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October 5, 2010
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
10/9/2010UbisoftUbisoftUbisoft Bucharest12-8
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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H.A.W.X. 2 is out now on Playstation 3.
It's been a long time since I've had the opportunity to play an air combat game, so when I got the chance to review Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X 2 (in the interest of brevity I'm going to call it HAWX 2 from here on out) I jumped at it. The air combat genre has been a bit neglected in the past, but with Afterburner Climax and Top Gun out now on the PSN, HAWX 2 already in stores, and a new Ace Combat game due out in 2011 that's about to change. Is HAWX 2 the air combat game you simply have to have, or should you save your pennies for something else? Read on...

The game is set in the near future where tensions in the Middle East are once again on the boil. Given the rising tensions the HAWX squad has set up a base in the area to ensure they are on-hand to help defuse any major flare ups. It doesn't take long the situation to escalate, with the HAWX base targeted in the very first level and it only gets worse from there; the Russians and Brits get involved, some nukes go missing, Norway is invaded and the world is generally thrown into mid-level chaos. It‘s lucky then that elite pilots from all over the world (you'll control pilots from the US, UK and Russia during the story) are united in fighting against the chaos and restoring balance to the world once more.

Although HAWX 2 provides just about the complete airplane experience, including take-offs, mid-air refuelling and landing, there is no doubt the game is more arcadey than it is simulator. Given the broader target audience, the game takes a few steps to make even the least-experienced pilot feel comfortable in the cockpit. Taking off is as easy as can be – it's just a matter of accelerating until you reach take off speed, and anyone having trouble landing their plane can call on a helpful feature called ERS (enhanced reality system) which brings up an on-screen pathway for you to follow in order to land safely. It's also extremely difficult to stall your plane, whilst high speed turns and maneuvers that would have even the hardiest real-life pilots reaching for the doggy-bag are more or less standard here. The controls are about as straightforward as you could hope for; R2 accelerates, L2 brakes, L1 and R1 control the yaw, circle fires your cannon and the cross button fires your equipped missile or bomb. Missiles and bombs lock-on you targets automatically but you can change your target by pressing the triangle button.

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Getting a gun pointed at you!
The game has a gentle learning curve; first you are taught how to fly, then you learn the basics of dogfighting and then you're let you loose on the opposing armies. Story missions are quite varied, though unsurprisingly you'll spend most of your time duking it out in dogfights against enemy fighters. During missions you'll have to deal with a variety of different ground targets including mobile artillery, enemy strongholds, ships and even a train. Often your objectives are time-sensitive, so you're up against both the enemy armies and the clock. There are also a couple of missions that test your piloting rather than killing skills, asking you to make a getaway through a narrow canyon, or to fly through a tiny tunnel to reach your objective.

Interestingly, not all missions in the game have you flying about in your own plane. Occasionally reconnaissance is required and you take part in the search via an unmanned UAV aircraft. In these missions you follow a person of interest around the map in order to tap their phone conversations, or you mark buildings with a strobe. Unfortunately both of these tasks require little interaction other than to move the UAVs target over the indicated building or vehicle when instructed – there is no need to search things out for yourself. Other missions have you controlling the guns of an AC-130 to take down an army who are chasing after some of your operatives. The AC-130 has some powerful weaponry which makes it a blast to use, but the missions are a bit too easy and undemanding – just point and shoot.

Outside of the story there are a couple of other game modes to check out. There's a survival mode, where you have to survive ten waves of the opposing army's ground and air attacks, as well as an arcade mode which repeats the story missions but changes the ammunition you have at your disposal to make them harder. You can also replay story missions with any of the other planes you've unlocked, though your selections will frequently be limited by the mission you want to play. If you're in the mood for flying but not fighting you can try out free flight, which allows you to fly any unlocked plane around an empty sky for a spot of sight-seeing.

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Kane & Lynch 2, developed by Io Interactive.
At the end of every level you're given experience points for enemy kills, as well as any challenges or objectives you complete. Every time you go up a level you are given an XP token which can be redeemed for rewards such as new planes as well as passive and support abilities that will help you in-game. An example of a passive ability is increased damage for your heat seeking missiles, whilst an example support ability is being able to jam the radar of the enemy. There are around fifty rewards to unlock, and given you'll only reach level twenty or so by completing the story, you'll have plenty of reason to replay the story missions and try out the other modes in order to unlock all of the rewards. Uplay, an Ubisoft rewards program of sorts, makes a return and has a couple of goodies you can get your hands on such as a new skin for one of your planes, a wallpaper for your PS3 and a new multi-player map. If you're feeling particularly good about your skills you can record your missions at any time and upload the video to the HAWX servers to hopefully impress your friends.

Multiplayer plays a big role in HAWX 2, with the entire story playable in co-op with up to three friends both online and locally (through a LAN setup). There's no doubt that playing with friends is more fun than with the intelligence-challenged AI you're saddled with in solo play, but the difficulty doesn't scale well, making some levels too easy with your friends. Unless you have some friends lined up in advance it can be a challenge to find people to play story missions with; the lobby has been sparsely populated in the time I've had to review the game. Outside of the co-op story campaign there are six multiplayer maps to try out (with another unlockable through Uplay), each with their own objectives. They are mostly team battles, but you'll have to worry about more than just the opposition team, as ground forces sometimes target you both indiscriminately. In other maps you'll have to take out ground targets as well as the enemy team if you hope to win. These modes were more populated online than the co-op story, so you should have no trouble finding a game to join.

