Tom Clancy's HAWX Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 09, 2009

In this X-Play Review, Adam takes a look 'Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.', the first aerial installment of the series. The game looks great, but does the combat stand up? Find out in this review!

The Pros
  • Satisfying and intense aerial combat
  • Large variety of planes and weaponry
  • Four player co-op single-player campaign
  • Satellite-imaging terrain impressive from high altitudes
The Cons
  • Versus multiplayer is confusingly shallow
  • Terrain much uglier up close
  • Lengthy install and load times

Even though the EndWar dust has barely settled, gamers now have yet another Tom Clancy game to satisfy their World War III lust. Ubisoft’s flight combat game H.A.W.X. straps you into the pilot’s seat of some of the world’s most advanced fighter jets and, like every Clancy-branded title, tasks you with preventing worldwide devastation. And while it might not take as realistic an approach as the majority of Ubisoft/Clancy titles, it has quite a bit to offer in the fun and intensity departments. So suit up, throttle back and remember, there are two “O”s in Goose, boys.

Flying the Clancy Skies

Tom Clancy's HAWX ReviewH.A.W.X. (that’s High Altitude Warfare Experimental Squadron for short…kind of) takes place several years in the future, in a world where state-sponsored militaries are practically non-existent and private military companies (PMCs) have become unlikely peacekeepers. Without any ideological or personal connection to any nation or government these companies provide their large-scale military might to the highest bidder. You play as Captain David Crenshaw, a veteran pilot who finds himself out of the job after the U.S. military disbands his squadron for reasons not all together clear. Shortly thereafter, a PMC named Artemis contracts Crenshaw to be the company’s new top gun. Everything goes swimmingly for a few years, until, in typical mega maniacal fashion, Artemis’ CEO starts to feel a bit underappreciated, and decides to turn his forces against the U.S. in the form of an all-out nuclear war.

It might sound like your typical pop-military thriller, and that’s because it is. But it still makes for a solid narrative backdrop. Plus, once it gets going, the in-game action and the story really sync up nicely, especially later on in the game when you’re racing to find a way to prevent nuclear annihilation from finding its way to several major American cities. Perhaps the best part of the story though is how it’s woven into the fabric of the Advanced Warfighter/EndWar universe. On several occasions, you will find yourself providing air support for GRAW’s protagonist Capt. Mitchell and his squad of Ghosts as they attempt to secure various locations and/or objectives. Providing air support for a group of soldiers that you once fought alongside in previous games makes for an especially engaging and meaningful experience.

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Where’d Multiplayer Go?

The game features a 19-mission single player campaign (which can also be played with up to three friends in online co-op) and four-on-four multiplayer. The single player campaign offers plenty of diversity, both in terms of locations (e.g. Afghanistan, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Washington DC), enemies (planes, helicopters, tanks, AA guns, RPG systems, battle ships, etc.) and missions (defend an oil refinery, escort Air Force One to a secret location, destroy enemy radar systems to open up allied ground assaults, ensure the successful launch of a rocket at Cape Canaveral, etc.). And while they are all basically structured the same (defend X from Y), they never feel repetitive, and they offer plenty of challenges, thanks to the specifics of your objectives and the enemies unfortunate enough to cross paths with your targeting system. Opponents put up a decent fight in certain places, even on the easiest difficulty, and you will find yourself having to rethink your battle strategy while you wait for your last checkpoint to reload.

With the exception of co-op mode, multiplayer is easily one of the most disappointment aspects of the game, seeing as it only supports four-on-four, team deathmatch at this point. It plays fine, and I ran across only one or two instances of lag/stuttering during matches. For all of the variety of enemy types in the single player campaign, the multiplayer just feels empty and severely underdeveloped. And what’s worse is that this isn’t just some game that lacks good MP because the game itself isn’t designed to support it and the developers sort of felt pressured to simply include MP because that’s the way things are these days. This game has so much MP potential, and to see it simply tacked on the way it is here is a bit baffling. Now, perhaps they will add more modes in the future (hopefully in the form of free downloadable content), but for now, it’s four-on-four dogfights or nothing.

Too Close for Sim. I’m Switching to Fun.

