Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tom Clancys H A W K

The first time we heard of Tom Clancy’s HAWX we thought it was a professional spitting game, one that’d probably have some sort of pseudo-realistic combat angle mug-fistedly forced in there. Judging by the name it was either that or a game about the robotic harem of an acclaimed military fiction author.

Turns out that we were wrong; it’s an arcade flight simulation game. The titular HAWX isn’t an onomatopoeic device about gobbing loogies; it stands for High Altitude Warfare eXperimental, which is the most spurious and unnecessary use of the letter X in an acronym that we’ve seen since BMX XXX.

The setting for HAWX is the usual Tom Clancy schtick then, set in the not-too-distant future and centralised around a string of possible combat technologies that could theoretically change the face of warfare as we know it. It’s the same basic formula which both Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon were built around, to name a few.

HAWX is more than just similar to those games on a general level too – it actually ties in closely with the GRAW universe, with one of the first levels in the games being an interesting crossover between the two acronyms. The tutorial mission for the game sees the HAWX squadron down in Mexico supporting the Ghosts.

If you’re looking for lots of missions like that though, where you get to explore Ubisoft’s newly announced consistency in the Tom Clancy universe, then you might be a little dismayed. At the end of the first mission you’re told that the HAWX squadron is being disbanded and it’s at this point that you and your wingmen decide to become mercenaries.

You promptly sign up with Artemis Security who, according to the awfully lip-synced cutscene, are allowed to operate as a private army for the world. Thus begins your life of glamour; flying planes around exotic locales, earning more cash than you can count and introducing air hostesses to the, erm, cockpit.

That plan goes a little awry when war breaks out between the mercenaries and the Government though, with you trapped in the middle and having to decide which side you want to be on.

Well, not ‘decide’ as such – more just be lead on to the next level after a brief cutscene. HAWX demonstrates the exact same disregard for player morality that we’d find ourselves complaining about if the story was at all important to HAWX. So, let’s be clear; the story isn’t important to HAWX at all and it doesn’t matter how big the name of the author is on the package, it will never be enough for us to take the plot seriously.
That’s fine though, because we’re not really bothered by the plot. The fact that the characters are all paper thin and the cutscenes shorter than a squashed ant doesn’t matter, because HAWX is more about wish fulfilment than anything else. It’s like a sports game in that all you really want from it is the chance to do some crazy stunts and feel like a hero.

Despite these relatively simple requirements, HAWX is a lot more complex than it needs to be a lot of the time. The HUD is cluttered with more windows than a glass refinery and the default mouse and keyboard control system is formidably laid out. Really; it scares us how many buttons there are. Were sure fingers werent meant to stretch that far.

As a flight combat simulator that sits firmly in the arcade genre, HAWX could have got away with being a far more simple and streamlined game than it actually is. Not that thats a complaint though; its rather gratifying to see a game aspire to be more than it needs to be.

All the game really needed was a decent camera and a lot of explosions, but instead Ubisoft has built a role-playing mechanic into the game, as well as series of interesting UI tweaks.

The RPG side of things is achievement based and built into the missions directly. Taking out targets earns you a small XP boost, with more threatening opponents being worth more experience than ground troops. Completing each mission objective earns you a medium amount of XP too, while fulfilling certain conditions is worth a lot more.

Some achievements even have unlockables directly linked with them too. Downing your millionth enemy with a JSA missile will get you a new medal, XP boost and a new weapon layout if you want it. As we said before the story is dry and drably put together, with the most awfully pseudo-futuristic cutscenes ever, so the process of upgrading your character soon becomes the most important thing, especially since your current rank is made visible in multiplayer and co-op matches. You can even earn XP in online matches too, which is a nice way to give the multiplayer game an aim for those who dont like the singleplayer.

Who cares about Artemis PMC when your next bombing run might bag you a new plane to impress your friends with? Nobody, thats who!
Speaking of planes and weapons, there’s a huge variety of both on offer in HAWX, though you only start off with the bare minimum. As you progress through the game you steadily unlock more and more wings and different types of weapons - air-to-air missiles, and bombs with larger payloads, for instance.

There are tankbusters, heat-seekers, drop-bombs, heat flares and under-wing miniguns that seem intended more for ambience than practicality. Actually bring an enemy down with bullets is both difficult and pointless when you’ve got an illogical amount of missiles in store. Playing on Normal difficulty you seem to start each mission with at least 300 missiles, somehow.

Not that the game is easy though as, even on Normal, you’re often heavily outnumbered and forced to take on vastly superior foes. Some of the levels, particularly the Air Force One level, are almost masochistic at points and the fact that you can’t save your progress mid-mission doesn’t help things. The reliance on far-spaced check points means that the game can often become infuriatingly repetitive.

Still, if you find yourself having problems with specific missions or areas then you can always take your flights and fight into the online arena. HAWX has got both a sturdy multiplayer mode and a co-op mode. It’s the latter that shines out, if you ask us as, although there’s nothing wrong with the rudimentary control you can exercise over your CPU allies, chatting over voice com to a human wingman is much more satisfying. And geeky.

Minimum Configuration:

CPU: Intel Pentium 4 2.0 GHz/ AMD Athlon XP 2000+ or higher
Operating System: Windows® XP (with Service Pack 3) or Windows Vista® (with Service Pack 1)
RAM: 1 GB Windows XP / 2 GB Windows Vista
DVD-ROM: DVD-ROM speed 4x, dual-layer drive
Drive Space: 1.5 GB

Recommended & Preferred Configuration:

CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 6320 / AMD Athlon X2 4000+ or higher
Operating System: Windows® XP (with Service Pack 3) or Windows Vista® (with Service Pack 1)
DVD-ROM: DVD-ROM speed 4x, dual-layer drive
Drive Space: 1.5 GB
Graphics Card: 256 MB DirectX® 10.0– compliant video card or DirectX 9.0 – compliant Graphics Card: 256 MB DirectX ® 10.0-compliant video card or DirectX 9.0 - compliant
card with Shader Model 3.0 or higher (see supported list) card with Shader Model 3.0 or higher (see supported list)
Sound Card: DirectX 9.0 – compliant sound card
DirectX Version: DirectX 9.0 or 10.0 libraries (included on disc)
Peripherals: Xbox 360® Controller for Windows Peripherals: Xbox 360 Controller for Windows

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