Flying Sims. Hate em’ or love em ‘Well all know them, they are the big boxes hidden underneath a huge pile of games or propping up your kitchen table. With manuals with dials, meters and graphs long enough to make an aeronautical engineer out of any one. HAWX although not a hardcore sim may be propping up kitchen tables around the world very soon.
HAWX (High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron) puts players in the seat of David Crenshaw, An expert pilot part of the HAWX squadron. The game takes place during the events of the original Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter which puts players on the other end of the numerous bomb drops and air raids assisting the Ghosts. Shortly after assisting the Ghosts the HAWX squadron is broken up and the pilots are drafted into Artemis Global Security (AGS) a private protection agency providing firepower for whoever has the most money. This is where the HAWX story line really gains then loses its momentum.
After fighting for the AGS contracts are signed with Brazil making AGS extremely powerful. Las Trinidad then launches a huge attack against Rio de Janeiro. On paper it seems that HAWX actually has quite a decent story line, and it does. However the voice acting is so over the top and generic the entire story is cheapened and even harder to believe. The Ghost leader in particular makes the supposedly ‘stealth’ missions laughably anything but. Chatter between your fellow HAWX and with command still has the Tom Clancy game feel of ‘’There are six transmitters that need to be neutralized, you have 5 minutes’’ which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but makes the already stretched story even more unbelievable.
Hopping into one of these multimillion dollar jets gives the player a real feeling of power. With all plane movement mapped to the left analogue stick can however make it tricky to simply turn left or right. Tilting the stick left rotates the plane on its horizontal axis left not actually turning the nose left, Players soon find themselves rolling onto their back and turning into the ground to simply turn left. HAWX tries to counter this with the ‘yaw’ left and right feature with the bumpers which makes the plane slide from side to side but is way too slow to be effective in combat and is a wasted feature. The most interesting control scheme is introduced halfway through single player which is the Assistance Off Mode. This mode allows players to push their jets to the limits without any computer assistance keeping them in the air. Going into off mode is simple as double tapping either trigger which brings the camera right out giving the player a view of how they are flipping or falling? Off mode allows racing game style power sliding across the skies by breaking and turning sharply. Slowing down too much causes the jet to stall and spiral toward the ground but is easy to rise out of again. It’s in this mode where the player gets the most satisfaction of dodging 3 locked missiles, coming up behind a clueless enemy and winning the mission. Players won’t want to stay in off mode for long as actually identifying enemies is much more difficult than in the standard third person or cockpit views.
It’s not only the story that’s stretched out in HAWX. Playing HAWX is like playing a game with a faulty instant win button. All through the single player campaign when you come within 2500 meters of enemies your missiles then begin to lock onto the opposing jet, tank or anti air guns. When a lock is achieved players follow the locked plane to maintain the missiles path. Although it isn’t always a certain kill the first ¾ of HAWX’s single player makes players rely on this mechanic. In the later levels approaching jets and trying to lock on is completely changed. Maintaining a lock will usually take three to four tries to finally get a hit on the target. Making is especially frustrating to protect planes being bombarded by jets that it’s next to impossible to get a lock on. It’s these attempts to make a short game longer and an easy game harder on detracts from the experience just doesn’t play these days. The targeting is made friendlier with the Enhanced Reality System (ERS) system which gives players a trajectory to either intercept a plane or dodge a missile. With some nice but not too heavy assists it’s a nice feature to have.
Dodging missiles by millimeters, bombing huge aircraft carriers and even looking at the ground of all things looks great. All 50 of the different jets look great, rocket boosts and cloud formations all look just as they would in real life. The ground in flying games is usually compromised of big pixilated brown blocks, HAWX however uses Earth-imaging IKONOS satellite images to realisticallty render the ground and buildings which looks great even when coming out of a loop too late and crashing straight into it. Explosions don’t look as good as they can, just well timed images of explosions pop every now and then makes them hardly believable. HAWX sounds just like it should. Loud. Hooking this up to nice 5.1 or 7.1 systems with the bass cranked way up will give players the feeling that only an air show can give with low rumbles and ear piercingly loud missiles being launched all around you.
HAWX’s multiplayer seems as if it was an afterthought although there are some nice aspects to go along with it. Jump in co-op it makes it easy to search for games or start your own open party. Balancing is off however as full 4 player co-op games become frantic kill searches and steals. With only the one competitive multiplayer mode (team death match) it becomes an ammo conserving contest with all players being able to dodge missiles easily with no real skill being needed at all. This is a shame due to the games Call Of Duty like experience system, numerous challenges and completing single player missions all contributes to your overall rank allowing players to unlock new planes and weapon sets.
HAWX is an ‘’almost’’ game. With good ideas for mechanics such as the ERS and assistance off modes which make the game fun to play as well as still providing a challenge. These mechanics are all sold short due to the terrible voice acting, artificial lengthening of the single player and limited multiplayer modes. Making HAWX fun for those who want a quick air combat fix but frustrating and tiresome to those who want more bang for their buck.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
All the jets and terrains look great but are let down by bad explosions.
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Good in theory but fails badly 3/4 through the game.
All jets sound like they should, Bad voice acting begs to be turned all the way down.
Short single player and limited multiplayer will be putting HAWX back on shelves in a house near you.
HAWX although looks great is let down dramatically in its dimishing gameplay and limited multiplayer modes.