Tom Clancy's HAWX ReviewCombat definitely falls on the arcade side of things (sorry sim fans), and yet, while some of the maneuvers that you pull off just seem highly unlikely, the game understands what it’s supposed to be, so it never feels “wrong” or out of place. After the first couple of missions, you’ll have absolutely no problem decelerating to dangerously slow speeds, whipping your plane around in a gorgeous drifting arc, slamming the throttle to bring your sights back towards a pursuing enemy, and blowing them out of the sky with two perfectly placed missile. Again, the game doesn’t want to be a flight simulator, and at no point does it pretend to be, which is why the game’s comes off as well as it does.

Like any good Clancy-based game, there are a few hi-tech additions to your pilot’s skill set. One is the ERS (Enhanced Reality System), which projects a series of virtual gates that show you the most direct route to your target. If you want to intercept an enemy you just overshot, or get yourself in the perfect position for a targeted ground attack, it’s just a click away. There are a couple of moments in the game where you are required to use the ERS, but otherwise it’s entirely up to you if you want to use it or not. It works well enough, and you’ll probably use it more on the harder difficulties just to get that extra edge over your opponents.

Another feature, assistance mode, serves as both a fourth camera angle as well as a gameplay mechanic. When assistance mode is off, the camera pulls back to a distant third-person perspective and you are given more control over how your plane handles. It takes a while to get used to, as the camera keeps you trained on your targeted enemy, and you aren’t able to simply fly where you point the thumbsticks. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it definitely looks good, especially when you are engaged in massive land, sea and air battles, with dozens of enemies, bullets and rockets whizzing around the sky.

If the normal controls aren’t quite next-next-gen enough for you, you can always use the game’s voice command system, which is basically just a stripped down version of the voice command interface from EndWar. Changing targets, ordering your allies to engage, and firing two missiles at once is as easy as saying, “target, engage, double.” It’s incredibly responsive and definitely adds another layer of immersion for anyone who digs the whole voice thing.

The game also features a RPG-ish leveling up system, which lets you rank up to level 40. You gain experience points by performing certain feats during battle (kill X number of enemies with Y weapon, evade X number of enemy rockets, etc.) I reached level 20 by the time I finished my first play through, so there’s still quite a bit to do even after you’ve beaten the game. All of that in addition to the standard achievements and trophies available throughout the game means plenty of replayability.

PlayStation 3 owners also have the exclusive honor of being able to record in-game action and upload the footage directly to YouTube. It’s super simple, and literally doesn’t take more than a few button presses. It’s so streamlined and smooth in fact, that it’s rather surprising that more PS3 games don’t include it.

Don’t Request a Flyby

The game sports an impressive variety of planes (49 real world, 1 concept), and each one is highly detailed. They all handle a bit differently, so every player will be able to find something that suits his/her playing style. And while the computer will suggest what type of plane will be best suited for your next mission, the ultimate decision (as well as what weapons package and the difficulty setting) is up to you.

As stated earlier, you’ll be fighting over dozens of locations all around the world. Thanks to the game’s implementation of GeoEye’s satellite imaging technology, the various cities that you’ll fly over look least, from high enough altitudes. Up close, things aren’t so pretty, with pixilated trees and bland buildings resting atop the satellite wallpaper slapped on the ground. On the other hand, some of the set pieces in the game are fantastic. There’s nothing quite like engaging in intense dogfights over Washington DC, preventing downtown Los Angeles from going nuclear, or protecting a launching spaceship from tactical air strikes, all from 2,000 feet in the air.

I didn’t encounter any graphical hiccups at all during my time with the game, but the 25 minute install time (I clocked it) on the PS3 is downright painful, as are the lengthy load times throughout the game. Multiplayer suffered similar loading issues, with lobbies taking several minutes to display. The game’s themselves didn’t show any sign of lag, so I doubt it was the internet connection. Either way, it’s kind of outrageous to have such a long initial install and then force players to sit through more loading between missions.

You Figured It Out Yet?

Tom Clancy's HAWX ReviewIf you’re a fan of high intensity, high stakes, Tom Clancy-drenched, aerial fighting, H.A.W.X. should scratch your itch. It might not adhere to the kind of realism usually associated with Clancy games, but it errs on the side of fun, and it’s all the better for it. The controls are tight, it looks great (for the most part), and it manages to fit itself seamlessly into a very familiar game universe, which fans will definitely dig. It’s disappointing that the multiplayer doesn’t take advantage of the opportunities established by the rest of the game’s design, but the four-player co-op is a very welcomed addition.

Written by: Jake Gaskill
Producer: Matt Keil