Tom Clancy’s HAWX Review
By Bernard Wong
Since the beginning of the 3rd generation console of the Playstation 3, XBOX 360 and Nintendo Wii, there has been a lack of jetfighter games. Actually, to be brutally honest, there has been a lack of jetfighter games in general at anytime since the revolution of computers/consoles started playing games. Sure you had your arcade games, like Afterburner. For the playstation 2, the Ace Combat series dominated and was the prime modern jetfighter franchise on the console with its licensed planes, visceral gameplay, story and smart A.I. Hitting early for the PS3, is another idea adapted by the famous author Tom Clancy. Conquering what seems to be the 1st person, 3rd person tactical shooters and real-time strategy games with Endwar, he now moves to the sky.
So…has Tom Clancy made the right move? Is the sky his limit? Or is there just way more games and ideas to this genius soldier turned writer turned video game specialist?
In the near future of 2014, war rages and lives on. Away from the public eye, people fight and people die. The main modern militaries of the world cannot and do not have the resources or the manpower to intervene in every country. For one such country, the United States, their military have been focusing their fight on their home soil. Fighting on the borders of Mexico, Ciudad Juarez to be exact, a special ops team has gotten themselves into hot water as the fighting has escalated around them and their mission.
They desperately ask permission for reinforcements…
The reinforcements? Air Support…
Enter HAWX (High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron), a small squadron of elite combat pilots, led by Major David Crenshaw (who you will be assuming the role of as player). These pilots are the ‘crème de la crème’ of fighter pilots, and co-incidentally find themselves in El Paso, Mexico running a routine patrol for the border, engaging any vehicles who have crossed into United States territory. During their mission, they are called into serving a top secret mission of greater importance, assisting a ground unit Callsign: ‘Ghosts’ for extraction. As they provide close air support and eventually save the ‘Ghosts’ from certain annihilation, HAWX is disbanded. Crenshaw and his team are out of the job and are out from the United States Military…
Until Crenshaw and his team hear about a PMC (Private Military Company) recruiting for their Air Forces by the name of Artemis Global Security.
Just to signup for this company is an instant $100,000.
For the team of HAWX, hearing that deal, who could refuse…
HAWX brings to the table a plethora of new features to the dying age of Jetfighter games. Of course, stemming from the main arcade simulation games like the Ace Combat franchise, the general controls are still the same as you would pilot a multi-million dollar aircraft. Firing your weapons and flares configuration can be easily done and re-configured. No problems there. What stands out, is the features of course.
One of the main features in the game is something called the ‘Enhanced Reality System’ (ERS). This system is the primary feature that controls your plane and your HUD (Heads Up Display). This system enhances the plane as well as the gameplay. You could think of it as training wheels for your plane. If the ERS is activated fully, it can serve to help the player and assist them greatly. Such things included with the ERS are radars, incoming missile detection, an anti crash system, information relay and aircraft interception just to name a few. Yes, I know what your probably thinking after reading that list. Its like the game assists are there, but all you have to do is dogfight and fly. In a sense, that is true. But there is an option to turn it off and make your gameplay experience just that more challenging.
Another main feature to this game is the “Assistance Off/On Mode” this mode is when the players can take control of the plane, but from an angled 3rd person view. Now it’s a bit hard to explain, but when the player double taps their selected button, they can go into this mode, where they can maneuver their plane more easily and with more ease. Initializing the ‘drift’ move where timed right if being pursued by another fighter, can put yourself behind your pursuer in one fell swoop, resulting in you having a target of opportunity. It’s a great move, of course it’s unrealistic or pilots would pass out from the G-Forces pulling for the tight maneuver, but it’s great to pull off in-game.
A great thing about this game, is that within the campaign missions, is co-op. Up to 4 players can fight alongside each other. Co-op play makes the game more frantic and more enjoyable as your original A.I wingman don’t do a particularly bad job, but they don’t do a good one either. This mode is pretty fun, it’s different, and is great because at any time of a selected mission, other players can jump in and out of the action. With this in mind, Ubisoft were smart to automatically increase and decrease the number of targets to suit the amount of players that may join in one session. Though there are some instances where if there is players that jump in and the game accommodates them with more enemies, if players jump out, the change may not actually occur. Leaving the lone ranger or the rest of the team with more targets than they might be able to handle.
Locked content can be unlocked as the game progresses. As you fight in the missions or in the multiplayer aspect, you gain ranks and gain levels by experience points. Experience points can be acquired through the kills you make on targets. As you level up, you can acquire more weapon load outs and better planes that you can use. HAWX boasts up to and beyond 50 licensed planes and bombers to use in your missions and in multiplayer.
