The question, of course, is whether gamers will be equally glad that Free Radical invested that extra time in buffing the game to a lustrous shine. Like we said, Haze has a lot to live up to - and our chat with Littlewood left us itching to play the game itself and find out just how well it's going to meet those expectations.
Like many other FPS titles of recent years, Haze is seemingly on a mission to rid itself of the dark, enclosed spaces we saw in the "corridor shooters" of the late '90s. It's bright and sunny, set across the jungles, beaches and mountain slopes of a South American tropical paradise, with only the occasional urban section or military environment breaking up the holiday postcard nature of the levels. Well, that and the relentless bombing, shooting, screaming, dying and so on. Think of it as an adventure holiday.
Actually, that's sort of the point. The central conceit of Haze is that you're playing a soldier who works for a private military company, with your instincts and abilities all boosted by a drug called Nectar. You can dose up on Nectar at any point in the fight by pressing L2, and while it's active, it makes you faster and stronger - and also makes your enemies glow brightly, your health bar more resilient, and other such handy things.
The drug has other effects, too. In a somewhat backhanded comment on videogame violence, the bodies of your foes fade out of your vision - allowing you to ignore the horrors of war and get on with the shooting. We're not sure if it's an effect of the drug, but the other main effect seems to be that it turns every Mantel soldier in the game into an utterly repulsive, whooping, idiotic jock - which is presumably how the senior Mantel characters get away with being so downright suspicious at all times.
We were a little surprised when Free Radical started talking openly about the "twist", where you change sides and start shooting for the rebel forces - but having played the game for ourselves, it's clear that this really isn't a spoiler. Anyone who hasn't worked out within five minutes that they'd rather be shooting these odious sacks of testosterone and stupidity rather than fighting alongside them needs their head examined (although admittedly, Gears of War managed to play that one totally straight for the whole game).
Once you switch sides, things are mixed up rather a lot. You no longer have access to Nectar, but you do have lots of interesting tactics to try out. You can rip packs of Nectar from dead Mantel soldiers, for example, and stick them to grenades - or wipe them along throwing knives. Hit a solider with one of those, and they'll overdose on Nectar and go insane, firing wildly at their comrades. In a nice touch, you can also feign death when you're being shot at - and because the Mantel soldiers can't see corpses, you'll be invisible to them until you start moving again.
Both sides have access to a fairly hefty set of weaponry, which ties in with the near-future setting of the game - mostly consisting of pistols, machine-guns and sniper rifles, with the occasional special like a flamethrower thrown in for good measure. Aside from the obviously different ones like the sniper rifles, we had some trouble working out the qualities of the various weapons - we suspect that it'll take players a little while to work out what each one does better than its siblings. The game also boasts vehicle sections, as you'd expect - the handling of those vehicles seems a bit light to us at the moment, although of course, this isn't actually a final build of the game.