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The Player 

by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Haze & r & Rated Mature; PS3 & r & 4 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t takes two to fight. It also takes two ways to fight. Otherwise neither side can be victorious. Someone needs an edge. Someone needs more manpower. Someone needs superior firepower -- preferably the high-performance "Donkey Puncher" shotguns carried by Mantel troopers. I once crippled a dropship with a Puncher -- just shot out each of the wing-propeller-thingies. That was when I was fighting for the rebellion, so I had to use a Puncher I scavenged from a Mantel trooper after I shot him with my own shotgun -- the so-so "Oso."





We rebels made due with what we had, ditching our ragtag weapons in favor of Mantel firearms whenever we could. But we weren't helpless. Even at a distance, the Mantel soldiers' chromium yellow facemasks and Nectar Administrator backpacks made them stand out in the world's grime as vividly as neon bull's-eyes. And for all their sniper rifles and rocket launchers, Mantel soldiers could still get toasted when a rebel, playing dead in the dirt, stood up and incinerated them with a flamethrower.





I didn't fully appreciate Mantel's technological advantage when I was working for them. Back then, life was only about self-administering Nectar and killing rebels. The high I got from Nectar enabled me to see life like a videogame -- rebels glowed on the battlefield like illuminated targets, visible even through plants and walls. When zooming in for kills, I was able to maintain a hi-def degree of focus. And when confronted face-to-face, I could head-butt hard enough to slam a rebel across the room.





While the rebels made due with patchwork choppers and salvaged trucks, we had access to shiny "Boxcart" ATVs and "Bigboy" tanks. Jacked up on Nectar, we'd chase rebels, feeling invulnerable as we tore through the jungle, revving our technological superiority. There were occasional oddities -- when the Nectar would be disrupted and the world became a nightmare butcher's shop. More distracting was the way shadows and highlights would occasionally appear and disappear, like lights being switched on and off by a misprogrammed PS3. Maybe the makers of Haze intend it to look that way. Or maybe it was the Nectar getting to me.





THE GOOD: Between Haze's two armies and two styles of play, it's possible to find an ideal first-person shooter feel. Heavy weapons, backup, infantry, close combat, scout, driver -- all positions are available in Haze's co-op and multiplayer styles of play. Single players are assisted (and opposed) by clever on-the-fly artificial intelligence programming. It all comes together in beautifully designed levels, which range rapidly from tight, dark corridors to airy open spaces to litter-strewn battlefields.





THE BAD: With a well-written, well-conceived scenario, it's a shame so much momentum is lost due to poorly directed, poorly animated cutscenes. The Mantel officers, in particular, look like futuristic G.I. Joe toys being manipulated by unsubtle hands as they expound Haze's convoluted plot. The action also staggers during missions like "follow so-and-so from points A to B" or "get into the dropship," interspersed among intense run-and-gun sequences.





THE BOTTOM LINE: Haze harnesses the full range of the PS3's power to tell two sides of a shooter story -- one hyperreal, the other grimily real, and both of them a blast.

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