Haze

Set in the not-too-far-off year of 2023, the first-person shooter Haze features an introspective soldier with the wholesome, church-going name of Shane Carpenter. While his squadmates, the Mantel Troopers, chug a performance-enhancing drug called Nectar and exchange bits of leatherneck wisdom like "If two guys are dying on the battlefield, but you can only save one, save the guy with the bigger gun," Shane shows off his bleeding heart by empathetically listening to the final words of a dying pilot.

About an hour or so into the game—minor spoiler ahead—Shane defects from his squad of sociopaths and takes up with the opposing Rebels, who come straight from central casting: They wear aviator sunglasses and bandanas, and speak with thick Spanish accents. Stripped of your armor and weaned off Nectar, your only advantage on the battlefield as a Rebel is to—brace yourself—play dead. Shoot your way through various clichéd indoor/outdoor environs, commandeer a vehicle or two, and do some of the requisite fussing over which weapons to keep and which to toss, and around 10 hours later, you'll watch the credits roll.

Beyond the game: Haze features a fairly sophisticated subtext, at least by videogame standards. It's a meditation on war, politics, propaganda, and even steroid culture. Pondering the various meanings of the game's title is, at times, more interesting than the game itself.

Worth playing for: Playing as a Rebel provides one of the game's more gratifying moments. Create a Nectar grenade, then lob it into a nest of Mantel Troopers. Any Troopers caught in the ensuing cloud of gas will turn on their own kind. Pull up a chair and let the rogue soldiers do the dirty work for you.

Frustration sets in when: The game resorts to the old FPS crutch known as Press This Button To Open The Door To Advance Further Into The Level. That design strategy has been out of fashion since the bygone days of DOOM.

Final judgment: More narratively cohesive than the Halo trilogy, but less inventive and compelling than Resistance: Fall Of Man, Haze does finally give us a self-aware portrait of videogame soldiers, and a foil for all the head-butting, "boo-yah" behavior that's been the norm for far too long in the medium. Too bad it's paired with one of the more pedestrian FPS games to come along in recent years.