Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X was a surprisingly enjoyable arcade flight game. Sure, it was littered with niggles and bugs here and there, but the underlying core of the game was fantastic. You had a host of modern and classic jet fighters at your disposal and you had a huge sandbox available to play with them.
Where it all fell over was the online. After you finished the career (which was quite short) there was little else to do. And the online was generally reduced to flying circles around your opponent trying to get a lock until one of you gave up.
H.A.W.X 2 promised to fix the dogfighting system by offering longer battles. And increasing the life of the game online. Could we finally have a proper air combat game on our hands?
Continuing on from the first game, we find ourselves following HAWX Squadron again, now dispatched to the Middle East where conflict is on the rise. Insurgent leaders rain violence down upon the region. At the same time, a group of Russian nuclear weapons are misplaced, prompting HAWX Squadron to proceed in tracking them down and recovering them before they are used for evil.
All of the flight controls and combat elements have carried over from the original HAWX. Those familiar with the first game will dive into this one no problem. Assistance OFF mode makes its return and if anything, is even better this time around thanks to the more immersing environments and diversity in missions. The major difference this time around comes in the Assistance ON mode.
It is now possible to maneuver the plane with the same savage gusto as with OFF mode. This makes for a much improved experience, especially for players who like the ’3rd person’ viewpoint. And when you delve into some of the missions of the campaign, you realise why this maneuverability was so paramount to the Assistance ON mode.
With the first HAWX, it was almost always advantageous to use OFF mode, as you had that extra edge over your opponents. Now however, missions throw you into an escape under radar coverage through a narrow canyon – and you realise OFF mode would be an impossibility. I found myself using ON mode a lot more this time around.
Another area where this is clearly highlighted is dog fighting. Ubisoft Romania promised longer, more exciting dogfights this time around. To some level, this is true – but it comes at the cost of your sanity.
Using Assistance OFF mode in a dog fight is a tremendous waste of time, even more so later in the game when your enemies are more difficult. It gets to the point where you endlessly fly circles around your opponent, the AI matching your speed and angle exactly, so you can never get around to make a lock on them. If you air brake to cut in closer, or try and swoop around behind them, they simply slow and match you again.
It has literally gotten to the point where I’ve been looping the AI planes so sharply that the AI just hangs there in mid-air. They hover as you circle them. And all the while they can fire a barrage of perfectly aimed chain gun fire at you. So it’s on the most extreme end of frustrating arcade gaming.
Additionally, find an enemy that you can actually pursue without them circling you – and you’ll discover that you can never get a missile lock on them. Then dump flares every 2 seconds. And what’s more, they have an endless supply of flares as well. You have 5-6. They have infinity. Literally, they can dump them all day preventing you from getting a lock. So missiles are largely useless now too, meaning chain guns are your only option. And of course, you can’t use the chain gun effectively in Assistance OFF, so it’s back to the ON mode there too.
I had wrapped up the campaign in about 5-6 hours. As the credits were rolling, I was dumbfounded that it was over already. Compounding the experience, you realise it was probably only that long too because you spent half of that time circling every plane (or undergoing the futility of attaining a missile lock amid a sky full of flares) you tried to destroy for a good five minutes.
There are some exciting new game play mechanics this time around. Ground and Aircraft Carrier take off’s and landings are included. These also tie into missions nicely. Mid-mission refitting is handy for taking an extra bunch of missile rounds (missions are lengthier too as a result). Night missions can also be carried out using a night vision mode.
Mid-air refueling also makes an appearance, though the ‘docking’ mechanic can be a little tedious sometimes if you’re using the unassisted approach.
In addition to the regular jet fighters, you also control a UAV for specific missions. Following targets around in their cars, listening in on secret meetings and marking targets of opportunity has a real God-like feel to it. These are actually a real highlight. It gives the game something quite unique in approach and it acts as an interlude to the regular dogfight missions.
Precision bombing has also made an appearance in HAWX 2. Raise your aircraft to a cruising altitude and you can prompt a high range camera, capable of precision bombing targets to a pin point accuracy. Very handy when doing ground defence missions.
As with the original, a large focus has been placed on escort and protection missions in HAWX 2, but due to all of the above additions and tweaks, they are much less frustrating this time around.
It’s just a shame the campaign had to be so short.
The Survival and Online mode(s) come to the rescue here, somewhat. As you’d expect, Survival offers a series of attack waves where you must prevail as long as possible. Thankfully the AI doesn’t seem as annoying in this game mode as well.
Online hasn’t changed much from the original outing in terms of its core game play, but there is the addition of levelling, plane perks and associated unlocks. You can now ‘master’ planes for example.
Graphics & Sound
The visuals in HAWX 2 have undergone a major overhaul. The Geo Eye satellite imaging that created the world of the first game has been given a thorough work over and as a result, the environments and cityscapes in HAWX 2 look vastly improved over the original title.
Where the original game had a majority of flat landscapes dotted with the occasional mountain range, there’s now much more topographical variation. Snow-capped mountains look much more realistic instead of seeming like a 2D texture stretched and painted over a model. You can now fly through canyons and avoid missiles by ducking behind peaks and ridges.
As with the first game, the voice acting is largely phoned in, the music is almost identical to the original too. The audio has a few bugs as well; On a number of occasions, the sound from my plane just completely disappears – that is, no engine, missile, chain gun or air movement noise whatsoever.
Graphics have definitely improved, but the audio side of things still needs a lot of work.
This was one of my most anticipated sequels this year, but I’m left feeling a little disappointed. With a 5-6 hour campaign and buggy AI, you really only have the Online mode to fall back on. Dogfighting still falls back to the ‘fly circles’ approach until someone gets bored and peels off.
It’s a good graphical improvement, but the enhanced game play (specifically dogfighting) promises just aren’t delivered upon. I’d hesitate to recommend this one to anyone but the true enthusiasts – and frankly, it’s probably much better played if you have the appropriate flight stick peripheral too.