September 11, 2010
The first HAWX game was one of my favourite titles of last year and it was certainly a pleasant surprise to play a new IP that felt so polished and offered something just that little bit different. However, that success does not seem to have led to the genre taking off (sorry) on the 360. If anything, there has been a distinct lack of a top gun (sorry) to challenge for HAWX’s crown, although, it has only been a year. So, can the sequel do what no other game seems willing to? It could well be a (dog) fight to the death. That one was tenuous I agree – but on with the show.
With the first game pretty much touching all of the bases, it is hard to see how improvements could be made. So the onus was really on Ubisoft to deliver more of the same, with the necessary tweaks to the action to make it worth our while. Top of the list was always going to be a solid single player experience, expansive multiplayer action and more action than you could shake a stick at. Assuming it was an action based stick.
From the off, things are pretty gloomy, as even the introduction and basic menus seem fairly basic. Last year you could look through your available statistics and the pilot challenges and it was all easy on the eye. This time around it all seems a bit simplistic and ugly, almost as if someone looked at the old template and decided to rein it in. If the first bite is with the eye, then this is far from being a tasty morsel.
Sadly the story seems to follow the same pattern, and it really doesn't live up to expectations, instead falling into eighties action film territory. A bunch of naughty Russian separatists have stolen some nuclear bombs and it is up to you to stop them, with twists and turns along the way. It really is as generic as it sounds and really fails to capture the imagination. All of the characters are incredibly two dimensional, and matters are not helped by the laughable cutscenes and appalling lip-syncing. It just makes everyone look like badly controlled robots and destroys the realism. Still, as long as the action is top notch, we can overlook a poor story. That's the problem... if only the action was top notch.
Don't get me wrong, HAWX still offers a fun experience, but a lot of the levels are just far too similar. There just isn’t the variety to keep things interested. The developers have tried to shoehorn in taking off and landing sequences, plus mid air refuelling too, but these just feel like glorified mini games and they totally break up the pace of the missions. You also have to control drones on certain missions to spy on your foes, or bomb then into little pieces, but once again, these just shatter the pace of the game entirely. They basically boil down to point and click exercises with no real skill required at all. The first game had variety by the bucket load as you defended Airforce One, shot down missiles targeting a shuttle or piloted a stealth bomber through a barrage of flak, to name but a few. This game seems to be happy with the standard fare of: go here, shoot that, done.
In terms of the controls, everything is fairly well done, although the handling of the planes can seem a little off at times, which is especially noticeable when trying to navigate tight turns or narrow canyons. The real mystery is why they saw fit to put the ability to change your viewpoint in the pause menu – talk about unhelpful. On the plus side, all of the planes handle uniquely and you can even increase your mastery of them to unlock further perks and customisable weapons. In fact, the progression system is very well crafted, as you earn tokens for levelling up, which can then be used to unlock new planes and abilities. With XP on offer for blowing up pretty much everything, not to mention accomplishing challenges and finishing missions, then you can soon power up your hangar in no time.
While the story is pretty disappointing, at least the multiplayer modes perk things up a bit. You can play all of the solo missions with up to four players, and I would highly recommend that you do so as the fun increases exponentially. Racing down the runway to take off becomes a delight with a few friends around you. Even better than that though are the survival maps which you can unlock as you progress, which see you take on waves of enemies within a limited time period. Top fun. You can tackle the maps solo, but it would be unwise to do so considering the number of foes you are up against; take them on with friends and it becomes more of a suitable hurdle.
Obviously you can take on your friends, and random strangers, in a less co-operative venue as well. The Team Battle mode sees up to eight people going head-to-head, but it would have been nice to see a few more modes added to spice up the proceedings. It is still exhilarating to take on all and sundry using your favourite plane, but the options are almost identical to the original, so it feels like you are playing pretty much the same game. However, it is still hard to fault the gameplay, though you may notice a strange drop in sound quality for some reason which happened more often than not and is quite unacceptable really.
Like the rest of the game, the achievements feel like a pared down version of the last game. A lot of them borrow directly from the original list, with achievements for getting kills with certain weapons, hitting a certain rank and story progression. The majority of your points will have to be earned online though, so you will either need a lot of spare time or some dedicated friends to max this out. Did I just say max this out? Well you can't even do that at the moment as one achievement (for flying over Mach 2 for an hour) seems to be permanently glitched and others can be a little finicky too. Wait a minute, wasn't HAWX 1's list equally as glitchy? Yes, yes it was. Yet another example that this game has been rushed out of the door.
Only the brilliant multiplayer really saves HAWX 2 from oblivion, as co-op story missions, arcade mode, survival maps and team battles all provide endless fun. Playing on single player is a major letdown though, as the campaign is over far too soon and is totally lacking in variety. In terms of the franchise, this feels like a major backwards step rather than a leap forward, with even the menus feeling far less polished than last time around. Some of the additions only serve to slow the game down and you feel like the creators were torn between out and out arcade action and simulation, which has left the game really struggling to be either.
Decent voice work, but no more than that. The game suffers from a noticeable drop in sound on some of the weapons and when planes are destroyed. It is even more obvious in the multiplayer modes too, which is frustrating and more than a little sloppy.
The planes do look impressive, and cruising over cloud laden mountains is a sight to behold. However, get up close and personal, and the textures are shocking, not to mention the cutscenes are laughable at best, especially the lip-syncing.
An entertaining game, but one that suffers from a lack of variety and some missions that are flat-out boring. Co-op and survival modes are bags of fun though, so make sure to get some friends on board.
An engaging flight game, but one that has a more rough and ready feel in the graphics, presentation and combat than last time out. When you can't even get the basic menus looking better, then Houston, we have a problem.
Pretty weak really as it just borrows liberally from the last game without even trying to throw in any innovation.
HAWX 2 is such a letdown after the brilliant original and, if anything, feels like it has gone back a few steps rather than making any kind of progression. There is still plenty of fun to be had, especially in co-op or on the survival maps, but the first game has the edge in almost every regard. Bottom line: get your flight kicks there.