Tom Clancy's HAWX series is setting up for its second attack run this week with the release of HAWX 2. Players are once again tasked with flying the latest and greatest planes to save the world in a typical near-future, Tom Clancy world. HAWX 2 is largely the same game as the original with a few changes, both good and bad, to result in what is ultimately a good, but not great, game.
So in the original HAWX players controlled pilot David Crenshaw, an expert Navy pilot who was the squad leader of the three-man HAWX team. The HAWX are essentially the best of the best, the Ghost team of the sky you could say. The first game took players through about eighteen missions to stop Adrian DeWinter and his private army from taking over the world. The sequel, logically, picks up after that. At the outset of the story, the enemy isn't clearly defined, but the problem is: insurgent terrorist attacks around the globe. Eventually these attacks are rooted back to ultra-nationalist Russians who are determined to take over their country and then destroy the world.
In HAWX 2, players control Crenshaw for only the first mission, and after that, you will play as three different characters from the US, Britain, and Russia across another eighteen or so missions. Each pilot (and all planes for that matter) control the same and they are all nameless and faceless. The events that these pilots partake in overlap during the course of the story to lead up to one major assault.
Mission types are primarily of the escort and protect variety. In the first game, these were often painful and annoying, and that hasn't greatly changed here. Fortunately, checkpoints are better spread out in HAWX 2 so failures don't take too long to recover from. HAWX 2 also adds AC-130 and UAV missions. I believe there were two, maybe just one, AC-130 missions in which players got to play as the gunner controlling 25, 40, and 105mm ordnance to clear a path for a Ghost team on the ground. The UAV missions are similar, but less explosive. In the three UAV missions, you simply have to hover over certain buildings and moving vehicles to gather intel, or tag locations with an IR probe. I actually welcomed these missions because it helped break up the monotony of the rest of the campaign.
Change of Course
It's interesting to point out that unlike the original HAWX game in which players got to choose their plane (and their loadout, to a degree), each mission in HAWX 2 has a plane and a loadout assigned to it -- no customization available. Now granted, in the original game, what the game recommended for use was always the best choice, but I still found it interesting that Ubisoft decided to remove the player choice and plane rankings. The removal of Speed/Handling/Air-to-Air/Air-to-Ground ratings may have something to do with the fact that every plane felt like it controlled as every other plane.
HAWX 2 adds the ability to take off and land, both on air strips and on carriers, which is pretty cool. Just about every mission in the game requires that you take off first, and even though it's a simple task, I thought it actually added to the experience. Landing your aircraft, which you can do at any time there is a valid landing location, gives you a restock of ammo and health. Not surprisingly, landing is a bit trickier, but I really liked that the developers drop in a checkpoint for you before a landing attempt and right after you take off. Landing can be done with assistance on or off and is actually fun. Oh and the two times in the campaign that you have to line up for a mid-air refueling (against the pressure of a ticking clock) is cool too.
Landing your craft with (optional) assistance is one of the very few times you will see the ERS system from the original game. Those of you who played HAWX may recall that the ERS was a big part of the game in that it allowed you to project virtual gates for you to fly through that would either get you in a kill position of your targeted enemy or help you evade an incoming missile. Curiously, this was removed from HAWX 2 and is only used during optional landing assistance instances and briefly during one the latter missions to get you through a heavily fortified area (there was a part in the first game just like this).
With ERS gone, it seemed a bit tougher to get a hold of the enemy. Dogfighting in HAWX 2, a huge part of the gameplay, is actually a bit of a chore. First of all, your friendly AI are props. You can often see them 'in the area,' but if you actually try to follow and watch them for a moment -- you can see that they're really useless. It should come as no surprise that it's up to you to do at least 90% of the work in every mission, if not more. I can't tell you how many times I wished the friendly AI would actually help me out. Sure, they talk a big game, i.e., when you're told to handle the objective and they say they will watch your back -- but it's a ruse. In observing several dogfights, it was clear to me that the enemy was interested solely in me and my friendlies were hard pressed to help me at all. Seriously, I never felt so alone or abandoned in a game that tries to promote a 'team' and cooperative element as much as this (and it only gets worse towards the end of the game).
