Name: Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
Genre: Flight Action
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
It’s hard to review H.A.W.X. without comparing it to Ace Combat 6, the only other flight action game with a modern setting available for current gen systems. There are many similarities between the two releases; from the missions, to the jets, and even the controls. One cannot overlook how much these two titles, published by completely different studios, have in common. That being said, it would be untrue to say that H.A.W.X. is simply an Ace Combat rip-off, or sequel, or anything of that nature. It introduces enough new gameplay mechanics, mission variety and visual distinctiveness to set it apart as a wholly well-made and enjoyable game.
One of the easiest points to pick out to separate H.A.W.X. from Ace Combat is in the visual presentation. While Ace was content to use photo-realistic maps of fictional locations, H.A.W.X. has upped the ante by licensing actual satellite imagery of real world settings. There is a big difference between dropping bombs on a made up national capital, and strafing enemy tanks on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Using real world locations from Rio de Janeiro, to Washington D.C., to Tokyo Harbor, and more, adds a weight and gravity to the missions that simply cannot be overlooked. And while both games use licensed jets, H.A.W.X. offers more than double the number of Ace, allowing for more variety and increasing the replayability of the game.
The plot of the game revolves around the growing influence of private military companies (PMCs) on world governments, a familiar storyline to anyone who has played Army of Two or Metal Gear Solid 4. You play as David Crenshaw, a former Air Force pilot who is now working for a PMC called Artemis Global Security. Artemis has contracts with several world powers, including several Middle Eastern nations, Brazil, and the US government. The storyline is fairly standard military fare, with a smattering of backstabs, plot twists, and moments of heroism. Mission objectives will be familiar to players of Ace Combat, and run the gamut from escort missions, perimeter patrols, bombing runs, dogfights, and infiltration. Sadly, H.A.W.X. falls into the same trap as a lot of other flight action games, in that the missions become very repetitive.H.A.W.X. also introduces an experience/leveling system into the genre, allowing players to unlock more than 50 different planes, and various weapons packs for each. Carrying the Tom Clancy mantle on a game, there are certain expectations that players have for the story, and H.A.W.X. doesn’t disappoint. While it isn’t going to go down in history as one of the greatest narratives ever, it is certainly compelling enough to keep your interest.
Controlling your jet in H.A.W.X. is, again, nearly identical to Ace Combat, with the left stick acting as your yoke, the LB and RB as your yaw, LT and RT as brake/accelerate, and the face buttons controlling your weapon. The D-pad switches between your weapons, or gives orders to your wingmen (attack or defend), and select switches your radar view between close-up and full battlefield. However, H.A.W.X. brings a new mechanic to the skies, with the “Assist Off” mode. Double tapping the RT will switch the camera from the enhanced reality system (ERS) cockpit view, to a third-person, chase plane perspective. Since it allows players to see both their own jet and their enemies, this mode is meant to make dogfighting easier. While I applaud Ubisoft for taking a chance, I found it too cumbersome and counterintuitive to be of much great use. Although it makes for some great visuals, the standard view is much more conducive to successful missions. Your ERS, which acts as your heads-up display, also allows you to enter into “ERS Gate” mode. If you’re tracking a target, or being tracked by an enemy bogey, clicking the “X” button will bring up a series of yellow gates on the screen, along with a timer. Flying successfully though the gates will bring you to your target, or allow you to evade your pursuer, by the end of the timer. While there are several missions that cannot be completed without using the ERS gates, most other times throughout the game, it is much faster and easier to simply enter into your own evasive maneuvers.
H.A.W.X. also offers a fairly robust multi-player system, with a nice selection of game modes. One can play through all of the single player missions in on-line co-op mode, with up to four players in each mission. The game allows for drop-in/drop-out, and even offers the option of allowing players to play whatever mission the host chooses. This means that if you, as a player, have only progressed to the third mission, you are still able to join a co-op match in level nine, provided the host has already unlocked that mission. Each player in a co-op is also allowed to set his or her own level of difficulty, so one doesn’t have to worry about entering a room that is above their skill level. The game keeps track of how many enemies each player has killed, and has a running leaderboard on the screen during the missions. There is also the option to play team deathmatch, either ranked or unranked, all the while earning experience.
Although on the surface H.A.W.X. seems like an Ace Combat 6 clone, a deeper examination reveals that it has taken the Ace formula, and improved upon it. The incorporation of satellite imagery, a leveling system, and new control mechanics are enough to make this most recent Tom Clancy title soar over the competition. As a huge fan of the flight action genre, I can say that H.A.W.X. is this generation’s true ace.