March 06, 2009
You just cannot seem to get away from Tom Clancy these days, he first jumped into the first person shooter genre, then hopped on over to some stealth action, before dabbling in some real time strategy and has now decided it is time to freshen up the flight genre. Of course, at the end of the day they seem to slap his name on everything just so they can tie it in with the other titles set in the universe whilst at the same time trying to portray the game's realistic traits; nevertheless, the list of Tom Clancy titles is still impressive. Let's be honest, the 360 isn't exactly bogged down with high quality flight games as they always seem to have far too much flying time and simply not enough action. Here is hoping that HAWX can fox two the hell out of that stereotype.
As with all Clancy games this one has been helmed by Ubisoft but, for the first time in what seems like ages (I choose to ignore Endwar so that my claim seems valid) this does not have any prequels to rely on for success. A flight game may not seem like a natural progression but the story has been superbly woven into the fabric of the series and acts as something of an introduction to the World War scenario portrayed in the aforementioned strategy title.
First and foremost, this is not a dedicated flight simulation. You know the type of game I mean – where you have to spend three weeks with the instruction manual, buy a dedicated flight stick and have hours of practice ... just to take off. Before I get bombarded with hate, there is nothing wrong with flight games for those that like that kind of thing but I suspect 360 owners are looking for more of an instant action fix, which is what this game delivers perfectly. The controls apply themselves to a standard control pad superbly and you can change a variety of settings to make it as realistic as you can cope with. It makes the game instantly accessible and ensures you do not get bogged down from the get go. It is also worth noting that, although the game has three difficulty levels, the A.I of your foes is the same on each. All that will change is the amount of ammo at your disposal and the level of damage you can take. So a decent player will never feel harshly treated by any of the missions.
Story wise, the game is a mixed bag really. Anyone who has seen some of the lush visuals inherent in the trailer will be disappointed to know that they play no further part in the game. Every mission is just delivered by a series of dubiously animated talking heads and floating maps. It hardly serves to draw you into the conflict and the fact that there are some cringe worthy quips and obvious spelling errors in the subtitles just makes matters worse. That being said the story does nicely weave in and out of other Clancy games and you will get a nice sense of pride at helping the Ghost Recon teams out from time to time. The overall story is also pretty engrossing but is let down by an amazingly anticlimactic final mission which is a real shame as the missions do show a remarkable level of variety up until that point and never just devolve into flying around aimlessly.
At least we have some lush visuals and kick ass sound effects to take our minds off of things. Well we do, but only if we only look at the ground from a good distance away. The planes are a visual treat and there is a wide variety of them on offer to cater for any number of tastes, and there is nothing, NOTHING, more satisfying than hearing your pilot yell FOX TWO when he launches a missile at some poor unsuspecting foe. With a plethora of awesome explosions and superb smoke effects the whole thing is top drawer. It is just a shame that, despite the fact a number of cities have been gloriously recreated, the textures on them seem to go AWOL when you get to close to the ground. Frankly though it is a minor quibble as all of the action should be in the air so what the hell are you doing down there anyway?
The combat is always going to be the key factor and things seem to be spot on. Most flying games fall down because you end up circling around the same foe for what seems like forever but HAWX has come up with not one, but two ways around this issue. First is the ERS system, which allows the plane to project a course to your designated target (or out of the way of oncoming missiles). A series of icons appear on screen to show you the route and, as long as you stick within their confines, you will escape harm or line up a perfect shot. The downside to this system is that certain planes are too fast to be targeted by it and the course often takes a while to traverse – meaning you will be spending longer just to take down one opponent; hardly ideal in a frantic war zone though it is an essential tool for plotting a route to entrenched ground units. The second option is much more fun and dynamic and comes in the form of the Assistance OFF mode. You will be trained on this after five missions of the story and, at a double click of the trigger button, the whole screen and HUD drops away and things zoom out from your plane. Here you can perform extreme maneuvers to get the drop on your foe, using your speed and braking to make tight turns and get a lock on from an improbable angle. This mode is brilliant for dog-fighting with enemy fighters but useless at everything else, as it makes using ground weapons or guns practically impossible.
