In today’s inaugural post, we’ll be taking a look at “Haze”, an Ubisoft exclusive first-person shooter for the Playstation 3 that was praised by many before its public release as one of many “Halo killers” to come out during the seventh generation of gaming.
All the way back during the sixth generation of gaming, almost two decades now, there was an incredible video game developing company by the name of Free Radical Design. Responsible for the creation of the solid TimeSplitters trilogy, along with the sadly forgotten Second Sight, Free Radical themselves set their sets on the then upcoming seventh generation of video game consoles.
Due to their incredible skill in crafting for the FPS genre, Free Radical decided to stay the course in terms of genre, while looking to create a product to truly utilize the power and potential of these yet to be released machines. Once word inevitably spread that Free Radical was working on a new FPS for the seventh generation, hype from the gaming world began to grow.
Quickly being labeled by many within the industry as a “Halo Killer,” Haze was unfortunately pretty much screwed long before even coming out of the gate due to this gigantic expectation thrown atop it.
Haze was created with the idea in mind of presenting an anti-war, war game. Its story focuses upon groups of soldiers fighting in combat while under the effects of a drug called “Nectar,” which grants them superhuman abilities while mentally shielding them from realizing the harsh reality of war. When the player character is taken off Nectar, he comes to the realization that his perception of reality was being warped and takes up arms with the rebels he was previously fighting. If this plot sounds kinda familiar, it’s because Spec Ops: The Line follows pretty much the same thematic elements.
Before even any foundation was laid in the creation of Haze, Free Radical went to work on the creation of a brand-new engine to replace their now outdated sixth-gen one. Not too soon into this, Free Radical signed a contract with Ubisoft, who believe it or not, were only an up-and-coming publisher at this point in history. Officially announcing the game at E3 2006 while aiming for a 2007 release, set up an almost impossible deadline for the devs to meet, especially considering this would be the first game built on a brand new engine for brand new consoles.
When first announced, Haze was planned to release for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and the PC. Quite strangely though in the end, Haze would become a Playstation 3 exclusive, with no official explanation being given to this day. However, given the frankly ridiculous time-limit the devs were working under, the widely held belief is that the exclusive status was chosen to ease stress on the creators as they now would only have to work on a single version of the game.
On top of having the “Halo Killer’ moniker already attached to it, Haze now had yet another obstacle to climb due to its PS3 exclusivity. While it’s a bit weird to think of now with the PS4 having easily out-performed the Xbox One, Sony was the underdog for essentially the entire seventh generation. The Xbox 360 at its time was the place to be, especially for shooters, which was a death-kiss for Haze. To add even more fuel to this dumpster-fire, the PS3 was infamous for it’s strange architecture, making it especially difficult to develop for compared to the Xbox 360 and Wii.
Due to this combination of a nearly impossible release date coupled with an especially difficult system to work around, Free Radical asked Ubisoft to grant them a dead-line extension…….on several occasions. Ubisoft was seemingly more than happy to oblige, with a catch however. For every extension afforded to Free Radical, Ubisoft commanded them to add additional features and modes. This proved to be impossible for Free Radical as they had asked for the extensions to refine and polish pre-existing pieces of the game for launch, not to create new content from the ground up.
As things only became worse and worse development wise as each deadline was reached and then missed, Ubisoft eventually sent some of their own to take control of the project. According to those within Free Radical, these Ubisoft producers were grossly incompetent. The Ubisoft producers reportedly handed out orders with a dictator-like attitude, while any Free Radical employees who disagreed with these changes would have their pay-checks withheld indefinitely. As those within Free Radical said amongst themselves at the time, this was now an Ubisoft game.
After some time of Free Radical pushing back to keep their vision of Haze intact, they would ultimately give up and let Ubisoft take total control. Just before the game’s full public release in May of 2008, Ubisoft ordered all Free Radical employees into the infamous final “crunch-period” to finish polishing the game. For those who were a part of Free Radical, any sliver of pride or passion they once had for the project was long since gone, with many simply wanting to finish the game so they could move on with their professional life.
With Haze now only a number of weeks away from release, media outlets once again began cranking out article after article comparing it with the legendary Halo trilogy, much to the support of Ubisoft. Ubisoft was obviously well aware of the fact that Haze was not standing on solid ground, and was ESPECIALLY nowhere near the level of the Halo IP, but they gladly accepted the comparisons anyway hoping that they would lead to stronger sales for what was bound to be a weak product.
The day had finally come, May 7th, 2008, when Haze was unleashed upon Earth. Many folks had hopped on bikes, cars, and buses to head to their local gaming stores in the hopes of being one of the very first people in their area to get their hands on a copy of this new “Halo Killer.” They bought their copies, rushed home to insert the disc into their Playstation 3, and were treated to a bland FPS. Goofy characters, copy-and-paste environments, a ridiculously short campaign, and an unremarkable multiplayer.
This was the first time in the history of Free Radical Design that a game of theirs was met with negativity from both game critics and the general populace, though again, many at Free Radical argued the version of Haze that publicly released was not their game. To no surprise, any potential of eventually releasing Xbox 360 and PC versions of the game were trashed, with Ubisoft quickly raising their wheels and taking off to leave Free Radical in the rear-view mirror.
Haze would prove to be the death of Free Radical, carrying such a financial loss that Free Radical Design would have to be purchased by Crytek. Leaving Haze immediately behind, Free Radical Design quickly went to work in crafting TimeSplitters 4 to begin recouping losses. As Free Radical again went shopping for a new publisher, many companies showed interest in Timeplitters and praised the series’ past success, but wanted no part of Free Radical due to the smell left behind from the corpse of Haze.
For a few years thereafter, all would go quiet within Free Radical Design, until being shut down in 2014 with a majority of members transferring to Dambuster Studios. While there was confirmation in 2021 that the Timesplitters series will one day make a return, Haze is likely to never see the light of day ever again. A relic of the seventh generation’s craze with FPS, Haze will likely disappear into the dustbin of gaming history with the thousands of other unremarkable titles.
And That is Where “Haze” Went.