If you played any given 10-minute chunk of Haze, depending on what part of this futuristic first-person shooter you chose, you would be convinced that it was either incredibly exciting or simply dreadful. Dim-witted artificial intelligence and deeply embarrassing storytelling are mixed with some breathtaking action sequences and thoughtful map design into an awkward and messy hodgepodge of shooting and driving that alternates between the entertaining and the downright unpleasant. It's fitting that Haze's gameplay would embrace such extremes, because its entire fiction is built around shallow absolutes. One faction embodies unlikeable and unredeeming lowbrow sensibilities without a hint of irony; the other embraces its ethical, sympathetic cause with angelically high morals. This is a shooter both easy to love and easy to hate, and you'll probably find yourself feeling both emotions within moments of each other.
This review's captions are brought to you courtesy of Haze's witty dialogue. Let's start with: BOOSH!
This dichotomy is fueled by the aptly named nectar, a drug that Mantel Global Industries persistently injects into the bloodstreams of its mercenary soldiers. Nectar gives the soldiers extraordinary capabilities, but it also appears to have some unpleasant side effects. As Mantel grunt Shane Carpenter, you see and experience these effects firsthand: the intense focus, the adrenaline-pumping rush--and the total loss of control that an overdose triggers. Nectar also turns every Mantel soldier into an obnoxious frat boy with barely more emotional range than the average caveman. You'll spend the first hour or so of the game with these unlikeable, overgrown adolescents, who spout abysmal dialogue punctuated with frequent cries of "boosh!" Haze doesn't mean for you to like them, and it succeeds all too well at this task. On the flipside, you're meant to respect and admire the Promised Hand, the South American rebels fighting to defend their villages and expose the evils of Mantel's beloved nectar. These men are the shining beacons of Haze's two-sided moral compass, the rational and ethical antithesis of Mantel's malice, yet they're written with the same lack of subtlety. Eventually, the game acknowledges the missing shades of gray in a few bits of contrived and hackneyed dialogue, but by then it's too late: The story has long been exposed as a shallow mess that simply can't deliver on its intriguing foundation.
Nectar is more than a plot device; it's the basis of several mechanics that give each faction distinct play styles. As a Mantel trooper, you can inject a quick gusher of nectar by pulling a trigger, which heightens your senses and causes all of your enemies to glow. While high on the stuff, you are also more resistant to damage, can detect mines more easily, and have better aiming skills. You're also prone to overdose if a stray bullet punctures the nectar administrator strapped to your back. Should you be so unlucky, you will temporarily lose control of your actions. On these occasions, your view becomes muddled and you cannot control your shots, so you'll watch helplessly as you plug your comrades with lead.
A short way into the game, you'll gain an entirely new set of abilities, and you'll spend the majority of the campaign using them. At this point, you can infuse standard grenades with nectar, which will in turn cause an overdose if certain enemies come in contact with the resulting cloud of gas. However, chief among these abilities is the capacity to play dead if you take damage. When prompted, you can fall to the ground and your foes will promptly ignore you; after a few moments (or when you press X), you'll stand again and rejoin the battle. This is a powerful ability, though in the single-player game, you may not always see it as an advantage. If no friendlies are around to take fire once you drop, enemies may hang around, ready to blast you the moment you stand. If there's an automated turret nearby, it will continue to fire even after you've feigned death, so if you find yourself in such a circumstance, you're as good as dead.
It's like taking candy from a baby!
If only your enemies had the deadly accuracy of those turrets. The term "artificial intelligence" only half-applies to your computer-controlled challengers, who are laughably, painfully stupid. Foes will run directly past you as if you aren't there, stand motionless as you fire, and completely ignore grenades tossed toward them. On the occasions when they do notice that a grenade has been thrown, they will wait a few seconds and then leap forward as if stealing second base--sometimes choosing to dive toward the grenade, rather than away from it. You may even find an enemy facing a wall, pointing his gun at a texture rather than noticing that you are standing directly beside him. You're frequently accompanied by AI-driven squadmates, and sadly they fare no better. They seem incapable of using cover intelligently, they stand in your line of sight, and they're often more hindrance than help. In tandem, the AI of both factions will create scenes of comical ineptitude, such as when a trooper and rebel circle one another for 30 seconds in a surreal do-si-do.
In spite of this brainlessness, Haze offers the occasional golden nugget of utter brilliance, and most of those moments come courtesy of some intelligently designed levels that are too good for the AI that inhabits them. Two on-rails sequences are exceptionally thrilling. In one, you defend a village from behind the turret of an aircraft; in another, you race alongside an enormous land carrier while trying to take down its defenses. The carrier sequence in particular is a total rush, pulverizing you with its sense of breakneck speed and using scripted camera adjustments to enhance the thrill. A few other levels are equally enjoyable in spite of the shortcomings, such as a climb toward an observatory and a tense village battle capped by the destruction of a rocket-launching tank.