Last month, Microsoft made a big deal of its launch of its multiplayer beta test of the upcoming Xbox 360 shooter Halo 3. Press events were held in New York and San Fransisco and a Hollywood "launch" party full of semi-celebs got a little attention as well. The week after the Halo 3 beta launch, Sony quietly launched its own beta test of Warhawk, allowing a few folks to download via the PS3's Playstation Store an early version of developer Incog's multiplayer shooter game. There was no press events for this beta test and no Hollywood photo op but we've been playing the Warhawk beta ever since it launched last week and with a couple of reservations we find it to be both more complete and far more fun to play than the current Halo 3 beta test, which bodes well for the final version of the game to be released later this year.
Let's go over the reservations first before we get to the good stuff. For the most part, all of the issues we have with the beta are things you expect with a game that's still in the bug fixing stage; freezing in the middle of the match sometimes, losing online connections at times, occasionally not being able to get power ups, and a server browser that's gives pretty inaccurate info on ping at this stage. Most servers in the game's browser show a 9999 for a ping but it's likely that you can still play on those servers. We hope Incog and Sony will make sure that when the final game is release it gets the ping issue fixed.
So let's get to the stuff that's good about Warhawk and there's plenty of it. At E3 2006 we played an early version of Warhawk when it was still being described as a update on the PS1 futuristic flying action game. That's really not what the game is any more, however. Yep, flying in heavily armed flying vehicles is still a big part of Warhawk but now the game is Incog and Sony's PS3's exclusive answer to the Battlefield franchise, although on a somewhat smaller scale. Players can engage targets foot, shooting with pistols, grenades, machine guns, rocket launchers and flame throwers (all in third person by the way). There are jeeps and tanks to drive in addition to planes to fly and there's machine gun and rocket turrets to operate. The levels in the beta are massive and vary widely between environments and can easily handle the 32 player limit of Warhawk. The combo of all these features surprised us. Once more, playing the game (when the bugs don't come into play) is a joy.
We will concentrate on the flying vehicles first, since the game still centers on this kind of multiplayer combat. While you can fly the vehicles with the normal analog stick configuration on the PS3 controller, there's really no reason to thanks to the SIXAXIS wireless motion sensing features. Simply move the controller left or right or up and down to control the flight of the planes. The learning curve is pretty easy and you will soon wonder how you played a game like this any other way (its not the default setting, however so you'll have to enable motion sensing if you want it before you go into battle). This leaves your fingers free to do other things like firing the default machine guns with the right trigger button and using the various weapons on the left trigger. The D-pad lets you select what extra weapons you can fire for the left trigger, from quick but low powered missiles to more powerful homing missiles to anti-missile chaff defenses to aerial mines. You gain these weapons by flying into symbols in the air that designate what power ups you can gain. There's even a cloaking device for your plane. You can also switch into hover mode and hide behind a building to fire the devastating guided missile that you guide yourself to its target.