyscale, your hands are covered in blood, you hear a blood-curdling scream, and there are corpses everywhere. You get a new shot of Nectar from your suit, and it goes away – but where are all the troopers from the dropship? All you find is a pilot who looks completely healthy as he dies before your eyes…
This happens more and more frequently (the second time is particularly freaky, I won’t spoil it, but it was a moment of fairly deep horror to me), and you begin to notice that when the Nectar fails, enemies actually bleed when you shoot them and their corpses don’t fade away. I love that detail because disappearing corpses and lack of blood is something you’ll find in plenty of games, either for optimisation reasons or to avoid a high age rating, so it’s not really something you think about until you realise these things (a fairly unavoidable part of shooting people to death in the real world) are only missing because you’re drugged up on Nectar.
You also experience a couple of times that your fellow Mantel soldiers will sometimes overdose on Nectar, which will turn their normally yellow suits red and they will go berserk, shooting everybody – including you. If you don’t take them out before they run out of ammo, they will pull out a grenade and run towards you, blowing themselves up. I found myself wondering if that could happen to me, and of course it did: a staircase collapses while you’re on it, sending you plummeting towards the ground. Then everything turns red, enemies and allies alike are turned into black silhouettes so you can’t tell them apart, and your weapons just start firing on their own. When your rifle runs out of ammo, you automatically switch to your sidearm, and when that’s out of ammo too, you pull out a grenade… and then you have to shake the controller to throw the grenade and regain control before you blow yourself up.
It’s a pretty effective sequence, and really well thought out. I love it when games try to mess with your head and make you question what’s real and what isn’t, and deliberate or not, Haze uses its tricks to make you think a little about how war is usually presented in games.
I think Haze is unfairly maligned. It may not be anything special in terms of gameplay, but it does a lot of cool things thematically and aesthetically, and its narrative is earnest and meaningful, if slightly naive and unsubtle. Once you inevitably switch sides from Mantel to Promise Hand (and what a relief that is, after the drugs have been fucking with your perceptions for 2 missions), the rebels are suddenly extremely idealistic and altruistic and Mantel is implausibly inhuman and cynical and cruel. But I was pretty impressed that they took away all the special abilities you got from your suit and from using Nectar and then replaced it with a new set of more guerilla-like abilities such as planting grenades as mines or playing dead.
In summary: My opinion is that Haze is underrated.