Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. for the 360, PS3. Developer: Ubisoft Romania, Publisher: Ubisoft
For the past fourteen years, our virtual skies have been dominated by the consistently capable Ace Combat series. While PC gamers have had a myriad of flight simulation options, Namco’s arcade-inspired dogfighter has consistently overpowered titles like Over G Fighters and Aero Elite: Combat Academy. However, like the once mighty F-14 Tomcat, the Ace Combat series is looking increasingly antiquated, and is susceptible to a quicker, more agile competitor.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. (An acronym for ‘High Altitude Warfare eXperimental Squadron’), is the latest entry into the novelist’s universe, and a worthy opponent to the Ace Combat series. Chronologically positioned during the Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter era, the game predicts a geopolitical landscape where Private Military Companies (or PMCs) hold an escalating amount of power. Players step into the boots of U.S. Air Force pilot David Crenshaw, initially providing air support for Ghost Squad members in Mexico. Shortly after the mission, the military deactivates the regiment and its pilot, forcing Crenshaw to join Artemis Global Security, a burgeoning PMC.
Gamers with even a passing familiarity of flight simulations will feel right at home with H.A.W.X.’s controls. The left thumbstick is used to steer the game’s assortment of jets, while the ‘B’ button releases a barrage of cannon fire toward a nearby hostile. Once the player obtains a lock-on, indicated visually by a red box on the heads-up display, and aurally by a steady tone, the ‘A’ button launches a missile. Additionally, Ubisoft seems to have integrating some of its voice recognition code into the game- players can perform a multitude of tasks via simple vocal commands.
By double tapping the left or right trigger, players can toggle an assistance mode on or off. Much like the option in a racing game, assistance oversees some of nagging intricacies at the cost of mobility. With the optional aid tuned off, gamers can apply the air brakes to sharpen a turn, but risk inducing a deadly stall. As followers of the Pete Mitchell aviation philosophy, we kept the assistance off, but we are appreciative of the option for players that prefer to stay out of the ‘danger zone’. One problem we had was achieving a lock-on on more distant targets when assistance was turned off; H.A.W.X. stubbornly fixated on the closer target.
We were keen on H.A.W.X.’s role-playing elements, which added a bit of depth to the proceedings. Many acts, from destroying enemy bogeys to evading a locked missile result in a reward of experience points. Players can use the points to unlock alternative weapon loadouts, additional fighters, and maps. Another magnificent addition is the integration of co-operative play with up to three other players. Ordering a buddy to cover your tail, while you fly low to destroy a ground-based objective, feels amazingly satisfying. Players interested in competitive play have one option- team deathmatch. We would have appreciated a greater amount of adversarial dogfighting options.
Graphically, H.A.W.X. looks consistently phenomenal, from the game’s well detailed aircraft to the title’s incorporation of satellite imagery used for environmental scenery. Players may recognize the amazingly detailed Los Angeles skyline, or hillside Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiro. Our only visual misgiving with the title occurs when flying low, where flight speed seems woefully slow. Typical of Tom Clancy games, the title maintains a high-tech feel with a clean interface, amazing sound design and solid voice acting.
Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. manages to easily dethrone the reigning heir of console aviation, Ace Combat 6. By integrating a compelling co-op game and adding an experience point system to the aerial warfare formula, Ubisoft’s latest release comes highly recommended to gamers seeking turn and burn excitement. With a small tweak to the lock-on system, and a more diversified set of multiplayer options, H.A.W.X.’s inevitable sequel could easily soar into the wild blue yonder of virtual combat greatness.