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Tom Clancy’s HAWX [360]

Let us be absolutely certain that we’re all on the same page here;  HAWX is not a flight simulator, so don’t expect micro-management, accurate payloads, landings and take-offs.  Expect close dogfights, while waves of enemy units crash over the horizon’s hazy clouds to re-enforce their troubled comrades.

Tom Clancy’s HAWX is set, rather cunningly, in the Tom Clancy universe; between Endwar and GRAW.  Playing David Crenshaw, decommissioned government HAWX pilot, you’re hired by a private military company called Artemis who secure some South American government contracts.  However, tensions soon rise between Artemis and the United States and, when Artemis attacks the US, you defect and join the US government proper.  It’s all quite tedious and oozing with Top Gun-esque dialogue, especially when you’re in the air, but it’s easy enough to ignore. I could go on about the story for another 800 words, but the games biggest test will be its gameplay, and more vitally, whether a flight-based combat game will ever really work on a console.

Flight simulators, no matter how good they get, will never be as in-depth on a console as they are on PCs or Macs (yes, there are excellent flight sims for the Mac).  The level of control you have over the machine you fly in the shape of hardware and customisation is always going to be unparalleled. 

But remember, this isn’t a flight simulator.  What HAWX offers is the unadulterated fun of the close quarters dogfights, without the ceremonial take-offs, 200 mile flight to the target and the flight back.  Instead you find yourself airborne, always, and not far from where all Hell is about to break loose.

It’s easy enough to be overwhelmed initially, especially if you’re used to a flight stick set up, but having said that it’s not hard to pick up.  There are a few niggles, such as the rudder controls being mapped to the left and right bumpers, not being able to change the colour of my HUD and using the d-pad to select weapons.  Despite that, it’s pretty simple with the A button firing your selected weapon, the B button unleashing the canon, the Y button changing targets and the X button used for Enhanced Reality System – an integrated battlefield control and perception system designed to aid the pilot, which includes the HUD and AI commands. The triggers are throttle and airbrakes while the d-pad also assigns your wingmen with defend and attack commands.

Flight models too adhere to real world physics.  Braking gives you better turning circles, while the afterburners push up and away out of harm’s way.  Disappointingly, you don’t have complete control of speed, which is a hindrance more often than not.  The plane’s flight is taken over by the computer, and all you have to do is manoeuvre, hit the target and avoid the scenery…no matter how pretty it looks.  Thomas Simon, lead producer, told us the aim of the game was to focus on fun and not micromanagement.  Humbly, I dispute the decision to leave out basic control.

Flying with the assistance off, however, is a completely different experience.  Here you have complete control of the aircraft.  You can pull hard manoeuvres and even stall.  There are two problems with this though.  The first is that you’re forced into a third-person camera mode that you can’t get out of.  The controls change, you become easily disorientated and it’s hard to break away from the battle in your immediate vicinity.  This is made all the more problematic if you’re on a defence mission.  That said, it is gorgeous to watch.  It’s the camera angle, and view that all flight sim combat geeks want to see.

The assistance mode isn’t the only place the game suffers either.  Not being able to select a payload manually is also an odd choice.  When I say you can’t select a payload, that’s not strictly true.  Each aircraft has three preset payloads, only one of which is unlocked as standard with the aircraft.  To unlock the other two you have to gain experience points which you get from flying missions and completing in-game objectives and challenges.

With that in mind, and with around 50 aircraft, classed by a star-rated air-to-air and air-to-ground capability, it wouldn’t have been hard to allow the pilot to choose his payload, even if the weapons are restricted to their class.

But because there are over 50 planes to unlock, and each mission giving you enough experience points to unlock a new aircraft or payload, it doesn’t really matter.  It actually forces you to play with aircraft you wouldn’t normally play with and this is no bad thing.

Each mission lasts for anything between ten and 30 minutes.  Variation is minimal – there are stealth missions, bombing run missions, escort missions and reconnaissance missions; all with varying levels of difficulty.  Once you get into the war zone, the intensity engulfs you, and you’re kicked into a gear you didn’t know you had.  Zipping through the skies, diving, dodging, dog fighting embrace your senses, as you search for that high-pitched tone that accompanies your red lock icon on your HUD.

Before you know it you’ve completed six missions, unlocked ten new aircraft, climbed five ranks and completed a plethora of in-game challenges.  What HAWX does is constantly reward you.  You never feel like you’ve not achieved anything.  Even in multiplayer, you can continue to unlock your own arsenal, progress through the ranks and gain experience points by hosting an online co-op or multiplayer game.

I know the PC version will allow you to plug in your existing flight sticks, if you have them, and this will eliminate the issues of speed control (you can download the PC demo here).  It also allows you to map your buttons giving you a more control over your aircraft.  I also know there will be flight sticks and throttle controls available for the consoles, which would again resolve some of the issues.

With this in mind, and with the current state of the game, there is no denying that HAWX is a decent flight title.  It’s engaging and it does what other flight combat games have failed to do, and that’ll keep you hooked.  Is this the revolutionary flight sim game for the console?  I don’t think so.  But that’s not the question you should be asking.  The question you should be asking is whether you want to play a good, arcade-style, visually stunning flight sim game.

I’ll see you online.

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