Games for Lunch: Tom Clancy's HAWX
Developer: Ubisoft Romania
Release Date: March 6, 2009
Systems: PS3 (reveiwed), Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: T
Offical Web site
0:00 I'm not a big fan of Tom Clancy games, almost on general principle. I do like action-packed dogflight games, though, and this one got some good buzz when it came out, so it's definitely worth a try.
0:01 A 41 MB update is available and currently downloading. Only 98 seconds left as I type this ... not too shabby.
0:03 A quick install and we're good to go yet again. Or so I THOUGHT! In reality, I need to free up an additional 2197 MB of install space before we continue. ARGH!
0:04 So long, Linger in Shadows. I promise to re-download you if I want some weird-ass demoscene stuff.
0:06 I barely even recall installing NBA 09: The Inside, but I'll gladly reclaim the 2+ gigs of install space it's taking up.
0:07 "Please wait while Installing Game Data. Do not switch off the system." One, this is very polite of the PS3 to phrase this way. Two, I love how "Install Game Data" is capitalized. Like it's a trademark or something.
0:10 The installation is at 15 percent. On a completely unrelated note, I'm looking into joining a Pittsburgh-area pinball league as I watch the progress bar crawl along.
0:15 37 percent. Now I'm trying to learn a bit of pinball strategy so I don't embarrass myself tomorrow.
0:20 60 percent. Now I'm reading an interesting round-up of NPD data from July.
0:25 79 percent. Is the progress bar actually slowing down at this late hour?
0:29 I'm stunned out of a light nap when the install finishes without warning. A bunch of logos start appearing, including some unexpected ones from the likes of Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin... "Though I fly through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, because I'm at 80,000 feet and flying." Sacrilegious! On the ground, some soldiers take fire. They call for air support using a bunch of military jargon. Cut to a jet in the air, with a missile on his tail. The jet does a loop under a bridge, where the missile explodes harmlessly (harmless to the plane, at least). Now the jet is free to target some tanks on the ground. "You nailed it! Nice work!" says an unseen voice. And... Title!
0:32 The options screen asks if I want to use the motion controls to "launch flares by rapidly moving the controller up and down." This is possibly the stupidest thing I've ever heard.
0:33 The controls menu is a baffling array of functions mapped to each and every button on the controller. Some buttons have multiple functions based on whether you hold, press or double-tap the button. Yowza!
0:34 Before I start the campaign, the game has to validate my call sign, "Ace." Eh? Anyway, Operation Ghost Rider takes place in Juarez, Mexico. Rebels are breaching the U.S. border, and the Pentagon has authorized covert strikes to "disrupt" their operations. This mission includes 13-percent fighters, 22-percent helicopters, 50-percent ground and 15-percent air defense, if you were wondering. I know I wasn't.
0:36 Selectable difficulties are Normal, Hard and Elite. Elite lets the plane take "realistic" damage. So basically everything else is less than realistic? Before the mission starts, an Intranet file shows my resume. I'm David A. Crenshaw ... a nice manly name! I've been transferred to High Altitude Warfare Experimental Squadron, or H.A.W.X., after serving in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Red Arrow.
0:38 The loading screen teaches me to lock onto targets, then hit X to make them go boom. Simple enough. "Near the U.S.-Mexico border," three jets fly in formation. Cut to a behind-the-plane view, where a voice in my ear tells me basically the same thing that the mission briefing told me.
0:39 Left and right on the analog stick don't turn the plane, but instead make it twist in a barrel roll. I can use R1 and L1 to actually turn, or I can roll and then use the up and down controls to do a much faster turn. It seems counterintuitive, but it's actually remarkably easy for me to pick up.
0:42 So far I'm just following the large yellow squares on my HUD that represent enemy tanks. As I get close, they turn red and I tap X to launch missiles at them. There's no real feeling of danger yet, but there is an adrenaline-pumping feeling of speed as I weave the plane through the air in elegant arcs. Using the R2 and L2 buttons to control my speed helps make the controls feel pretty tight.
0:44 I just swooped down extremely close to a tank, locking on and firing at the last possible moment and flying through the resulting explosion. Bad-ASS!
0:45 A general comes on the radio to give us some classified info: A Ghost Recon team in Juarez is pinned down and needs support. Wait, Ghost Recon? Is this a Tom Clancy Crossover Event?!
0:47 So now I'm taking out helicopters (which everyone in the game calls "helos"), but it doesn't feel that different from taking out the tanks. I never get close enough to really engage them ... they're just yellow squares that turn into red squares, which then turn into explosions.
0:48 While I'm busy with the helos, more tanks attack the Ghost Recon position. I head in from high altitude and take them all out as I dive-bomb the ground at high speeds. Yee-haw!
0:49 A huge column of black smoke is rising from my latest attack. So much for that "covert" mission, huh?
0:50 I'm impressed by the detailed model city I'm flying over. At one point I swoop in too low and have to pull up to avoid an office skyscraper. Immersive!
0:51 Now jets are flying in to attack our position. Tapping square brings up a tunnel of blue triangles that plot an intercept course I can fly through to easily track them down. It's an interesting effect, but seems to simplify the dogfights a bit too much...
0:53 More "bandits" are attacking. A missile locks onto my tail, but I do a loop and hit square when prompted to shake it easily. I find I don't really need the intercept course to take out most of them... Just following the big yellow line often gets me there more quickly.
0:55 "That's the last of the bandits," says the radio after some thrilling air battles. My colleagues chatter about "going into the private sector ... Artemis Private Security is hiring." I do a low buzz of a soccer pitch as General Keaton comes on to thank us for saving his men. He thinks the Air Force is making "a big mistake." Does that mean H.A.W.X. is going bye-bye?
0:57 A replay shows our dogfights from some dramatic, slow-mo camera angles. It was done better in Ace Combat 4, I think, but still nice to watch.
0:58 My XP has bumped me up to "Level 2." I unlocked a new map, two new planes and a new rank: "Airman." Hopefully my opponents can't defeat Airman. *nerd rim shot*
0:59 Oh look, a letter from Artemis Security offering to hire me after the Air Force cans me. How sweet. "I'm only interested in the very best, and frankly, your name is at the top of my list." Flattery will get you EVERYWHERE!
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? The install robbed me of half my hour, but the half I actually played showed great controls and lots of promise, assuming it gets a bit harder.
This column is based on a retail copy of the game rented from GameFly.
Read Gus Mastrapa's review.
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