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Tom Clancy’s HAWX Review

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Most of us have played a flight game at some stage in our gaming history. Whether it has been solid flight simulators or arcade escapades, the flight experience remains special to most of us. There’s something sensational about cruising through the skies or tearing along at mach two a few metres above the forest canopy.

Probably because its not something we can all just run out and do one weekend on a whim.

Whether it be the amazing technology, the awe of flight, the adrenaline rush of speed, the view of the world from miles up in the sky or the devastating weaponry, something draws us all as gamers and people to aircraft. Having ~50 superb jets of post-modern and futuristic eras at our disposal has to be worth a look, right?

I’ve held off doing a review on this title as I really wanted to put some decent time into all aspects of the latest Tom Clancy game.

Story

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X (“High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron”) is set in the year 2014 and the catalogue of planes at your disposal have all undergone various upgrades and technical updates which result in quicker flight speeds and very impressive manoeuvrability.

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HAWX prides itself on an ‘arcade’ simulation. Particularly in the “Assistance OFF” mode, you’ll be able to pull off unbelievable G-force manoeuvres, flick and dive, stall and recover your plane in order to dodge enemy missiles.

Driven by PMC’s (Private Military Companies) these advanced war planes are used to aid the wills of the highest bidder. This is where you come in, part of the global “Artemis” security force.

While the story isn’t pivotal to the mission progression, it does offer a brief reprieve from the intense dogfights you encounter in the missions. Cutscenes and in-game commentary from your commanders and generals keep the story moving as the missions carry you towards your goals.

Gameplay

You’re thrown into the action quickly and for the early stages of the mission progress, you’re locked into the “Assistance ON” mode. Essentially, this restricts you to a set of viewpoints, a “Bum cam”, internal cockpit cam, or a “Bonnet cam” vision.

In a nutshell, this mode prevents you from losing control of the plane. You can’t stall and you can’t perform brutal evasive manoeuvres that could otherwise result in crashes or disorientation. Its not a bad way of getting you into the game early on either, but having come from hours upon hours in the demo, the lack of the (in my opinion, much more informative) “Assistance OFF” mode took a little readjustment.

What the “Assistance ON” mode does offer though, exclusively over its alternative, is the ERS (Enhanced Reality System) targeting. What this means from this locked view is an increased ability to target planes and ground units that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to reach otherwise. With a simple Square prompt that appears on-screen when available, you’re greeted with a set of visual directional aids that you follow to reach an optimum attack path for your target. This usage can include tanks nestled in between skyscrapers, or a more manoeuvrable jet that runs rings around your plane.

As the game progresses, you achieve “Assistance OFF” certification and this allows a sort of 3rd person/cinematic amalgamated viewpoint which not only allows you a greater, more panoramic view of the battlefield and airspace around you, but also the complete freedom over the control of your plane.

Now, holding the brakes reduces the speed of your plane until its possible to stall. And once stalled, its up to you to level the plane out and recover it before crashing out of the sky.

Overall the experience becomes more enjoyable purely for the cinematic action sequences. Its like watching Top Gun, only you’re producing and directing

That’s not to say either mode is better or worse. Truly, a HAWX pilot will make use of both the Assistance ON and OFF modes in different circumstances to make the most of an intense situation.

On-screen aids are shared among both modes, you have a Tac-Map/Radar screen, incoming missile detection visuals, damage control monitor, weapons selection control and a prompt to give commands to your AI squadron.

*** Possible Spoiler video ***

There are 19 missions in the campaign and three available ‘difficulty’ options, though from what I’ve experienced, the only real difference between your “Normal” (the easiest) and “Elite” (the hardest) is the quantity of ammo at your disposal. Where you can fly in, fire off missiles with little regard for their actual impact on Normal, you have to tactically ensure your missiles hit their designated targets on Elite, as you can and will run out of ammo long before the mission concludes otherwise. And you’ll be stuck trying to take out MiG’s flying at Mach 2 with nothing but a Gatling-Cannon.

Missions offer good variation; There are simple fly-in, bomb the hell out of everything runs all the way up to surgical strikes on selected targets and escorting/protecting an unarmed personnel jet against waves of enemies. Some of the latter prove quite challenging later on when your ammo is limited.

The beauty of the HAWX campaign is the pop-in, pop-out nature of online co-operative play. Every mission can be played with up to three Friends or randoms – and with each additional squadron member, the number of enemies on screen at a time increases. So a battle where you may have fought against 4 enemy Aces by yourself, becomes a battle against 16 enemy Aces when playing with Friends.

This offers a tremendous replay value, a much greater level of excitement in what is essentially, the same mission – and also a great experience incentive.

There’s also a Team Deathmatch mode, a big reliance here if you want to unlock all the planes and advance to the final Level 40 title. The TDM Challenges alone are probably going to be required to get close as the XP system makes later progression very slow without the large challenge boosts. You can host your own private TDM battles with mates and randoms, or join any currently open and running.

There’s really nothing fresh about TDM, it is what it says on the box – but there are a nice variety of ‘bonuses’ which you unlock during the missions as you rack up kills and multipliers. You can call in Repair Drones which mend you and your squadron’s damage, Advanced Cannons (pretty obvious), EMP strikes which disable enemy aircraft and plunge them into a devastating stall and fall. There’s quite a few and they often offer powerful – and comedic results.

