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Tom Clancy’s HAWX Review

Title: Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.
Developer/Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: Windows PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: 3/06/2009 consoles, 3/17/2009 PC
Number of Players: Single player, 4 player Co-Op, 8 Player Versus

Despite the cheesy, acronym-heavy title, which from this point on I will spell HAWX, Tom Clancy’s HAWX is another welcome title in the Tom Clancy series of games. A nice departure, though, players are no longer ground-bound. In HAWX players finally take flight to the skies of the Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter universe. Finally, we all get to play as the air support we’ve called numerous times in the GRAW series of games. The burning question is whether or not this Clancy game works with wings. The short answer, yes.


The Tom Clancy series of games have usually been high quality, story-laden titles that could easily be made into feature films. Sure, some of Clancy’s works have made their way onto the silver screen but I think we could use more, right? The story-driven feel which is usually a trademark of a Clancy game is most certainly present in HAWX. As I stated above, the game actually takes place within the same timeline as the GRAW series of games, though the specific timeline used is its own beast for the most part.

Right out of the starting gate, HAWX is an arcade-style combat flight simulator offering players several points of perspective: third-person, first-person, cockpit and “assistance off”. Now we’ll get to that last one in a bit here as it is a primary feature of the game. The first three are rather self-explanatory so I probably don’t have to go too far into detail there. The only area of note is the difference between first-person and cockpit views being that first-person offers a HUD only view while cockpit view grants the player the typical in-cockpit view with the ability to look about the gauges and canopy.

HAWX Cockpit

The storyline for HAWX, while being nothing to necessarily write home about, is straight forward enough. The HAWX airwing, led by David Crenshaw, whose shoes the player fill, is on its final mission before the US military puts the team our to pasture. There’s no reason to be sad, now. I didn’t say the team doesn’t stay together, did I? The ever-growing trend of the PMCs (Private Military Companies), which is used is so many games today, sets the former HAWX flight on a new task for Artemis Global Security, one of those aforementioned PMCs. Without giving away details of the storyline, I will say this much: all is not what it seems (cue ominous music).

Now, I understand that developers like to give players as wide a selection of planes to choose from in combat flight simulators, regardless of what era in which the particular title takes place. Nonetheless, I had a bit of a hard time buying the notion that planes such as the F-4 Phantom would still be in use by high-tech military or paramilitary groups in the 2020s. Yes, I know the Israeli Military can still make F-4 dance like nothing else, but seeing aircraft that saw use in the Vietnam War used in the 2020s just felt a little odd to me. Not to mention Douglas stopped manufacturing the plane in ’81. But, I digress as I could go on about military craft for quite some time.

HAWX definitely has a hefty roster of planes to choose from, though some are mission specific due to ordnance requirements. I’d love to give you a precise number, but I’ve actually yet to unlock all the aircraft in the game. Aircraft are unlocked through either mission completion or character rank promotion, 40 ranks in total.

A major gameplay feature brought along in HAWX is the ERS, or Enhanced Reality System. This system can assist players two fold. First, players can use the ERS system from either the third-person, first-person or cockpit views to display a course of action on the HUD (Heads Up Display in case there’s still someone out there who doesn’t know what that stands for). This “flight path” outlined on the HUD shows the player the “best route” for avoiding incoming fire, getting behind enemy craft or lining up a shot on a covered ground target. The second use for the ERS is the “assistance off” mode which removes the functionality of the flight limiters built into each aircraft. This allows the player to push the craft beyond its normal thresholds.

HAWX ERS

Personally, I used the ERS “flight path” system all of once all the way through the game and that was only to line up a ground target that was in a cave. I want to go on record say that this is a personal note for me. This is not me saying that the ERS “flight path” system is useless. I’ve been playing flight sims for ages and, barring my poor eyesight and fact that I am far too large; I would easily have been a pilot in the USAF. No, I am not boasting here. I am actually noting that the controls in HAWX are extremely precise and this is a damned good thing. This allows players who have an aptitude for flight to really step up their game. Often flight sims will have a weak area of control (usually in the yaw for some reason) which hampers the player a bit. I’ve not been able to find a single point of such hindrance in HAWX at all.

