Hardcore Tom Clancy fan club Ubisoft is back in familiar territory with its first airborne entry into the franchise. Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. has landed!
H.A.W.X. stands for: High Altitude Warfare eXperimental… eXperimental what? Cutlery? Yoghurt? Honestly, if you’re going to make up an acronym it should at the very least make sense. Like, P.A.R.R.O.T.T. (Plane Acronyms aRe Really Over The Top). See, it’s not that hard.
Gameplay is simple and easy to master, and part of H.A.W.X.’s success for me was the gratification of this pick-up-and-play approach. One of the much touted in-game features is the E.R.S. (sigh…) or Enhanced Reality System. E.R.S. is essentially a dynamic heads-up display that, when engaged, lets you issue orders to your wingmen, plot out optimised flight paths to avoid missile lock-ons, intercept more challenging targets or dodge enemy radar. Think of the E.R.S. as training wheels for your MIG; it can be helpful, if a little too helpful. Thankfully, I found I wasn’t relying on the system too heavily.
Still on the subject of gameplay, things get more interesting when the option to toggle off the E.R.S. becomes available. Flying without assistance allows for much more dynamic control of the plane with sharp turns, and makes Top Gun- style acrobatics much easier to achieve. The newly acquired maneuverability does have a downside, though; specifically, if you brake for too long you can stall and end up in the ‘drink’. The choice of view when flying sans E.R.S. is also interesting and not entirely effective; think the cinematic views in GTA, the overall effect being somewhat disengaging and difficult to judge distances and angles, especially when you’re flying low and brushing rooftops.
Worth a mention is the grouse co-op game mode. You can form a squadron with up to four ‘real’ players and although you’re simply replaying the campaign, working with actual people is great fun. On the flipside is the online multiplayer, which is pretty meagre with only a single eight-player team death match currently available. Fingers crossed for more DLC.
As per this kind of military-style game, the story is laughably hokey and patriotic with plot twists and turns so huge and obvious you’ll literally fly straight into them (that didn’t really make sense, but you get the sentiment). You play David Crenshaw, an ex US pilot who… Who cares? It’s certainly not the story that’ll make you want to play the game.
Graphically speaking, H.A.W.X. is a mixed bag. Developer Ubisoft has done a pretty cool thing by working with actual satellite-provided images for the in-game environments. Rocketing across the mountains of Afghanistan or shooting past the statue of Jesus in Rio de Janeiro can be an exhilarating experience.
Just don’t look too close - and I mean that literally; flying at tree level is like flying through a pixel storm circa 1983.
The sound is excellent and does well to make the game a more immersive experience. Military hardware is realistic and visceral and even the chest-thumping music is set far enough back into the audio design that it never seems too obtrusive. One of my favourite pastimes was to slam on the brakes just so I could pass through the sound barrier again… and again.
If you want a quick shot of adrenaline, then Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. could be just the ticket. Its short missions, cool ‘jump-in-jump-out’ co-op mode, abundant achievements and unlockable planes and goodies make it an enjoyable casual gaming experience.
Note: You’ve probably picked up from this review my none-too-hidden dislike for ridiculous gaming acronyms. If you feel similarly annoyed, then please join my newly formed support group: Gamers Rage Of Acronym Negligence. Tell you what; just call it G.R.O.A.N. for short.