LEIPZIG, Germany--Earlier today, during a visit to Ubisoft's booth at the 2007 Games Convention in Leipzig, we had an opportunity to get our hands on a playable version of Haze for the first time. The demo at the show features three partial levels from the single-player/cooperative campaign and offers a surprisingly varied experience. The first level we played through saw us assuming the role of a Mantel trooper battling Promised Hand rebels in a jungle, the second was largely vehicle-based and set in a quarry, and the last--here comes the spoiler--pitted us against Mantel troopers in the role of a rebel.
There were single-player demo stations and also a group of four set up for cooperative play at the Ubisoft booth today, so, after watching a team of four players complete the demo, we opted to play solo so that we could see how effective our CPU-controlled comrades were.
Playing as a Mantel trooper for the first time, it was easy to see how you could become dependent on the "Nectar" drug that they use to augment their abilities. Enemies are easier to see, targeting becomes semiautomatic, you're able to move more quickly, and the only possible adverse side effects--which may or may not bother you--are that your vision becomes blurred, and as friends and enemies become indistinguishable, you'll literally lose control and have to watch helplessly as you shoot at anything at moves. Another odd but very much intentional side effect of Nectar is that it prevents you from seeing dead bodies--which, as we'll explain shortly, isn't necessarily a good thing in multiplayer games.
As we scoured the relatively small Jungle level, our comrades did a good job of following us when we were headed in the right direction, and also of hanging back or moving away from us when they wanted us to go elsewhere. They also did their fair share of killing, but not to the point that we ever felt inferior or unnecessary in any way. The most memorable set piece in the level saw us standing atop a cliff and watching Mantel's military aircraft drop bombs into another jungle area in an attempt to flush out the remaining rebels. They succeeded, and so by the time we had made our way down the cliff path, there were plenty of enemies waiting for us there.
The second level was set in and around a large quarry, and tasked us with driving a four-man all-terrain vehicle to the end of a long road in pursuit of a rebel boss named Skin Coat. He likes to skin his enemies and make coats from them, apparently, but it's highly unlikely that we were after the guy because of his questionable wardrobe. The Mantel vehicle was easy to drive and, in the cooperative session that we watched, it was well defended courtesy of two players riding shotgun and a third manning a gun turret. Unfortunately, our comrades in the single-player game weren't nearly as effective, and, before reaching the end of the level, we'd lost both of the guys riding shotgun. The body of the guy on the turret was hanging limply from the roof of the vehicle.
Our comrades weren't killed by the rebels chasing us in their own off-road vehicles. Rather, it was the large number of mines lining the quarry road that, in our rush to beat the level, we had failed to avoid. The mines aren't always easy to spot when you're racing along a bumpy road with enemies chasing you, of course. But, in another great advertisement for Nectar, taking the drug gives you something of a sixth sense and lets you see the explosions before they happen, albeit as a series of ripples through the air. Clouds of dust kicked up by all of the vehicles really added to the great look of the quarry level, though our sense of immersion was lost at one point when, after rolling our vehicle and being prompted to right it with a melee attack, we watched it roll around and defy the laws of physics as it desperately tried to land on its wheels while being hampered by the proximity of a wall.
Without wishing to give too much away about the game's plot (we're deliberately not revealing as much as we were told; you'll thank us later), there are levels in which you'll play as one of the Promised Hand rebels rather than as a Mantel trooper. The third and final level in the Games Convention demo was set in and around a run-down building that, judging by its appearance, may well have been a low-cost apartment complex at some point in its history. Accompanied by three other rebels, we were attacked by Mantel troopers at almost every turn, and we were thrilled to find that the rebels' lack of high-tech equipment is more than compensated for by some of the tricks that they have up their sleeves.
The most obvious rebel ability to mention, partly because it's performed using the same button that Mantel players use to administer Nectar, is playing dead. Mantel troopers aren't able to see dead bodies, so if your health gets low enough that all seems lost, playing dead will effectively make you invisible to nearby enemies while you wait for them to pass by. Another very neat trick is coating a grenade with Nectar from the tank of a fallen Mantel trooper so that it explodes in a cloud of the drug when you throw it. Any enemies caught in the cloud overdose almost immediately, causing them to become disoriented and, on some occasions, to start firing on other troopers. When coating your grenades with Nectar, you'll also automatically take the opportunity to do the same thing with your throwing knives, which can then be used to disorient enemies one at a time.
All of the aforementioned abilities will be available in competitive multiplayer modes that pit Mantel players against Promised Hand players. Ubisoft and Free Radical Design haven't said too much else about Haze's multiplayer content at this point, and after today's showing, we're more eager than ever to check it out. We'll bring you more information on Haze as soon as it becomes available.
[UPDATE] After playing through the Games Convention demo of Haze yesterday, today we met with Free Radical Design's David Doak and managed to get a little more info on the game. For starters, we've learned that Nectar is an even more potent drug than we realized. It doesn't just block out dead bodies from Mantel troopers' vision, it tricks the troopers into thinking that every battle they fight takes place on a sunny day in paradise. Promised Hand rebels on the same battlefield will see things as they really are, and could well be trudging through mud on a rainy day, or fighting in a village that's been all but destroyed in previous battles--none of which will be apparent to the troopers. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this difference in perceptions is that it will carry over to Haze's competitive multiplayer modes of play, so you'll get a very different experience depending on which faction you're playing as.
We also now know that the rebels have even more tricks at their disposal than we previously thought. Specifically, they'll be able to bury grenades that they've previously attached to Nectar administrators in order to booby-trap areas that Mantel troopers are likely to pass through. Rebels can also perform forward rolls to move around quickly while staying low and, as we've mentioned in previous coverage, they can steal weapons from Mantel troopers who have been stunned with a well-placed melee attack. In short, we're confident that rebels are going to be at least as much fun to play as the Mantel troopers, and we can't wait to check out the game's 24-player online play. Two-player split-screen support will also be included, by the way.