Nevertheless, not every level reaches these heights. In Haze's worst level, you must escort a vehicle from one side of the map to the other. This badly structured mission requires a bit of trial and error, given that the vehicle's driver is cut from the same cloth as his teammates; he'll readily drive over you or your squadmates, or into the minefield that you're supposed to clear before he arrives. Other levels put you behind the wheel of a vehicle, but these scenarios are less detours than they are wrong turns. Vehicles handle very loosely, as if they weigh just a few pounds, and the odd, limited camera implemented during the driving sections adds to the awkwardness.
What are you, a Communist?
Thankfully, the core gameplay of a first-person shooter--the shooting proper--is smooth and silky. The standard assault rifles handle beautifully and have just the right weight and feel, and chances are that you'll be using them for the majority of your journey. Each faction's shotgun also feels good, though it takes a few more close-range shots from the Oso shotgun to defeat a trooper than you may expect. It's also effective at a greater range than with similar weapons in other games. The small blight on the parade of solid weaponry is the flamethrower, not just because of how it feels, but because of the frustration it initiates. If one should set you ablaze, you have to shake your controller to fan away the flames, which disturbs the momentum of battle and simply isn't much fun. The flamethrower also seems to have a much greater range than it should, so though it may not look as if the flames spewing forth are reaching your enemies, somehow you manage to set them alight anyway.
That issue could be partly due to the pixellated fire visuals, which look decidedly last-generation. In light of the PlayStation 3's powerful capabilities and the genre's ever-rising standards of technology, Haze looks good but not impressive. It certainly has its bright spots: Some of the outdoor lighting is striking, and the centerpieces of the best levels, such as the aforementioned observatory and a hotel courtyard, are rendered with great detail. The game performs beautifully with few frame-rate jitters, so when the action is heavy or you're traveling at high speeds, things look quite nice. When things slow down, you'll notice how modest Haze actually looks. Textures are muddled, scenery is blocky and lacks detail, and animations are clunky. Character models are also inexpressive, which only reinforces the pettiness of the story.
At least Haze sounds big and boisterous, filling your ears with explosions, gunfire, and the rush of aircraft engines. These elements don't sound extraordinary, but they fulfill their roles nicely, as does the orchestral soundtrack, which injects drama into the scenes most in need of it. But this is a game that prizes juvenile leering over multidimensional storytelling, and the voice acting is exactly what you would imagine: a cast of drill sergeant wannabes competing to see who can sound more uncivilized. The Promised Hand is no less annoying; once you hear a rebel cry out "Remember your promise to Merino" for the hundredth time, you may be tempted to look down the barrel of your own weapon. Then there's the awful rap tune that plays while you wait for competitors to join some online matches--and then continues to play throughout the match. Its presence is absolutely embarrassing.
Most shooter campaigns are better when someone else joins you, and Haze is no exception. Up to three others can play along, both online and in split-screen play. The game ramps up the challenge during co-op play, and considering the horrendous AI, that's a welcome change indeed. Vehicle sequences are all the better for having a buddy join you, and some action-packed moments are improved with the presence of a few hired guns. However, not every level is suited for cooperative shooting. Some scripted sequences, such as one in which a bridge collapses, are at complete odds with the existence of another player, as if the possibility wasn't considered when the level was designed.
What, you gonna stare at me like you want a piece of my a**?
If you held out hope that the multiplayer could succeed in spite of the campaign's shortcomings, you may be disappointed to learn that competitive play is at best underwhelming, and at worst, weirdly out of balance. Up to 16 players can compete in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Assault modes. You can also fill out unranked matches with bots, but considering the moronic AI, why would you want to? Assault is the clearly superior mode here, in which rebel and trooper teams take on opposing objectives, which in turn lead to the occasional focused and intense firefight. The other modes are exactly what you'd expect. Unfortunately, shortcomings that aren't readily apparent in the campaign due to the horrible AI are obvious the moment that other players join the fray. Although you'd think that the inherent strength that nectar provides troopers would make them the more powerful faction, the upper hand goes easily to the rebels, thanks to the playing-dead mechanic and each rebel's ability to dodge by double-tapping the jump button. An effective rebel can rack up the kills in this manner, because in a full match, opposing players aren't apt to hang around and see if you spring up 10 seconds later. It's also proof that nectar is, at its core, a gimmick. Being able to cause a trooper's overdose is great in theory, but in practice, it's more efficient to just mow them down as you would in any shooter.
A seven-hour campaign and uneventful multiplayer modes just don't cut it in light of the far better modern shooters available on the market. The patchy quality of the entire package is surprising, considering the developer's fine pedigree. Yet Haze is a roller-coaster ride made up of tall peaks and unfathomable valleys, and it won't leave you so much breathless as disappointed with its squandered potential.