Following the development of any next-generation game at the moment often feels like its own little mystery. Will the final release have the same level of polish shown in the early builds? Will the team manage to actually include the key feature that they’ve been banging on about for the last two years? Will it even be the same type of experience as initially announced? More often than not, the answer to any of the above questions will be in significant doubt until the newly-mastered disc lands in consoles the world over, and none more so in the case of Incognito’s long-awaited and completely overhauled version of Warhawk for the PS3.
In this instance, Warhawk was initially announced a number of years ago as a primarily single-player focused project, with tenuous ties to a previous PS1 game and a habit of making Sixaxis motion control look, well, a bit crap. Fast forward a few years and what we’re finally delivered is a 32-player online experience with no single-player options whatsoever, and a habit of making Sixaxis motion control look fantastic in the right hands. Welcome to modern game development.
From the stripped down menu (no lavish introductory sequences here), game choices essentially boil down to whether to create your own server, or join somebody else’s. Gametypes are split into Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag or Nodes, with Sony-controlled ranked servers showing up as blue in the very pc-centric server browsing system. CTF and Deathmatch are obvious enough, but ‘Nodes’ is where most Warhawk players will end up spending most of their time. Essentially a Battlefield ‘inspired’ mode, Nodes tasks each team with controlling a number of checkpoints on the chosen map, with the zone of influence around each point growing according to however long the players remain in the vicinity and the number of troops occupying the space. Spend enough time in adjacent nodes, and you may encounter a zone overlap, which serves the purpose of multiplying scores, and becomes a key proponent of victory in any closely contested game.
As a Battlefield clone then, Warhawk would be nothing without a large variety of ordinance and vehicles, and Incognito have chosen not to disappoint on this front. Foot soldiers have access to over nine weapons ranging from pistols and sniper rifles to trip mines and flame throwers, as well as three ground vehicles, a number of stationary turrets, and the titular Warhawk. The flying machine itself has access to over seven different types of projectile and defensive attacks, gathered by navigating through hovering icons on the map. Sixaxis control for once works a treat here, with a gentle learning curve as long as you can find a fairly low-population server to practice on. Switching from hover to flight modes can become a little bit of a burden, but tends to seperate the best pilots from, well, the other 90% of us. As you can imagine from the title, Warhawk experts tend to steal the thunder in any decently skilled game, but are certainly a long way from being impervious.
In fact the balance of combat is undoubtedly Warhawk’s strongest feature. Every position on the map or specific weapon type always has a counter measure within reach, and lends the game a highly strategic approach that benefits experience and quick thinking. For example, manning a missile turret will give you the ability to lock on to that troublesome Warhawk, but the pilot may be able to deploy chaff with quick enough reaction speed, switch to hover and circle around for an easy shot at a stationary target. In the meantime your carefully placed tripmine may have killed a couple of enemies at the door to a bunker, or alternatively could have been destroyed on the way through, leaving yourself at the mercy of a quick and silent knife attack. Each decision that you make has an almost chess-like ability to strengthen or weaken your position, and it’s to the developer’s credit that at no time does it ever feel like the game punishes you for your death. If something went wrong, it’s your fault, plain and simple, you learn from your mistake and try something new.
As addictive as the main game is, playing on the ranked servers also brings about its own benefits. As well as being an easy guide as to who you should avoid in-game, ranking up brings rewards in terms of achievable ribbons, which in turn give access to additional costume and decorative options for your character and Warhawk designs. The initial outlay of these is superbly judged, and you’ll likely be hooked in attempting to achieve the next level from a very early standpoint. The structured approach of this system lends the game a superbly addictive ‘just one more go’ quality, and it’s always nice to be working towards something whenever you play, a quality sadly lacking from many PS3 titles, and in abundance on the 360.
From a technical standpoint, Warhawk is also hard to criticise in any meaningful manner. Games are generally lag-free even with the maximum number of participants, and the ability to create your own servers and fully customised game-types comes as a refreshing addition after the highly-structured approach of Xbox Live. Game options are fairly confined, and certainly not up to anything like the standards of a Halo 3, for example, but the ability to clearly see ping rates and server capacities is a good thing, and helps you find the exact game that you’re after. Framerates are good, sound is fully THX certified, lighting and texturing are at times excellent, and hovering in a Warhawk far above any of the vast territories reveals a graphical engine that can cut it with the best of this generation. As a poster-boy for the PS3, it doesn’t get much better at the moment.
So the only real issue here is one of cost and longevity. For either £40 from a shop with a bluetooth headset, or £20 direct download from the Sony store, Warhawk initially comes across as a bit of a bargain. However, as a multiplayer only title with a paltry five maps and no offline bot support, even £20 may be a little steep for some pockets. One thing is for sure however, console players will undoubtedly find a Battlefield-esque experience here that has yet to be matched in the living room space, and the queues to get into the ranked servers at the moment suggest a title that’ll have legs for a number of years. If you’ve got a PS3 and an online connection, it’d be silly to miss out.