The “assistance off” mode will take a little time to get used to, on the other hand. This is namely so because of the camera view, which is not centered behind your plane. Rather it is either focused on your target or using a wide-angle side view. “Assistance off” is the system that lets the player pull off some of those spiffy stunt flight maneuvers you’ve seen at any number of air shows. Controlled stalls, drift slides, you name it and you can just about pull it all off in this mode. Of course, it comes at a price as you either slow down drastically (which is a bad thing when you have incoming fire) or you can temporarily lose control of your craft.

The general feel of the gameplay, whether in campaign mode or multiplayer is fast-paced. Frankly, the quote in the game’s opening cinematic “Though I fly through the Valley of Death, I shall fear no evil. For I am at 80,000 feet and climbing.” captures the feel of the game right off the bat. Break-neck speeds, low altitude gun runs, zipping past enemy AA, it’s all in there and it feels like it was mixed in perfectly.

HAWX Assist Off

The games multiplayer modes are pretty much “jump in. jump out” set-ups which is actually something I enjoyed. From the Co-Op standpoint, up to four players could team up to complete missions from campaign and each player set his or her own difficulty settings and aircraft and ordnance selections. The Versus matches hail back to the fast-paced FPS shooters of old where it’s truly a team deathmatch calamity, with players spawning in and blasting off. Lasting more than a minute in a given match without spawning is a feat itself. Several settings can be altered by the host in Versus mode limiting ordnance and perspectives, thus adding some more challenge to the multiplayer mode.

Graphically the game is a mixed bag. The aircraft models are stunning to behold and the overall graphics of the environment are crystal clear… from a distance. The HAWX dev team worked very closely with GeoEye in creating the 16 maps for the game using satellite imagery for realistic locales. My personal favourite has to be Rio de Janeiro, something you will have to see for yourself. However, when you opt to fly upside down at 20m from the ground you can actually see extremely basic ground textures used, bland boxes representing buildings and some overall muddy imagery. To be fair, the ground detail isn’t the most important thing in a combat flight sim and it has improved light-years from previous titles in gaming’s past, but it’s just something I noted.

The Review

Storyline:

It is pretty cliché. I am not going to lie to anyone there. The storyline feels a little more like it was just put there to tie the missions together with some reasoning behind them. It’s not particularly bad; it’s just nothing to really note either.

Gameplay:

There’s really only one other modern combat flight sim out there (whose name will go unmentioned) that is on par with HAWX. The gameplay and controls are stellar. While I have my issues with the flight ceiling, everything else about the gameplay is top-notch. The control layout was about as perfect as could be with one exception: the flares. Please, Ubi, next time don’t force me to launch flares by clicking the same stick I am using to control the pitch and roll of my craft.

Sound/Music:

Tom Salta’s music obviously fits in well with the game. And so it should seeing as how he has been the composer for several games, including the GRAW series.

The sound effects are, again, stellar. From flight canon to breaking the sound barrier each sound is well crafted and sounds great on a surround sound system. Though, I have to note one particular sound that always caught my ear: why is it every time I dropped a free-fall bomb I started looking about for a Cylon Raider? You’ll have to play it to hear it for yourself. Maybe I am just nuts.

Graphics:

Aircraft models are gorgeous to look at and even the contrails and smoke trails are rendered beautifully. With the exception of the murky textures at low altitudes HAWX performed impressively in the graphics department. And through the use of GeoEye’s satellite imagery creating real-life locales I am willing to overlook some murk.

The Good:

Extremely responsive controls and the ability to finally push modern aircraft to some insane limits bring a boatload of thrills to HAWX. The large number of aircraft from which the player can select also bodes very, very well for the game.

The Bad:

Murky texturing at ground level can be a bit of a disappointment when you dive down over Los Angeles to take a look around.

The Ugly:

Why would you put the flares controls as an analog stick click on the same stick that I am using to control my plane? WHY?!

Overall:

Clancy fans and combat flight sim fans alike should achieve plenty of enjoyment from Tom Clancy’s HAWX. With the ability to re-fly any campaign mission with up to 3 friends and different difficulty settings, the game offers quite a good deal of replayability for the price. Pair this with the multiplayer and you are getting a decent bang for your buck.

Final Vote: 4/5

What Others Thought:
TestFreaks: 7.6/10
MetaCritic: 7.3/10
GameStats: 7.9/10

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