Summary: With DirectX 10.1 graphics, and over 50 real-world aircraft and terrain supplied by GeoEye, Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. has the basic ingredients needed for a fun flight sim experience. But is it really a sim, or more of a flying shooter like you'd find in arcades? Tom attempts to sort it all out in this review!
H.A.W.X. takes place during the same time period as Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2, with you playing the role of Capt. David Crenshaw, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. There are 2 cameos by other Tom Clancy created properties, including Cpt. Mitchell from GRAW and even Third Echelon. Your tenure with the Air Force ends relatively quickly, as you take up employment with Artemis Global Security, a private military contractor (PMC). As you begin to fly missions for Artemis, you earn access to new and more advanced aircraft. The game features many real world aircraft, from the F-4 Phantom to the F-22 Raptor. The storyline in H.A.W.X. is pretty generic for the most part, while the voice acting isn’t really worth listening to. Before each mission you receive a briefing from your handlers regarding the current state of the plot, but it’s so generic, you hardly find yourself caring. For the most part, you’ll probably end up skipping the briefings just to get to the game itself.
The biggest issue with the story is the idea that any government would allow a PMC to own sophisticated fighter technology, let alone use it for hire in a warzone. The threat of global destabilization from unaccountable sources is enough to make most governments cringe with fear. Also, you switch sides twice during the conflict, from military to PMC and back again, but it’s pointless, so you wonder why you bothered flying for the PMC’s in the first place. It seems PMC’s are the big plot line in current games, with other games featuring them in their stories, including Army of Two and Metal Gear Solid 4. However, Army of Two is so over the top you know it’s not serious, while MGS is a series more akin to Sci-Fi, so it’s easy to suspend your level of disbelief. It’s sad to see a Tom Clancy game go over the top, albeit unintentionally.
Mouse/keyboard is interesting and functional, although we still preferred a joystick or even gamepad. The mouse controls your pitch, while roll and yaw are set to WASD controls.
The biggest issue with H.A.W.X., however, is its unflinching anti-realism. While in normal flight, you cannot stall your aircraft and g-Forces are non-existent. Players can turn assistance off, however doing this puts the airplane in a distant 3rd person perspective where it can be extremely difficult to get a bead on your enemies.
If you do have a plane targeted, your view is locked towards their direction which makes it really easy to crash into the ground since you lose the ability to look around. Once you get the hang of the mode though, it can be fun, although you will question some of the physics. Apparently in the Tom Clancy world, airplanes can perform mid-air drifts like a Nissan Skyline doing 100MPH around an oval track. While it makes dodging missiles easy, I was still silently muttering to myself, “Airplanes can’t do that.”
Before each mission, you can select which aircraft you want to pilot, as well as a pre-determined weapons package. Weapons and planes are unlocked based on your rank as you earn experience for completing missions. You can even go back and re-play a mission if you so choose, earning more experience along the way. Missiles are somewhat limited in number, between 120 and 160, depending on the aircraft. Your nose guns are unlimited however, but they are pretty much useless for dog fighting since just about every encounter becomes about fire and forget. In fact, the game can be pretty much summed up in lock, fire, fire; lock, fire, fire. Lather, rinse, and repeat ad nauseum. The game just isn’t hard, since most of the combat is about killing waves of aircraft and the miracle of near-infinite missile ammunition in the future.
Multiplayer is pretty bland, with only deathmatch and team deathmatch as options. Even then, combat pretty much boils down to who can out turn the other player quickest. Veteran players will pretty much own you, not due to skill level, but mostly because they have unlocked the best planes in the game. The arcade-like action would’ve been perfect for defend the base gameplay or even CTF, but sadly, Ubisoft only implemented the bare minimum. Keep in mind that this is if you can even get into a game. H.A.W.X. crashed randomly almost every time I tried to play. Sometimes it was after completing a game, sometimes it was just trying to login to Ubisoft’s servers. A fresh install of both the game and even Windows did nothing to alleviate this.
Graphics and Audio
The one area that H.A.W.X. excels at is graphics however, as it not only supports DX10 but also DX10.1 should you have an ATI GPU. Plane modeling is fantastic and lighting effects are spectacular, especially when the sun breaks through the clouds in DX10. H.A.W.X. uses real-world satellite imagery from GeoEye. This technology maps satellite images onto the terrain, giving the world some of the best ground effects in a flight game. Unfortunately, getting too close to the ground reveals all sorts of pixilation in both the imagery and 3D terrain, so it’s best enjoyed from afar. Performance was pretty good, which surprised us givien the high attention to graphical detail. Our system ran comfortably at 60 frames per second almost constantly. H.A.W.X. includes a built-in benchmark as well, so we are going to try test out some common GPU’s with it, as it’s a pretty powerful engine.
Audio is lackluster for the most part, with there being no real surround sound to speak of. Voices come from the center channel, which is also where your engine noise originates. It would’ve been nice had Ubisoft placed engine sounds to the rear of the player; instead they tend to drown out the monotonous mid-mission briefings. Sound effects are effective, although nothing outstanding. Voice acting is bland with most of the talent barely sounding like they even care about what they are saying. For the most part, the voice acting just kind of blends into the background and you never really miss what the characters say.