HAWX employs a level up system similar to most games these days. Shoot down a plane or ground unit, earn ‘x’ amount of XP. All contributing to a level up system, which unlocks bonus items, weapon packs and of course access to newer, more modern and more powerful planes.

Adding to this basic XP system are “Challenges”, a lot of which rely on killing ‘x’ amount of enemies with ‘y’ weapon type, but also leagues of much more challenging and time consuming activities. Taking out a wave of 4 enemies at once with multi-target AA missiles, destroying a plane with a radar-guided missile at a range of 3000m or less. Some Challenges have multiple levels of completion as well, so the Challenge system is well structured, layered and thought out, offering you a lot more ways to advance through the career levels.

A “Pilot Records” area allows you to keep easy track of all of these challenges too.

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Keep track of your complete missions, challenges and such in the Pilot Records screen!

Previous completed missions can be replayed, but the campaign progression as a whole cannot be replayed with the same callsign. You can only play completed missions through again as a “Single Mission”, essentially a stand-alone experience.

The highlight of your HAWX experience is the massive plane hangar. You can either choose your ‘Recommended’ plane to attempt each mission, or you can cycle through the other ~50 planes at your disposal. Each plane is modelled in great detail – and for the aero-enthusiast, there’s something for everyone. Whether its the all-out ability of the F-22 Raptor, the futuristic multi-role capability of the fictional XA-20 Razorback, or the nimble, pocket-rocket F-20, you have a massive selection which further offers different, more challenging (or less challenging) ways to attempt the missions and replay them.

There are also a few unlockable planes available – and while they often require you to advance through the career levels before you can use them (and their weapon packs) they’re generally worth the wait.

Future level ups also unlock a few special plane ‘skins’ with different colour/camouflage designs. They don’t affect game play itself in any way, but it is a nice addition to your hangar.

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Weapon loadouts…

Presentation

The locations in HAWX rely on GeoEye’s commercial Earth-imaging IKONOS satellite system. The locations you travel to are all modelled from satellite data, so there is very faithful recreations of topographical data. Mountains, hills, river, cityscapes all impressively brought to life in 3D. Even some of the major landmarks are added in. The Pentagon and White House in Washington, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio – they’re all there and offer a great attention to detail for the locations.

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Plenty of recognisable landmarks

Plane models are well created and pouring over the details in the hangar is a time-sapping pastime. After unlocking a new plane, I’d often just sit there, slowly pan around it, zoom in, zoom out and suck in all the detail. I’m not the greatest plane guru, but the makes and models I know are very faithful to their real-life counterparts.

Aficionados will love the range and detail in the aircraft. Even the details within the game, vapor trails streaming off the jets, contrails off the wings as you bank left/right, shock diamonds in Afterburning and little details like the sonic boom as you speed through the sound barrier. While it may not always be realistic, it sure does look and sound impressive.

Menu systems are quite basic, there’s nothing overly elaborate or innovative to be found, but it gets the job done. Its not a feast of eye candy, but its not woeful either. They are easy to navigate for the new user which is probably the most important thing here. Your co-op/invite system is a little confusing at first and certainly not well advertised, but simple and effective once you have it up and running.

Overall, while its not the best looking game on the PS3, it definitely pulls its weight as far as flight games go.

Conclusion

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X is what a lot of us have been waiting for on the Playstation 3. Its a flight game that covers a huge variety of aircraft, in some exciting mission designs and includes a co-operative mode, as well as online competitive modes.

Many have torn it down for being too much of an arcade game and not enough of a simulator – but HAWX has never claimed to be a flight simulator in any shape or form – and provided you can get your head around that fact, or you’re looking for an arcade flight game, you’re bound to pick up and enjoy HAWX very quickly.

The fact that I’m still coming back to this game for a run in co-op with Friends, or a few matches online in Team Deathmatch says to me its a keeper. Its thoroughly enjoyable in all its game modes and if you’re an enthusiast, you’ll get plenty of kicks in replaying missions with different planes and using different tactics.

Online is generally solid, though suffers from a little bit of headset lag, sometimes frustrating, particularly when you’re working together with a mate on a co-op objective. Its not game breaking, but it would be great if it was fixed. Anyone looking for a varied experience probably won’t find it here though. Its Team Deathmatch in Ranked or Unranked fashion, and that’s it.

One great feature Ubisoft included in this one is YouTube upload support. And even more importantly, it works perfectly. Sync HAWX with your YouTube account, hit record in the game and save all your favourite dogfights, co-op moments and manoeuvres to upload and share on the Internet.

HAWX is a title that’s probably going to be immensely enjoyed by aircraft enthusiasts and Tom Clancy fans alike. There’s really nothing wrong with the game at all when serving both of those fanbases, but you can’t help but think there could have been a little more sometimes.

The game can be finished on the hardest difficulty in probably 8 hours (or less if you’re a hardcore gamer and have a friend or two go through in co-op with you) and the online, while enjoyable, could have benefited from a few extra game modes. Something like a capture the flag, or objectives mission.. bombing an enemy base while they defend etc.. the possibilities were endless really. It seems a little rushed regarding the online side of things. Co-op (just) rescues it however.

I can say though, it is a game I’m extremely happy with. One that my collection is all the better for owning.

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