Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.
Tom Clancy has a knack for creating worryingly plausible storylines for his ever expanding franchise and H.A.W.X. is no different. In 2014, private military companies are full-sized armed forces allied to no party except their shareholders. One of these corporations, Artemis Global Security, headhunts you – U.S. Air Force pilot David Crenshaw – and your squadron at the beginning of the game. Over the next six years, you fly around the world, intervening in local warzones on behalf of the highest bidder. However, after Artemis makes a deal to attack the U.S., you switch sides to defend the country from a full scale assault.
Anyone familiar with Ace Combat, particularly the most recent instalment, will feel right at home with H.A.W.X. Although the story isn’t quite as far fetched, planes can still carry hundreds of missiles, the controls are very similar and there are the usual smattering of slightly implausible missions.
Air combat is just as you’d expect it; a hectic and disorientating mess. You’re forced to concentrate on numerous factors and juggle countless priorities at the same time. Should you go after the approaching enemy fighters before they get to your ground forces or protect the bomber you’re meant to be escorting? Is it worth taking out the air patrol you’ve been evading or is it best to stay under the radar for now? Oh, and don’t forget that missile on your tail.
It’s this kind of edge-of-your-seat multi-tasking which has been the staple of air combat games for years. H.A.W.X. doesn’t change much, but it does introduce a couple of small additions to the genre; ERS and an ‘assistance off’ mode.
The game’s Enhanced Reality System (ERS) is an electronic guidance system that you can switch on to help you plot an optimum flight path. Whenever you’re in range of an enemy plane or are being chased by a missile, you can press a button and a series of triangular gates will appear in front of your plane. Fly through these and you’re almost certain to end up directly behind your opponent or successfully dodging the incoming warhead. It’s also used to a lesser extent in a few close air support missions where the angle of attack is critical. You might consider it as a cheat button, but in many cases it’s quicker to plot your own course out of harm’s way.
Directly opposed to this is the ability to turn the plane’s flight assistance mode off. Normally, it’s impossible to stall your plane, but it also prevents you from pushing your aircraft to its limit. However, if you double tap one of the triggers, the game switches off assistance and you can perform very tight turns and more extreme manoeuvres. Aside from altering your plane’s handling, H.A.W.X. also changes the camera angle to a detached third-person viewpoint which always keeps your enemy in sight.
In theory, this makes it easier to outwit your opponents, but in practice it’s more hit and miss. Because the camera is no longer directly behind your plane, the assistance off mode feels more like flying a remote-controlled model aircraft than being in a fighter jet. The viewpoint is always offset to one side and half the time you can’t make out which way your plane is facing, which only adds to the sense of disorientation. It’s a great idea, but its execution leaves much to be desired.
H.A.W.X. does make progress in other areas though. A great deal of attention has clearly been made to make it an extremely accessible game. There are no insane difficulty spikes (à la Ace Combat) and loading screens are used to highlight concepts that you’ll need to know for the upcoming mission. Important zones such as radar coverage that should be avoided are also illustrated clearly on the battlefield, not just on the in-game map. This makes a few of the trickier missions a lot less frustrating because you can see how close you are to danger.
Presentation is definitely one of H.A.W.X.‘s strong points. The graphics show aerial warfare in all its high definition glory, with fifty licensed planes beautifully reproduced. There’s plenty of attention to detail, with haze around the engines and weapons that disappear from the bottom of planes when their ammunition runs out. H.A.W.X. also features satellite mapped terrain, so cities like Washington D.C. and Rio de Janeiro look exactly as they should. Buildings have been reproduced too, with the quality resembling something slightly better than what’s found in Google Earth. Although it’s not quite as influential on the overall experience as the marketing would have you believe, the landscapes certainly are excellent and there’s nothing like skimming over the tops of trees on the way to your next objective.
Like other Tom Clancy games, multiplayer is an integral part of H.A.W.X. All of the campaign missions can be played with three other players who can join and leave at any time, just like in Rainbow Six Vegas 2. You can also fight against other players online and through a system link, with up to eight combatants per game.
H.A.W.X. provides an enjoyable campaign with a variety of missions, but you can’t help but feel that there’s much more potential for other scenarios. Carriers and airbases feature in the game, but you can’t take off or land on them. There’s no in-air refuelling or missions that require you to fight at very high altitudes. If I remember correctly, one of the Ace Combat games had an operation that required you to land and rearm at an airfield while you were trying to defend it. It’s these kind of missions that H.A.W.X. is lacking and to an extent, it seems like a wasted opportunity.
In a way, H.A.W.X. benefits from not being as crazy as Ace Combat. There are no flying aircraft carriers, invisible planes, space combat missions, camp bosses or anything that requires you to fly through a tunnel. This is definitely a more sober and realistic experience. However, you can’t help but feel that H.A.W.X. is a little too tame for its own good. While it’s certainly an enjoyable air combat game, it lacks the edge that other Tom Clancy games so evidently possess.