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April 11, 2009
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
12/3/2009UbisoftUbisoftUbisoft Romania12-8
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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H.A.W.X. looks absolutely stunning.
Tom Clancy. An author that started off writing post cold-war and espionage stories back in the 90s put his name to the niche yet successful Rainbow Six series of squad based shooters. Urban warfare wasn't quite cutting it for Tom, so he then put his name to the Ghost Recon series of squad-based shooters, this time set in more outdoor environments. And following this he endorsed the acclaimed Splinter Cell series that we've come to love. After all this, has Tom finally retired to the Bahamas to sip cocktails on the beach? Of course not! Once again the Tom Clancy Stamp-Of-Approval™ has made an appearance, in Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., but this time there's no flash-bangs, remote charges or sniper rifles in sight.

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This is an gameplay screen with HUD.
In a twist to all previous Tom Clancy titles, HAWX doesn't involve espionage action or crack-squads at all, but rather focuses on the flight support that the squads (particularly in Ghost Recon) receive. Set in 2014 you play the role of David Crenshaw, a former US Air Force pilot who has just been employed by Artemis Global Security; a private military company. Flying various fighter aircraft from today and tomorrow, the game follows your career with Artemis, through various attack, defend and escort missions.

The storyline in HAWX begins a little slowly, and feels a little stop-start at times not dissimilar to earlier Ace Combat games. Missions are briefed beforehand with well structured FMV sequences outlining the background and rationale to what your objectives are, in addition to the objectives themselves. There isn't a huge amount of tie-in between the briefing sections and the flight gameplay however – that is, the style, pace, visuals and overall ‘feeling' is quite different between the two and as such it's very stop-start between the two. Perhaps a smoother transition between the two, and even FMV sequences midway through missions could have helped to alleviate this.

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Flying near a Space Shuttle launch!
A nice touch in the story-telling side of things is the flight 'lessons' several missions in to the storyline when you begin to learn more advanced flight techniques. The first half of a mission is dedicated to mastering these techniques against drone aircrafts, while the latter half requires you to put these new skills into practice.

Initially HAWX looks and feels just like another flight simulator, but small changes are gradually brought into the gameplay which make you realise that there's some potential to the extras here. Initially the flight controls begin in "assistance mode" which is just like normal flight simulators, however the CPU kicks in some extra juice when required to prevent you from stalling – think of it like an automatic car. Assistance mode can later be disabled, which not only allows you to stall the plane, but also drift and perform tight manoeuvres; this is great for dogfighting and dodging radar-guided missiles. With assistance mode off, the camera switches from a first person or tight external cockpit view, to an almost fly-by third person view which focuses on our main target. While it doesn't control as sharply as with assistance mode on, almost comically so (drift planes anyone?) it's still playable, and looks nice for any spectators you may have (and screenshots!).

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Planes look wonderful in Ubisoft's H.A.W.X.
ERS – Enhanced Reality System is another of HAWK's extra features, and appears as a rollercoaster-like tunnel on the flight HUD. This is enabled by pressing square when chasing an enemy, dodging missiles, or going down a pre-defined flight path (such as for a steep bombing run). It's not required, but makes a beneficial addition for newbies who might not otherwise know their ups from downs with their head 20,000ft up in the clouds.

Unfortunately, it's these extras which constitute one of HAWK's shortcomings; while turning assistance mode off had the intention of making the game slightly more realistic with stalling; it completely changes the physics and feel of the game. Hey, this would be good if it were an arcade fighting flight sim, however with the officially licensed planes and the atmosphere that the game sets out to achieve, it just comes across as feeling... perhaps a little... confused? It's like having Gran Turismo suddenly growing power-up boxes on the track, and loop-the-loop corkscrews just after the main straight; there's a time and place for each of these two styles, but mixing them in the same game just comes across as trying to do too much.

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Another action packed screen!
It isn't all trying too much though; in contrast to most flight simulators, HAWX has checkpoints available midway through a mission too. So, if you get shot down in a flaming wreck halfway through the final dogfight of a long mission, you don't have to restart from the very beginning (unless your heart desires). When I first encountered this I thought it seemed like a cheap way out, but after being shot down 3 or 4 times in some of the harder battles late in the game I discovered that this was a very welcome addition.

You don't have to be an art critic to notice that the screenshots of HAWX look great, and it keeps up the high standard when the game's in motion also. Lighting and shimmer off the sea looks great, but explosions could do with a bit more ‘boom' and vapour trails a little longer however. Ubisoft have promoted the IKONOS satellite imagery used in-game for the ground imagery, and from a birds-eye view it looks brilliant, with real world locations and scenery. Get close to the ground though, and much of the scenery is pixellated and the sea lacks its sparkle, which is especially annoying for half of the missions involve ground based combat and bombing runs. All niggles aside; the frame rate remains steady even throughout the thickest of firefights, which is surprising for a game such as this with a zillion vapour trails and explosions on screen simultaneously.

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Check out how busy the skies are in H.A.W.X.!
The sounds of the jets roaring in HAWX is as you'd expect from a game like this. There's voice comms throughout the mission to tell you what to do (ontop of visual waypoints), though you'd be forgiven for not seeing the commander's face in the top corner throughout – he's boring looking and easy to miss, though his presence is useful. Even if he does sound like he's talking through a wet sock.

Tom Clancy's HAWX is a good game which has come along to fill a niche left by the unfortunate lack of Ace Combat on the PS3. Many things have been improved on since the last Ace Combat incarnations (albeit on the PS2), but then again HAWX is let down with its own gremlins; aside from those mentioned earlier, poor (and repetitive) mission design and a very bare-bones multiplayer mode. That said, judging by the history of Tom Clancy games with more sequels than most other series, I don't foresee that it'll be too long until there's another HAWX title out there to address the shortcomings in this one. Until then, HAWX is a good game which will keep flight action fans amused, and while the multiplayer is a bit shallow there's plenty of replay value in the single player mode.

Review By: Chris Gobbett

GRAPHICSPretty as a postcard, as long as you steer clear of the ground.
SOUNDSounds as you'd expect from jets and missiles, but nothing special.
GAMEPLAYSplit personality gameplay isn't helped by poor mission design.
VALUEMultiplayer's shallow, but the single player challenge system is funky.
OVERALLThe flight niche on the PS3 has been filled with a very competent title in Tom Clancy's HAWX. Sure the game has it's flaws, but if you enjoy the game for what it offers, rather than the shortcomings, there's plenty of fun to be had.

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