Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.; the PS3 Attitude review
Now the balance has been redressed with the arrival of a new title in the Tom Clancy franchise.
So does Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. – which for the purposes of saving our fingers will be simply called HAWX from now on – reach for the sky? Or is it just SAM fodder?
The year is 2012.
The world is becoming dependant on private military companies (PMCs) and elite mercenaries to dispense some kind of law and order. As per usual with these things, the PMCs don’t stay small and (fr)agile for long. Gaining power and sway, one PMC becomes big enough to launch an attack on the US itself.
HAWX is set in the Tom Clancy Universe in between Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 and Tom Clancy’s EndWar. There are several characters and plot elements that cross over between GRAW and HAWX, which means that fans of those titles will feel a sense of continuity.
You start the game as David Crenshaw, a US Air Force pilot who finds he is out of a job soon after your first ‘training mission’. It seems even the mighty US Air Force are feeling the credit crunch.
Crenshaw and his buddies are recruited into a PMC – Artemis Global Security. What follows are a number of varied missions, plot twists, diabolical schemes and more plot twists. Heck, you could have called it M. Night Shyamalan’s H.A.W.X. with all these sudden changes in direction (and not just those that happen at Mach 1).
There is nothing too surprising about the structure of the missions themselves if you have ever played a flight action title, and that is a good thing – HAWX doesn’t mess with the format. You have a bevy of magnificent flying machines at your disposal. Typical for this genre, each has a strength, a weakness and a particular payload. It is your job to look at the mission brief, which tells you how much of the battle will be fought in the air versus ground attacks, and decide on the best tool for the job.
Helpfully, HAWX will recommend a particular aircraft for the job at hand making that decision all the more easy for the budding pilot.
The user interface is slick and easy to navigate. Sure, there is a rather long initial and mandatory HDD install before you can actually get into the game, but that does give you time to find that old boiler suit and crash helmet you were hiding away so you can at least look the part.
The initial missions are well balanced and teach you everything you need to know about basic flying techniques, weapon launches and buddy control. With a target highlighted, you can instruct your colleagues to attack that particular target or defend you and your position.
In HAWX the standard HUD you might find in any flight game is augmented through an Enhanced Reality System, or ERS. The ERS will help you in times of need, showing you the route to follow to avoid missiles, chase foes and general avoid becoming tomorrow’s vulture pickings. For example, when implemented during a missile lock, you will be presented with a tunnel that shows you the correct route to fly to avoid being blown up. This is also when you wished you had chosen the payload that had room for some flares.
For more advanced play, the ERS can be switched off – even during a mission through a quick double-tap of the shoulder button – to offer a more realistic experience. Of course, by realistic we mean ‘naked’, since having no support at all from the aircraft’s electronics leaves you feeling somewhat exposed.
It is clear when you are playing HAWX that, despite the addition of an in-cockpit view, the action is more ‘arcade’ than ‘realistic’. We’re not mentioning this because it is a bad thing, but since you never have to take off or land the plane, fly for hours between waypoints, navigate manually or manage control surfaces this is definitely not the PS3’s answer to Flight Simulator.
It isn’t long after your initial foray into life as a PMC operative that the difficulty starts to ramp up. It never feels as though HAWX is too hard to complete, but there are occasions when you really know you are in a battle. Or that you chose the wrong aircraft and payload!
You can easily be fighting dozens of ground forces, several helicopter gunships, a brace of enemy fighters and a host of naval vessels simultaneously and it pays to listen to the well-voiced chatter coming over the radio, as this will help you to prioritise which targets deserve your attention next.
In fact, the sound is generally very good throughout HAWX, with the usual mix of environmental noises, some great voice-over work and a music play list to polish it all off.
The buddy system comes into play here since you can’t be in all places at once, so sending your crew off to destroy one target whilst you take out a second is imperative to your success in HAWX.
Graphically, HAWX is as good a flight action game as we’ve seen on any platform. One of the major differences between HAWX and anything else available is the inclusion of real life imagery from GeoEye’s commercial Earth-imaging IKONOS satellite system. You really notice this when you are flying above recognisable landscapes, such as the missions that take place in the skies above Rio de Janiero.
The only noticeable issue is when you are flying very low to the ground. Pixelation does become an issue at low altitudes, and the explosion effects aren’t exactly the most realistic we’ve seen. But for the most part, the graphics offer great variety, natural landscapes, awesome city renderings and a good level of realism. There are no issues with speed or frame rate drops on the PS3 version as far as we can tell.
In addition to the ERS, HAWX has another trick to play with the OFF system. Invoking OFF changes the view to third-person and allows you to twist, turn and tilt the ‘plane in the most unrealistic and yet exhilarating ways. The first few times you use the OFF system, you will feel a little disoriented as you scrabble to work out where you are and what you are actually trying to achieve, but once you get used to it the OFF system is the only way to get past some of the more elite enemies thrown your way in later levels.
In addition to the solid, plot-twist ridden single-player campaign HAWX has various other modes to increase re-playability.
Of these the online multi-player is the weakest, which is a shame. Sure, it is fun to jump into an online game and utilise the OFF system, but soon the skies becomes filled with a mass of aircraft performing such unfeasible turns that it soon degenerates into chaos.
Much more fun is the online co-op mode. Missions that could start to seem repetitive on subsequent playthroughs are suddenly much more interesting and varied when there is a real person flying by your side.
For completists, HAWX also offers a huge number of tasks to achieve, each of which earn you experience points. In turn these earned XP unlock new craft, weapons and other features to further mix the game up and make you want to come back for more.
For added realism, there is a rather good looking flight controller available from Thrustmaster called the T.Flight HOTAS. Specifically designed for the PS3, and PC compatible to boot, we’ll have a hardware review of this meaty controller in the near future.
A solid single-player campaign, excellent sound & visuals, some great action and a brilliant online co-op mode make HAWX a title you should certainly pick up, especially if like us you’ve been jonesing for a decent flight game on the PlayStation 3. It is only let down by the current online multi-player experience, but who is to say that future DLC or patches can’t re-invigorate that element of HAWX too.