That the enemy AI seemed to prefer me 10 to 1 over any of the invincible friendly AI proved to be a real nuisance. This was a problem with the first game too, but, wow -- it sure seemed more tangible in HAWX 2. The issue I had was that my plane was target so heavily, so constantly, in most missions that I spent the vast majority of my time doing evasive maneuvers. How the heck am I going to land a solid lock or a stream of cannon-fire onto an enemy craft when I've got one, two, or even three missiles locked onto me?
Additionally, Heat Seeking Missiles, or HSMs, are the default ordnance in HAWX 2. The problem with these compared to what players had in the original game is that if the targeted enemy aircraft gets within 2000 feet at anytime that you have the target lock, it immediately breaks, target lock lost, missiles no longer track target. You'd be surprised how many times that happens when the enemy planes are gunning directly for you, up close and personal. And for some reason, I've got 90 Heating Seeking Missiles and only 6 Flares; what's up with that? It's a shame that players aren't allowed to not only pick their plane of choice for a mission, but their loadout, too. I would have definitely loaded up on Flares given the chance.
So HAWX 2 definitely has its issues. There were a lot of times where I was just shaking my head in frustration with the friendly AI and even the outlandish conditions of the missions that pit you and your "help" against dozens and dozens of foes. Seems like if the allies were really interested in winning this thing they'd send in a little more air support, but that's another story (and, well, this is an arcade game).
For as frustrating as it can be, though, HAWX 2 can still be fun and satisfying. Certainly, it is very satisfying to drop precision bombs on ground forces and get target lock on a bandit, or multiple bandits in the one or two missions that you get to use the Multi-AA rockets. The game definitely has its moments. I just wish I didn't dread the dogfighting so much and the fact that I could not count on the friendlies for help. At least in the original HAWX I had two wingmen that I could direct to either cover me or attack. Here, that control is lacking and you just have to hope they do something for you.
Other than the campaign, HAWX 2 offers online and LAN multiplayer missions and dogfighting. The Free Flight mode makes a return, and new to the franchise are Survival Missions and Arcade Missions. Survival Missions are just that, you versus tremendous odds to see how long you can survive. Arcade Missions allow you to replay the Story Missions but with unique twists added. Each Arcade Mission has a small text description that lets you know what the twist is. These twists include things like only allowing you to use un-guided bombs or cannons, and only being able to use the 25mm rounds in the AC-130 mission.
A ranking system is back for HAWX 2 as well. I reached a level 21 from playing through the campaign. Ranking doesn't seem to do anything for you in single player, but for multiplayer it allows you to customize the appearance of your plane and its loadout, amongst other things. PECs (something-something-Challenges), which you may recall the term from another Ubi/Tom Clancy game (SC: Conviction) are included here too. The PECs challenge players to destroy so many ground targets with a certain weapon and things like that for the ability to purchase customizable stuff for online play.
In terms of presentation, HAWX 2 looks better than the first, which should be no surprise. The environments look quite nice and the framerate stays smooth. Plane detail is good, although I would argue that the best looking plane in the game was the desert camo one from the first mission. The GeoEye satellite imagery is also updated which is cool. There are no missions that take place on US soil, however, so most environments will be generic or unfamiliar to the majority of gamers. Cutscenes are pretty good, too.
From an audio standpoint, I really didn't care for the female character, Walters -- her voice and what she said never meant a darn thing and was always annoying. Other voiceovers and characters are fine. The effects and soundtrack left something to be desired though, and it's worth pointing out that nearly every mission has this long moment of near silence where the game is basically waiting for you to finish up the dogfight. It's not that normal effects aren't playing and the music, but, it's decidedly more quiet than say at the outset of a dogfight in which your AI and the mission commander talk a lot.
With that, let's get to the summary...