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As HAZE's release dates looms like a killer shot of nectar, we take a look at what the multiplayer game has in store...
When we previewed some of HAZE's single-player and co-operative levels earlier this month, we certainly came away from the experience on the lukewarm side. It wasn't quite the experience we'd been hoping for, having eagerly eyed HAZE through various first looks during 2007. However, the multiplayer offerings in the game are something that Free Radical have been tight lipped about during the game's development, until now...
Our hands-on of HAZE's multiplayer included the individual deathmatch, team deathmatch, and Team Assault modes on the Shanty Town, Swamp, and Land Carrier maps respectively. We're still very much in the dark about any other multiplayer modes that HAZE will offer when it's released next month. Nevertheless, here's what HAZE's Project Lead, Derek Littlewood, told us to expect:
"We have 16 player - that goes online or LAN. You can also mix in split-screen, so you can do 2 player split-screen online, and we're doing 16 players online with all those different permutations. We're supporting bots as well. Bots work online, so you can do deathmatch games online with bots in, and we're supporting them in a range of different modes. We're talking about a range of deathmatch variants and then our Team Assault mode.
"The Team Assault is where it gets most interesting because they're kind of like these little stories in themselves. As you play through the main campaign you'll see the story and there will be little bits where you go, 'Okay, how did this come about?' When you play the Team Assault mode, the stories they tell are actually those stories, so they kind of contribute to the main campaign story as well. They're a bit like the deleted scenes on a DVD - it's that sort of idea - and those sorts of scenarios are objective driven where you have the Mantel troops facing off against the Promise Hand rebels, and trying to come to some sort of a resolution with that - it's a lot of different stuff.
"But the really interesting thing about multiplayer is that, even in a standard team deathmatch, the differences between the two sides are what make it such a compelling experience. There's always so much choice about what you're going to do: am I a Promise Hand rebel? Am I a Mantel trooper? If I'm a trooper, do I dose up on Nectar? Do I take a lot of Nectar and risk overdosing? Or do I just take a little bit of Nectar and potentially waste that dose? If I'm a Rebel, do I want to be throwing a Nectar grenade? Should I play dead at this moment to escape this trooper? There's a huge amount of choice even before you start considering standard FPS mechanics."
So, there you have it; straight from the horse's mouth. We certainly hope that there will be more multiplayer modes on offer than the Team Assault and "range of deathmatch variants". We're not exactly sure how many deathmatch variants you can have beyond team and individual modes, but here's hoping that Free Radical has been thinking outside of the metaphorical deathmatch box to come up with more than just these two. Either way, there was still no mention of any conventional capture the flag or base capturing modes, which would certainly be interesting with the different gameplay styles for Rebel and Mantel soldiers and it would be a shame not to see theses types of mode included.
A Fish Out Of Water
Nevertheless, we're here to talk about what we've seen so far, so let's start with the most original offering from the Free Radical team - the Team Assault mode. We played the mode on the Land Carrier map, which is basically an aircraft carrier that travels on land. This land carrier is set to play some pivotal roles in the single-player campaign (although we have to remain tight-lipped as to why), and it's essentially the oppressive hub of Mantel's presence in the Promise Hand's homeland, crushing the jungle in its vast overland wake.
Very much in the style of "deleted scenes on a DVD", this particular Team Assault map challenges the Rebel team to take out the land carrier's SubQuoLux (SQL) system. This is basically a missile defence system that defends from Rebel attacks, and the aim is to disable it so that the Land Carrier can be destroyed by the Promise Hand. In the sense that this could be seen as a "deleted scene", let's just say that you may want to think of it within the frame of an alternate ending, but we're not saying anything else about that for we may already have said too much.
Anyway, to disable the SQL, the Rebels need to get hold of the SQL keycard. This is in the bay of one of the helicopters on the carrier's flight deck. Once a Rebel team member has pinched the keycard, they'll then have to head up to the carrier's bridge in order to deactivate the SQL system with this keycard. Once the deactivation process is initiated, the Mantel team then has a limited time to get to the bridge and cancel this deactivation. If the Rebels manage to defend the bridge during this time then the SQL system will go down and the Promise Hand wins the round. If the Rebels can't deactivate the SQL within the allocated time for the round, then the Mantel side wins.