As you shoot down planes and complete missions you will earn experience points and increase in rank, which will unlock new planes and weapons for you to use both in the campaign and online. Each of the planes has their own strengths and weaknesses and some of them have unique powers that you can take online too such as EMP attacks and the like. As you progress through the game you will be recommended a plane for each mission but you can theoretically go with whatever you like (barring the need for a certain weapon), so if you want to zip around in a Blackbird – feel free. The weapons are basically a selection of missiles and specific ground weapons. All missiles require a lock on to work effectively but some are more effective at range (like guided missiles) or up close (all aspect missiles). Your cannons are pretty much close range only and you have to lead your opponent to get a hit. Due to the speed of the planes though, the cannons are unwieldy and tough to score kills with.
The online aspect of the game is an awesome addition, particularly when you consider the fact you can play the entire game in four player (or less) drop in, drop out co-op should you so wish. The fact that each player can choose their own difficulty is a boon as well, as it means the same game can cater for a variety of skill levels. It also helps to get rid of your frankly useless A.I. wingmen. Who can only ever be ordered to attack or defend and take an age to destroy the most innocuous of targets. Step into the true online arena and you have a wide array of settings, though they all pretty much revolve around team deathmatch. In any other game that would be a major problem but here it is the obvious choice and you will be having too much fun to notice, and all of the kills you earn in this mode help score points to your overall rank too. The settings can be altered so that certain weapons, settings and skills are preferred but at the end of the day it all comes down to pilot skill. My only grumble would be with the fact everyone seems to use All Aspect missiles, as they can get a lock on a plane you are not even facing. This seems decidedly cheap and lacking in skill, but it is an option open to everyone so you can hardly grumble.
With the single player only lasting about seven or eight hours there needed to be something else in the mix to add longevity to the title and Ubisoft have come up with then answer through the superb challenges on offer. The challenges cover all aspects of the game and reward you experience points upon completion that help you to rank up faster. It also makes you go out of your way to do certain things whilst playing the game and keeps you on your toes. There are the obligatory challenges for getting kills with certain weapons and then the more fun ones, like flying 30 meters from the ground while in Assistance OFF mode, or recovering from a stall in an online match at less than 30m. Points for downing multiple targets or destroying lots of foes in single player or co-op mode are just the tip of the iceberg and trying to meet certain criteria can make even the same old missions seems fresh and new. As your rank is a combination of online and offline experience it gives you an ultimate goal to aim towards.
Despite the fact a vast majority of the achievements can only be acquired online this is still an extremely good list and that is because of two simple words: player matches. That is right, despite the plethora of companies obsessed with their products own self importance (Epic anyone?) and demanding you to play against psychotic ten year olds for ten points, Ubisoft have done the reasonable thing. Most of the single player points can be nabbed by playing through the missions and doing so on the hardest difficulty to boot. Then you will have to head online to snag the rest of your points though at least they are for reasonable levels of kills and also for doing fun stalls, using OFF mode and going really fast. A well balanced list overall.
This game is, quite simply, a hell of a lot of fun and if you have enough mates to get a four player co-op match going then it will become doubly so. Even the online mode welcomes new players and I doubt many people will be surviving an entire match unscathed which is a novelty. The real strengths of this game are the dynamic OFF mode, the superb challenges and ranking system which give the game a superb long term appeal. Take to the skies with HAWX and you will not be disappointed.
The only thing they are missing is the Danger Zone song and this would have been perfect; as it is though, the voice work is spot on and the sound effects whilst in the air are top class..
Pretty tasty aircrafts and some solid explosions. The scenery is pretty cool from a distance and has a variety of well known landmarks but get up close and the textures lose their way.
Simple to pick up and play, and supremely addictive. You can even tinker with the controls if you want more of a challenge and the game is never unfair. While the main game is short there is still plenty to do afterwards too.
A superb example of how to make a flight game more accessible and one that has a plethora of missions, challenges and multiplayer aspects to keep it interesting.
Considering a vast chunk of the points is for online play this list is still more than welcome, primarily due to the fact you can get points in player matches too. Are you watching this Epic? .
I expected this to be a rather dull and repetitive flight simulation but nothing could be further from the truth. It has a superb arcade feel to it, whilst at the same time lets you also play it realistically should you so desire. The assistance OFF mode is probably the most innovative aspect and one that makes things a lot more epic in scope when you are involved in a tight dog-fight. Get a squad of co-op buddies together and things take off from there (I could not stop myself). Buy it, play it, love it.