Flight Combat games seem to be coming towards us at Mach 2 currently: TopGun on PSN, Ace Combat: Joint Assault very soon and joining its high adrenaline chums is Tom Clancy’s HAWX 2. The story is somewhat throwaway, involving the theft of some nuclear weapons by a terrorist organisation threatening to blow up the world. It’s down to the player to help stop an atrocity and become the best of the best. Or something.
The story, of course, is simply an excuse to get you up in the air and shooting bad guys, yet the implausible plot does have you scratching your head at the incredulousness of it and some of the enemy encounters. The cut-scenes can be skipped, although often it will explain what is expected of you in the mission that lies ahead, so they’re worth persevering with as they’re not really that bad – even if the sound mix between music and voice could probably have used a little tweaking.
HAWX 2’s trump card is the use of real life imagery from the GeoEye satellite – a piece of technology that can take photos from space resolving to less than a metre – impressive stuff. For much of the game you’re flying in the desert, at sea or at night, so in reality there really isn’t that much to see making it kind of wasted. There are some extras included showing what these eyes-in-the-sky can do, it’s not much but worth a quick browse.
That said, there are some intense moments in the game, dog fighting with MiGs 31s and SU-27s across mountain ranges, ducking and diving fire, and switching to guns when you’re too close for missiles. The variety of aircraft available is fairly impressive too. The story is wound in such a way that you get to pilot US, British and Russian aircraft, getting in to the cockpits of many different jets, including the F16, F18, F22, Eurofighter, GR9, MiG-31 and even the warthog tank-buster – the A10. As different as the flight dynamics of these aircraft are, they all fly much the same, but then the game never claims to be a simulation.
The initial sortie familiarises you with the flight controls and weapon systems. On board the aircraft are various items of destruction such as air-to-air, air-to-ground, cluster bombs, rockets and of course the trusted machine gun for closer wing-to-wing combat. Much of the time it’s simply a matter of lining up the weapon HUD lock, and letting rip with the missiles. However, at times you will encounter more advance AI pilots requiring a little more skill and care to get the satisfying kill.
To further break up the fire and forget dog-fighting, there are missions in-between where the player must control a UAV drone marking targets, that in following section you often find yourself blowing to smithereens from the sky. There are also some support type missions where you’re expected to clear a path for ground troops from the air in an AC-130 as they make their way through a city, very similar to those encountered in the Modern Warfare games. Far from being imitations, they are a rest-bite from cockpit jockey tasks.
Very often in this type of combat flight game, the missions start with your aircraft already in the sky ready to engage the inbound bogies. Not so in HAWX 2. You’ll be expected to taxi, take-off, refuel in mid-air (actually pretty tedious) and land afterwards. When this involves hopping on to a moving aircraft carrier at sea, things are not so easy. For virtual pilots lacking the necessary co-ordination, there is a landing assist function a simple button press away. This essentially guides your wings to a level approach, leaving the player to touch the ground on their own.
Trying to control the landing by yourself shows up a substantial weakness in the game. The Xbox360 joypad really doesn’t have enough control over the aircraft to make a graceful landing and it certainly doesn’t feel intuitive. Trying to control the throttle is in particular a real pain in the game. You juggle between nearly stalling and going too fast to bring the undercarriage down, due to not being able to fine tune the engine power – for those gamers serious enough about getting the most from the game may want to invest in the Namco flight stick released at the same time as Ace Combat 6 – it’s fully supported here. In combat it is less of an issue, but there are still times you will be cursing the game as stalling seems mostly based simply on speed, rather than any other physics trait. This cursing is also true of the mission structures.
Although there are a number of checkpoints through a level which work well most of the time, you can find yourself needing to restart from the beginning due to ordinance mismanagement, and at times you’ll be wondering why you’re cavorting with a squadron of teammates, given they appear to fly about as well as a dead ostrich. HAWX 2 seems more geared towards co-op play at the expense of the single player experience, yet there is no jump-in, jump-out play here unfortunately and trying to set them up is a mission in futility.
HAWX 2 is a nearly game. It does provide a wealth of different aircraft and mission types, co-op and single player and adversarial multiplayer across Xbox Live, but what the game offers in variety, it lacks in overall polish. No discernable differences in aircraft, mission difficulty spikes and control issues deliver plenty of frustration. For those who have invested in a flight stick already, it makes sense to check this title out, if not, it might be worth waiting to see if the soon to be released next Ace Combat iteration confirm kills HAWX 2.