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Plane detail in HAWX2 can't fail to impress.
Although the game starts off well, there are a couple of big issues that make it less fun the more you play it. Firstly, the story feels unoriginal and uninspired, which is disappointing given Tom Clancy's name on the box. Part of the problem is the setting – the story is told in the form of mission briefings so the characters have no opportunity to be charismatic or interesting. There is some pre-engagement banter between pilots, but your allies tend to say the most inane things and unlike the mission briefings, you can't skip these scenes. The story feels rather run-of-the-mill; you've seen it all before and there are no major plot-twists to liven things up.

If you find the story uninteresting, then it's a double-whammy when the missions get started again. The game suffers from some pretty significant AI issues, to both your allies and your enemies. In most missions you'll be accompanied by a few friends, but even in battles that last half an hour or more, it's rare that you'll see them have any significant impact. A quick look at the radar will show a number of enemy planes flying extremely close to you, with nary an ally to be found. The enemy AI is a pain in later levels as they manage to fly so close to you that it's almost impossible to get a lock with your missiles, which means you're going to have to use your cannon to eliminate them. Cannons cannot lock on, so you have to try and get behind enemies to shoot them down – something that is extremely hard when they're pulling off all sorts of evasive twists and turns at over seven-hundred kilometres an hour. Generally if you're able to get a missile lock on an enemy plane they either throw out flares to throw your missiles off the scent, or even more frustratingly, your missiles simply miss. Given that some engagements last well over half an hour with most of your time spent flying in circles looking for an elusive missile lock, you'll soon find you've had your fill of it.

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Ground textures really are impressive in HAWX2.
The last major issue I had was that the auto-target can be extremely unhelpful at times. I could aceept that in a mission with twenty-odd targets to choose from, the auto-target would frequently choose the least useful one on the map. What is hard to excuse though, is it failing to lock on to your mission objectives. In certain missions you have to defend your allies from many different enemies including boats, missile silos, helicopters and planes, and it can be hard to tell exactly who is the most threatening. The auto-target is no help whatsoever, and will often direct you to faraway enemies who pose no threat at all. You can change the target easily enough, but even then it doesn't always choose the enemy you're bearing down on, and when you're flying at high-speed, low to the ground, the last thing you need is another unnecessary obstacle to be thrown in your path.

The game looks great from the air, and given that's where you'll be spending most of your time this is a good thing. The landscapes are all generated with photos from GeoEye, a satellite and aerial imagery service, so you won't find more realistic images anywhere. When you get close to the ground or other objects like bridges and trees, things tend to look out of focus and low-quality but this won't detract much from the experience. The different planes all looked good to me, though I am no expert on such things. Explosions are a bit of a letdown – there's really not much going on there unfortunately. The HUD is clear and concise, showing your speed, altitude, the distance to a targeted enemy as well as how much ammunition you have left for the selected weapon all at a glance. Cutscenes are a definite weakness as most scenes are jerky; it looks like a few animations are missing. To steal a line from Superintendent Chalmers, the soldiers walk like “the rod up their butt has a rod up its butt”.

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Flying low over the oil refinery.
The sound has good and bad aspects; explosions lack any real force and the voice-acting is just ok. The friends who accompany you on missions say idiotic things before missions, and during them they shout out things like “bogey on your six”, or “they've got a lock on you”. Given avoiding enemy missiles is one of the first things you're taught in the game, such comments are thoroughly tiresome long before you reach the end. They say the same kind of stuff when you stall – it sounds like they're saying something just to be heard, and they never offer anything insightful. On the plus side, audio cues for events like stalling and locking on missiles stand out well in the heat of battle, so kudos must be given for that.

Overall I found HAWX 2 to be a really fun game... for five or six hours. After that the lack of an engaging story, plus the AI of the allies (non-existent) and enemies (frustrating) started to get the better of me. There's only so much flying in circles one can find fun, and unfortunately in HAWX 2 you'll have had your fill long before the game is over. On the other hand if you air combat games are your cup of tea you may be able to excuse some of these shortcomings. For such people HAWX 2 represents a great value pickup – the story mode lasts fifteen or more hours, there are a few multiplayer options, and a stack of rewards which require you to invest plenty of time into if you want to unlock them all. If you love air combat games then HAWX 2 is definitely worth checking out. For everyone else I'd suggest that hiring it will give you your fill.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSThe satellite imagery looks great from the sky, the HUD is clear and concise and the planes look authentic. The cutscenes are sub-par though, and the explosions don't look as pretty as they should.
SOUNDThe voice-acting is bland, and the music won't knock your socks off. The in-game effects are good, though I do wish the explosions sounded a bit beefier.
GAMEPLAYThe controls are easy to pick up, and the planes respond well. The AI of both the allies and enemy armies could use an overhaul though.
VALUEFour solo game modes, though two of them are pretty much the same (story and arcade). Multiplayer is fun, but not deep, and it can be hard to find friends to fly with. There are a heap of unlockables if you want to keep playing.
OVERALLI enjoyed HAWX 2 for about five or six hours but after that the unoriginal story, as well as suspect AI started to grate. It's not a bad game, but it's largely unremarkable. One for the fans then.

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