Lastly, the multiplayer aspect. This mode, is something a little bit left to be desired with. Entering into multiplayer, there is only one mode. Yes, one mode. That mode is a free-for-all death match. No team deathmatches, or protecting bombers making their run on targets of opportunity, nothing of the sort. Just deathmatch. Now in a world where gaming is going through a rigorous aspect of ‘playing with others’ is much more fun playing on your own sort of mentality, one would think that the Ubisoft studios would follow the trend. But instead like most games being pushed out in the market today, there isn’t a balance. HAWX is in the same category. Mainly on story and co-op, but nothing in the way of multiplayer. It isn’t entirely disappointing, the matches can be lengthy, and each player has a VERY limited amount of missiles they can each carry. Forcing players to hone their skills in old fashioned dog-fighting with machine guns only till they die and respawn with a fresh new loadout of missiles. Another thing that is frustrating is no choice of planes. You enter in the multiplayer mode only on the basis of what rank you are and what level you’re up to.
With this new edition in the Tom Clancy franchise, yet again Ubisoft and the relevant studios bring out a great sound to the game. The transmissions between pilots, figureheads and other characters within the game are placed and recorded well. Missiles, warning tones, even the machine gun bullets firing sounds, it feels good. Of course accompanying any game for PS3 with a surround system enhances the experience ten fold. Though these are just the general aspects of the sound effects and voice recording, suffice to say they are done well. It fits in the balanced way, that it isn’t over the top nor is it under par.
The only few things that players may find frustrating for the campaign, one of them is, voice recordings clashing with in-game recordings. What I mean by that is, when one of the figureheads that you will be hearing speaking to you, has their own conversation with another character but at the same time, you can hear warnings from other characters about potential threats. The sounds overlap and it can be difficult to hear the story as well as hearing if a missile is about to blast your ass all the way to oblivion-ville.
Another problem, is playing with players multiplayer or co-op who have a headset on. Of course depending whether you set the volume right or not, no matter what it is, headsets create feedback. And you will have it all the time in your ear if players tend to leave their headset on and don’t talk, as well as their breathing, which is most of the time. You have been forewarned!
The presentation of the game is really, really interesting. The take on the story/campaign mode is always a treat to see where Tom Clancy brings his greatest works to the screen. Like his books (if you have read them) or his past games, there is always an element of plausibility. What do I mean by the element of plausibility? I mean that his stories are set in the real world, and in situations that COULD happen. Clancy’s take for his idea of HAWX is what has been happening in the real world in the last few years, not only in the air forces, but for ground forces as well. In truth, the military world does not have affordability to have its soldiers fight on a lower pay grade and fight for the right for their country and their honour. Gone are those days. Life is moving fast and economies around the world as well as the world itself is getting expensive. The military world has thus created Private Military Companies. You could say it’s the legal way of being a mercenary, without the negative tagline. Ex-soldiers, pilots, engineers working for a company that for some reason, reaps a huge amount of cash.
But aside from all that, overall presentation of the game is futuristic. If modern warfare in the sky was just like HAWX, well, you’d know who would be the dominant superpower in the skies now wouldn’t you? There are of course some pixilation issues if you’re near the ground and near the water. An actual drawback is the dog-fighting presentation aspect. If there is too many targets, too many fighters, too many explosions at any given time, there is a noticeable frame rate slowdown to compensate for too many things going on at the one time. It’s the same that applies to online co-op as well.
The overall game with its included features is one that is unique in its own way. It’s very high-tech savvy just like previous and recent titles done from Tom Clancy and Ubisoft. It’s a look into how information warfare and modern warfare in the skies could be carried out in the near future. Ultimately though, with these features (and of course more), the games gameplay isn’t that different to most jetfighter games. Sure there is something there that is reinventing the pilots of the sky and how their planes are being used, but for some reason, players of the genre just may feel a bit like they are revisiting a new product.
To be honest, this is a tough one to verdict it as. But I’d have to say Rent it first before you would want to keep it. Depending if you’re a fan of the jetfighter simulations, it’s good. It’ll meet your needs and give you the edge for a tight game, if not a bit easy at times. For the casual gamer, it may not bode well. But for a Tom Clancy fan? You’d be nuts not to be able to keep this within your collection. Because what fans would have found out, all of Tom Clancy’s games co-exist in one way or another, and not having a past title, will be a bit of a continuity issue.