Team Assault certainly looks set to offer plenty of depth for a multiplayer mode, while its various objectives were challenging to achieve on this Land Carrier map, regardless of whether you were playing on the Mantel or Rebel side. We can only hope for more of the same in the other maps for the Team Assault mode, as this particular map was feverishly good fun.
Marmite, Peanut Butter, Or Jam?If the deathmatch is the bread and butter of multiplayer shooters, then Free Radical has lovingly smeared a layer of Marmite (if you don't like Marmite, then simply replace with Nutella, peanut butter, jam or honey where necessary) all over HAZE deathmatches with the differing abilities of Mantel and Rebel soldiers. All of the various perks for each side are as present in the multiplayer game as they are in the single-player levels, which will no doubt make for a meaty deathmatch experience. We've gone into great detail about these perks for each side in our previews and Q&A articles in the past, but here's a quick re-cap for those who're incredibly late to the party:
In both individual and team deathmatches, Rebel soldiers will be able to use nectar grenades, nectar stained knifes, and shoot the nectar packs of Mantel soldiers. These all have the effect of making the Mantel troops behave very strangely as they overdose on nectar, and essentially makes them very easy to kill. Rebel soldiers can also play dead when they're very low on health (making them invisible to Mantel troopers), or perform a swift weapon steal from Mantel soldiers when they're within melee distance.
This is balanced out on the Mantel side by the use of this nectar drug. As a Mantel trooper you can decide to use your doses of nectar whenever you want, although they are limited and taking too much at once will result in an overdose. When a Mantel trooper's nectar levels are high, their abilities are strengthened all-round. This means they move faster, have more resistance to damage, and their aiming is more precise with a deeper zoom. Enemies will also have an orangey yellow outer-glow, making them very easy to spot and take out. However, nectar doses dissolve in the bloodstream quickly and when a Mantel trooper's nectar levels drop, they lose these abilities.
These features are set to provide a great deal of extra appeal for the team and individual deathmatches in HAZE. The maps we played on during our deathmatch hands-on were Shanty Town (which is a run-down village made of corrugated iron, punctuated by various burnt-out vehicles) and Swamp (a misty forest where 90% of the map is waist high in water). Both of these were visually unimpressive on the build we saw, and we at least know that Swamp has been taken from a section in the main campaign in which the textures appeared a little smoother and more detailed than on the multiplayer map.
Nevertheless, visuals have never been the most important part of a game, and perhaps even less so where multiplayer gaming is concerned. Gameplay, however, is incredibly important, and the differences between Mantel and Rebel soldiers should really add to the deathmatches in HAZE (and the multiplayer generally, as they also featured in the Team Assualt mode we played). They look set to provide splashes of colour to the bog-standard multiplayer mode for shooters, which is something that should never be frowned upon.
Additionally, the weapon-sets for the multiplayer are pretty heavy duty, which is another thing that shouldn't be frowned upon. On top of the conventional offerings of rifles, shotguns, and sniper rifles were heavy hitters such as rocket launchers, mini-guns, and the Free Radical classic, Flamethrowers.
Another Free Radical classic that's set for inclusion in HAZE is bots. The bots in Free Radical's flagship series, Timesplitters, are legendary to fans of the game. This is not only for the unique characters that the various bot sets had, but also the intelligence that more advanced bots possessed and how hard it was to kill them.
In HAZE, bots can be set at four different difficulty levels between Easy and Very Hard. We have had some hands-on experience with these bots and, while Medium level bots are a walk in the park to dispense with, Very Hard will at least provide a fair degree of a challenge for the average FPS player. As far as we can remember, the HAZE bots don't seem to be quite as fiendishly difficult to kill as those in Splitters. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that a great deal of FPS games don't include bots at all, so having them in HAZE is an added bonus. They're even fun to play against exclusively, without any other human players in the game lobby.