The Tom Clancy games franchise has been branching out as of late. In the past, when a new Tom Clancy game was announced, it tended to be a sequel to the big three Tom Clancy game series’, namely Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. There have recently been two new rather interesting titles added into this mix. First came EndWar, a surprisingly decent attempt at an RTS, complete with nifty voice controls. Following on from that, the aerial combat game H.A.W.X. is the next title to land (forgive the pun) in the Tom Clancy franchise.
Set in the not too distant future (2014 to be exact), the game sees you take on the role of Captain Crenshaw, squad leader for the High Altitude Warfare Experimental Squadron, or H.A.W.X. for short. You don’t stay in that squad for long however, as you are soon cut from the U.S. Airforce, and forced to seek work elsewhere. You find yourself being employed by Artemis Security, a small private security company. After a while Artemis Security actually ends up attacking the good old U.S of A, which of course isn’t acceptable, so you jump back to help out Uncle Sam. What follows is numerous conflicts as you try to protect the USA from Artemis Security. It’s not a mind blowing story, but it’s passable, and is made ever so slightly better by the way in which the story links in with the story lines of Ghost Recon and EndWar.
Once you’ve pasted all the story malarkey and actually get in a plane, the missions tend to be fairly standard compared to other flight games; take out these bad guys or escort this friendly unit. The missions aren’t particularly bad, but it would just have been nice to have more variety during the missions. Granted one of the missions has you escorting Air Force One, but it’s still really just another basic escort mission. I just never got that sense of excitement that I should be feeling when I am zooming around, blowing the hell out of everything in sight with this incredibly high tech piece of machinery. Perhaps a lot of this is because you never really feel any sense of speed. At no point whilst playing did it feel like I was actually doing the speed my HUD was saying I was doing, which is hugely disappointing. I want to feel like I’m going so fast that I broke the sound barrier, not having to look at my HUD to see if I’m going fast or not.
Having said all that, there are still some things that this game does well. The biggest thing is the ability to play the entire campaign in 4 player co-op. Everyone knows it more fun flying with your mates, and the jump in/jump out mechanics to the co-op are really nice. Next up are the gadgets, after all, what would a Tom Clancy game be if it didn’t have some fancy gadgetry. If you need to get a nice line up to engage your target, hitting the X button will cause the Enhanced Reality System to engage. This system will put up a series of checkpoints for you to fly through, which when you do so will give you a tasty shot on that bogey. If you need to evade a missile then you can use the same system. Simply fly through the checkpoints and you will be safe. I will issue a word of warning with this system, and that is that using it can make the game a bit easy and boring, so just bear that in mind, but at least try it once to see how nifty it looks. Rounding out your planes abilities is the Assistance OFF mode. Activating this will cause your HUD to disappear, and draw the camera back to a distant 3rd person camera, which angles itself towards your target. The advantages of this mode is that you can perform tighter turns, and it is much easier to keep track of your target. Disadvantages include the risk of stalling (which can’t be done with Assistance ON), and your planes cannons are much harder to use.
Speaking of multiplayer, whilst there is only one game mode (Team Deathmatch), it does have some interesting ideas. As you rack up kills, you earn points, and deaths make you lose points. These points can be used to trigger a special ability designed to mess up the enemy, and include EMP strikes which cause your enemies to stall, to repair drones that heal your team, or even to locking the enemy from using anything but their cannons for a short while.These abilites really help make for some exciting games, although it would have still been nice to have more game modes, and hopefully we will get some more modes in a future game update. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
There are lots of different planes and weapons to unlock in H.A.W.X., and unlocking these is one of the areas that is really nice. As you fly in both single player and multiplayer, you gain experience. As you gain more experience, you level up, all the way to level 40. As you progress you unlock more and more planes and weapon load outs. It’s hard to explain, but there is just something very satisfying in the feeling that you have just leveled up.
Visually H.A.W.X. can be really quite impressive, and also really quite ugly. Most of the maps where the missions take place have been recreated using satellite imagery, so they really do look accurate to the real thing when you are flying above them. The explosions are also quite nice looking, and the smoke effects from missiles are very pretty, despite being slightly exaggerated. The plane models themselves look good too, with some nice animations on the various flaps and engines, and the in cockpit view looks especially impressive. Fly close to the ground though, and the game gets a whole lot uglier, with textures looking very muddy and bland, and buildings looking not much better either. This wouldn’t be so bad if you never had to go close to the ground, but unfortunately you have to take out ground targets quite a lot, which means you get plenty of time to see how ugly this game can look. Thankfully the audio performs solidly all round, with a nice selection of music, booming explosions, and meaty engine sounds from the planes.
H.A.W.X. has a lot of potential, and some nice ideas. Unfortunately it falls short off the mark in a few areas, which is a real shame. Still, the inevitable sequel is one to watch out for because with some polish, H.A.W.X. could become to new Top Gun in air combat games.