After many different tactical approaches, the Tom Clancy franchise pits gamers into futuristic aerial combat with HAWX (High Altitude Warfare — Experimental), a somewhat flawed yet relatively enjoyable and action packed title. Tom Clancy’s HAWX isn’t a perfect game by any means, but it succeeds at providing a genuine arcade-style flight-action experience, complete with very accessible menus and options. However, it’s not without its minor problems. Does it have enough fuel to stay in the air?
While the stories in most flight-action titles up until now haven’t been the most memorable (Ace Combat set a standard with its terrible dialogue and pretentious narrative), HAWX does a good job of telling a story that is relatively interesting and important to the action on the screen. While you’re not going to feel anyway near as connected to the characters as you would be in a third-person action title, this game makes references to previous Tom Clancy games – namely the Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter series – so as to help generate a bit more of a connection with what’s going on. The game revolves around Major David Crenshaw, whose HAWX squadron team was originally disbanded by the US Air Force in 2014. Having joined Artemis, a private military contractor that works both for particular companies and the Brazilian government, Crenshaw has a quick change of heart after the group orders attacks on US military forces. He re-joins the HAWX team shortly after.
The story is played out through cut-scenes, on-screen text-messages and banter between characters during the gameplay action. While it’s not overly important to understand the story while playing the game, it does add a bit more excitement to the overall experience, especially once a few more enemies come into play. The truth is, the story is executed far better than any previous Ace Combat game, which relies on cliché-driven analogies and hidden messages through cheesy dialogue to get the story across. Then again, that’s a Japanese-developed franchise, so we really shouldn’t expect anything less. Put simply, HAWX is more like Top Gun, while any Ace Combat game just comes out looking like Southland Tales.
HAWX is a very accessible title. The plane handling is very simple and overall the game is very “pick-up-and-play”. It’s not a title that’s going to dictate a lot of your time and thought because the direction is very arcadey, even if the development team wasn’t looking to go in that direction. There are particular aspects of the gameplay that only further add to the ease of the handling. One of those aspects is the unique ERS system. This system allows you to follow a set path in the air in order to get a clear lock-on of an enemy or to avoid an incoming missile. A message will appear on-screen telling you when this feature is available and it really helps you to catch enemies and avoid attacks. This is an especially useful feature in the high difficulties, which call for more patience and dodging of enemy attacks than in the easier difficulties.
Thankfully, ERS can be switched off for those of you looking for more a challenging experience. You can also simply ignore the warnings that appear on screen and try to lock-on or avoid yourself. The main advantage to turning assistance off is that it allows you to perform tighter turns in-air to avoid incoming missiles. The catch-22 scenario in all of this, however, is that if you break too hard, you risk stalling your plane. This whole aspect adds a sense of realism to the overall gameplay and is easily accessible by simply double-tapping one of the shoulder buttons in-game. The only downside is that with assistance turned off, the camera angle changes to give you a more wide-focused view of your plane. While it widens the area around the plane making it easier to see oncoming enemies and missiles, it sometimes becomes dislodged for a split second if you quickly turn the plane around, making you vulnerable to quick attacks from enemies. It can also be increasingly frustrating in the higher difficulties when there is far more turning and breaking involved.
The single-player campaign is broken up into 19 missions, each varying in objectives and location. You’ll travel all around the world, from Japan to Brazil to the isolated Nevada desert. The missions each have their own varied objectives, from protecting a VIP plane to destroying an enemy base and protecting an oil refinery from oncoming enemies. The action gets very tense and fast and you’ll sometimes be totally immersed in the missions, especially those that take anywhere between 15-30 minutes to complete.
If you needed proof that HAWX was an arcade title, you need not look further than the actual arsenal that each one of your planes can carry. Upwards of 100 missiles, unlimited drop bombs, cannons and rocket pods all make for some incredibly unrealistic packing power. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that all of these weapons are included, but you can’t help but think – how is it that this little plane can hold so much? At its core, HAWX is an arcade title and while the missions might be reminiscent of an Ace Combat ones, this title isn’t meant to be all that challenging. Instead, it’s fairly lengthy with plenty of action and lots of missions.
One of the major downfalls of the title is that, while there is such a wide range of fighter planes available, they don’t really vary all that much out on the battlefield. Each will have their own ranking and the game will tell you which one is “recommended” for the upcoming mission, but ultimately, it won’t matter which one you choose because they each carry the same amount of weaponry punch and each turn and accelerate just as quickly as one another, barring a few almost unnoticeable differences. This is pretty disappointing and won’t please plane nuts. There are plenty of recognizable fighter planes on show, as well as some futuristic ones, but you won’t get that feel of uniqueness with any one plane, which is a pretty big downfall for a title of this caliber. However, that doesn’t make the game is boring in any way. The action is still fast and intense enough to be enjoyable for many, many hours. If you can look on the bright side, think that you can fly over Tokyo in a F-117 Nighthawk with unlimited missiles while you take down enemy planes. It’s a lot of fun!
The single-player game has you fighting with some wingmen for most of the missions, although they don’t do a really good job of assisting you out in battle. Whether you tell them to attack or watch your back, you’ll be doing a majority of the work. You’ll notice that if you give them the order to attack, they’ll quickly speed ahead of you and start attacking planes, but it’s as if their aiming system is off and they frequently miss targets and then forget to counter their own miss. You’ll end up taking out a good 90% of the targets, which is good in a way considering you get to do most of the action, but on the higher difficulties and later missions when there is more going on, it would have been good if they were more aggressive and accurate with their actions. You can also play HAWX in four-player co-operative mode with some friends and while the gameplay doesn’t change dramatically, it gets pretty intense and can be really enjoyable as you all strive to be the most aggressive out in the war zone.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer as a whole is lacking, which is incredibly disappointing. There’s a basic eight-player Team Deathmatch mode, which is great fun. However, because it’s the only mode available, it just makes the whole multiplayer experience feel stale. A hell of a lot more could have been done here, but for what it’s worth, there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had in taking down multiple human-controlled enemies and gaining spectacular EMP special abilities to take them down.
HAWX looks good for the most part, with some spectacular scenery and seemingly accurate landscapes. The cities each look like they should with some great visuals and amazing water effects. However, just like other flight-action titles, whenever you fly down low to make an inspection, the quality dips down significantly and you can see its true quality. Obviously the cities were made to look good from above and not down below and for that reason they look amazing when you’re high up in the air. The planes themselves look fantastic, with realistic designs and great colours. The lighting effects also take cente,r stage in the visual department, as the sun bounces off the water and planes to create some truly amazing lighting effects. The framerate stays steady for the most part, although it dips a bit whenever there is a lot of action happening on screen.