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Haze Co-op Preview
Four players, built from the ground up.
by Bennett Ring

June 1, 2007 - Co-op is the new black, ever since Gears of War led the way with its near-perfect implementation of side-by-side shotgun fun. It showed that with a bit of planning, it's possible to convey the narrative drive of a singleplayer game in a multiplayer environment. Designed from the ground up with shared cut-scenes, co-op-heavy levels (we'll never forget the short-but-sweet spotlight scene), and gameplay that truly shines with two players, it has paved the way for the next generation of shooters. At the recent Ubidays event in San Francisco, we witnessed a game that could be a worthy follow-up for those who don't like to go it alone, in the form of Haze. Better known for its interesting take on pharmaceutically enhanced soldiers, the news that it has a foundation of four-player co-op suddenly made this a game to pay attention to.

Unlike Rainbow Six Vegas, another Ubisoft title with four-player co-operative play, the co-op in Haze doesn't feel like a tacked-on afterthought. According to Derek Littlewood, Team Leader at Free Radical, co-op was always planned for Haze. "Four player online co-op has been part of HAZE since the very start of development. In fact, it was one of the very first features we decided on, as everyone at Free Radical believes co-op play is just great fun."


When you've got kick-ass human team-mates, camouflage is unnecessary.


When we first saw the game running at the show, a lone demo-guy was blitzing through a jungle level in singleplayer mode. We hadn't yet heard that the game was co-op, and thought that the other three PS3s in the corner were simply additional demo stations. It turns out that all four PS3s were networked, as we saw when three other players joined the fray, mid-level. Like Gears, Haze allows players to drop into and out of the game whenever they feel like it. As Derek explained, "We have a dynamic drop-in/drop-out system that allows additional co-op players to join mid-game rather than needing to return back to a menu to select a different mode. This makes the co-op game in HAZE very easy to pick up and play."

When playing in solo mode, our demo guy seemed to be doing fairly well against the AI, so when four players started blazing their way through a factory packed to the smokestacks with enemies, we expected them to encounter very little resistance. If one guy could do okay, surely four would obliterate the enemy? Apparently not, as the AI dynamically adapted to the new conditions. "The beauty of our 'Conspire' AI system is that it's completely scaleable and unscripted. Rather than being pre-programmed to always behave in a certain way, for example always using a certain bit of cover, or always staying a certain distance away from the enemy, it can alter an enemy's reactions based on the scale of the threat it's facing." The Conspire system has several tricks up its sleeve to make the bad guys even harder to hit. "Not moving between cover points as often, or making Promise Hand squads bunch closer together so they can rain down better suppressive fire". The AI was still a little rough at this early stage, occasionally acting as if it had had a Nectar overdose, but there's still plenty of time to polish up this tricky area of game development.

Load up this beast with four human controlled rifles and nothing will stop you.


Speaking of Nectar overdoses (Nectar is the drug used by the player to enhance one of four key abilities - perception, foresight, focus and melee blast), Derek gleefully described the occurrence of these in the co-op game "The 'overdose' state turns the whole co-op experience on it's head - one moment you've got your best buddy next to you, the next he's a gun-crazy maniac who's shooting blind!". During testing of the co-op game, it's these overdose sequences that have seared a special spot into Derek's memory. "I was pinned down by some heavy Promise Hand fire when the guy next to me suddenly overdosed and started lobbing grenades all over the place! Cue me swearing very loudly and legging it just a split second before he blew himself to pieces!"

While the full narrative role of Nectar in the game is being kept hush-hush, Derek was happy to divulge a little more info about how it fits into the co-op gameplay. Specifically, how it's shared. "Troopers can 'leech' nectar off of one another if they run out, meaning that as long as you've got a squaddie or two nearby there's no need to go without. Your nectar will regenerate eventually if you're on you're own, but it's quicker to leech it instead."

This concept of players becoming virtual pharmacies, sharing the life-destroying drug with other players, is a unique twist on co-op gameplay. Something that isn't so unique, but we know to be a hell of a lot of fun thanks to its inclusion in Gears, is the ability to revive downed team mates. As in Gears, you'll have a short amount of time to run over to your downed friend, while they're no doubt screaming for help over the game's built-in VOIP. Fail to reach them in time and you'll have to make it to the next checkpoint before they can lend a helping assault rifle.

No, not Crysis - Haze!


We pressed Derek for examples of levels where co-op was a fundamental part of the gameplay. Sadly, he wouldn't reveal anything this early, simply stating that "Working as a team also becomes far more integral to the game as you progress through it, but I'm not allowed to talk about that quite yet". However, during our demo we did get to see some vehicular co-op bliss, with the four players all piling into a Warthog-esque buggy. The two side passengers were able to lean out of the vehicle and spray any passers-by, exponentially boosting the fire-power of their four-wheeled mode of transportation.

One of the coolest features of the Gears co-op was the shared cut-scenes. We remember howling in delight when we realised our online buddy, located several hundred kilometres away, was watching the same jaw-dropping cut scene as us. We also howled in dismay when these were omitted in Rainbow Six Vegas'. Thankfully all of the narrative devices of the singleplayer Haze game remain intact in co-op. "Most of the narrative in HAZE occurs dynamically around you without affecting your control, so you're free to stay and watch or walk away if you want - and obviously, this goes for all four players in co-op too, so 'skipping' these sequences isn't really a problem. Occasionally you'll find we'll bias your view in a certain direction to see something cool, but again, anytime you or your three buddies want to look elsewhere, you're free to do so." So when your character starts hallucinating, thanks to the side-effects of the evil Nectar, you can be sure your buddies are having the same acid flashbacks as you. But how cool would it be if some of these hallucinations only affected certain co-op players? Imagine if the most Nectar-addicted of the four players suddenly started getting paranoia attacks, and saw his friends as the bad guys? It's a cool idea which we're sure the developers are all over.

Spot the hidden soldiers.


Not every PS3 owner has a nice broadband pipe at home, so how are they going to get their killing fix with friends? Enter Free Radical's expertise with split-screen, as seen in TimeSplitters. Like the online co-op mode, split-screen co-op is available at any time, without the need to back out to the menu or loading screens. Just tap that PlayStation button on the second controller and watch in amazement as your one screen is converted into two, via the magic of technology.

We were intrigued by Haze before we'd heard about the four-player co-op, but now we're positively itching to get our Nectar fix. Considering that Gears was so much fun with two players, Haze has potentially double the fun! Damn, how do we give a game twice the score of Gears… 19 out of 10 doesn't really work, does it?
This game is going to be very Crysis'esque and will have many of the same gameplay features Crysis does. Game is called Haze, one of the biggies for any PS3 owner. Must have on release date. They have a few videos, up on the ign site as well, funny interviews with the devs... etc.

http://ps3.ign.com/articles/793/793419p1.html
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74GB Raptor Windows Vista Ultimate Acer AL2216W 22" Widescreen Saitek Eclipse (Blue) 
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