Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. Review

It's been awhile since I've played a flight sim (or at least anything close to one) until I heard about H.A.W.X. which would allow you to pick several planes and, like a series of other games that have come out recently, it comes with co-op - so I thought it'd be worth a whirl with my guildies and hence why I bought it. Now after finishing the single player campaign and played several mission with my mates, here's the review.

Sound (3/5)
Voice acting in the game is done well and the gun and missile sound effects are satisfactory (although the dropping of bombs somehow doesn’t give the distinctive whistling noise). The sonic boom when you break the sound barrier though is a very nice touch and something I haven’t noticed in flight sims (but then again, the last time I flew a flight sim was a looong time ago, T.F.X. anyone?)

T.F.X. Video (ah the nostalgia)

Music (4/5)
Tom Salta has done a good with the music with a heroic-sounding theme being incorporated in many of the tracks in the game and appropriately tense action music during combat.

Graphics (4/5)
As mentioned earlier, it’s been a long time since I’ve played flight sims although I can’t find anything to really fault about the graphics in this game. Yes, I’ve read reviews saying the graphics suck and that the ground looks pixelated up close but since there’s so much detail with the amount of foliage and buildings in cities, a little pixelated ground isn’t going to bother me.

What I particularly liked about this game is that even with the large number of flyable aircraft on offer, cockpit views have been painstakingly recreated for each of the aircraft which is commendable. Of course you can’t actually look around the cockpit, and some dials and MFDs don’t actually move or flicker, but hey you can’t have everything I suppose!

Plot (4/5)
The game has a good plot as it’s your typical Tom Clancy storyline. The game is set in the near future where you’re part of a decommissioned elite USAF fighter outfit known as H.A.W.X. The game sees you and your wingmen joining one of many PMCs which have become quite common in the future, thanks to the Reykjavik Accords. You end up flying missions for them to earn a living and inevitably a plot twist occurs somewhere in the middle of the game. Okay it may be predictable to some but it’s a lot better than what you experience in other games where they have shocking plots or none at all.

In a way the game’s plot reminds me of Strike Commander, except unlike the venerable Origin flight sim (at least in terms of actual gameplay) you can’t pick wingmen in H.A.W.X. or manage the company’s funding.

Ah more nostalgia... Strike Commander!

Before going any further, it must be mentioned that even though H.A.W.X. looks and feels like a flight sim it doesn’t play like one. It’s more of an arcade-style flight sim. Flying the planes have been simplified for non-flight sim fans and this is all good in my books however some features that have been added tend to emphasise even more that H.A.W.X. is an arcade game rather than a flight sim with features such as the ERS (Enhanced Reality System) and the OFF-mode.

Basically ERS creates a path for you to follow in order to intercept targets. When it’s turned on, you get a tunnel of concentric rings on your HUD that you’re meant to follow through in order to get the best trajectory to your target – it reminds me a lot of a similar system in Frontier: Elite II. I must admit that ERS is useful in some situations (when buildings are obscuring the view of ground targets) but probably becomes overkill when you are using it on air targets or to evade missiles and quite frankly I think it’s cheating in these situations, so I turn it off.

The OFF-mode is another feature that I don’t use, since it makes it extremely difficult to manoeuvrer and aim at targets. Basically switching to OFF-mode allows you to be more manoeuvrable at the expense of the plane’s stability. That means as soon as you turn OFF-mode on physics becomes more realistic and your plane will be more prone to stalling (without OFF-mode you can’t stall). As much as I’m a fan of adding a bit more realism into the game (by allowing the plane to stall), unfortunately, OFF-mode turns out being unrealistic because you end up playing the game in a side-on 3rd person view and I have no idea how it makes the game easier to play.

Plane statistics are also simplified with a series of stars and bars rating their abilities. For example, the A-10 Thunderbolt would have its Anti-Ground rating much higher than its Anti-Air, and it has a slow speed bar but a very high armour bar. The game also gives plane little perks as well, so back to our A-10 Thunderbolt example, the plane has a perk called “Ultra Cannon” or something similar, which means its cannon does extra damage (and so it should, when you’re firing depleted Uranium shells the size of milk bottles!).

F-117A Gameplay Footage

Replayability (4/5)
The ability to hop in and play the single-player campaign co-operatively with up to three friends is a nice touch, although you’ll probably have to rely on having friends to play with since H.A.W.X., depending on the time of day, have very little players online, which could make setting up a Team Deathmatch challenging.

The game has also incorporated an experience system where earning XP (experience points for you non-RPG types) allows you to unlock new plans, maps. XP is earned by getting kills but can be earned quicker if you complete achievements like finishing single player campaign missions or getting a certain number kills with a particular weapon.

The interface is very clunky and somehow my plane automatically fires missiles when I’m in a single player campaign – I thought that it might be a problem with the joystick but I noticed that in multiplayer it never does that, which is kind of strange (although I read somewhere that apparently it is caused by a voice-activated-commands bug). Fortunately you don’t get any awards based on accuracy so it doesn’t matter too much if I accidentally let off a few missiles (since you get a generous amount of them anyway).

Getting around the menus is a chore as well. Sometimes when you expect hitting a key will work, it doesn’t and you have to resort to a mouse click or a double mouse-click, you’re always second guessing what to do. For example, setting up a multiplayer co-op game is a complex affair. Basically you need to have added some friends to your friend list first, then you create a multiplayer game and then hit a key to invite friends which ONLY appears when you’ve created the multiplayer game. Also if you’ve already invited your friends to join the game once during the session you can’t do it again since the button blacks out. And that’s not all, specifying a player slot as “private” doesn’t seem to stop random players joining the game lobby either. As you can see the interface is really annoying but at least it’s functional I suppose.

F-22 Raptor Gameplay Footage

Overall - 69%
A fun arcade-style flight sim to play with friends, although hardcore flight sim fans will find little to like, besides the large hangar of planes available to fly!

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