|System: X360, PS3, PC, Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Ubisoft Romania||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 3, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-16||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
February 12, 2009 - Given the fact numerous Tom Clancy titles have already been well established as bastions of quality military gaming centered on strategic, soldier-based ground warfare, few would have expected to see the next high-caliber action game affixed with the best-selling author's name be about rocketing through the skies strapped into the cockpit of a well-armed jet fighter. Anyone questioning such a move will be pleasantly surprised by the intense dog-fighting found in Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
Anticipation for the game has been steadily building in the months leading up to its release, due in-part to the game's stunning visuals and the unexpected surprise of an airborne Clancy title. Since it's such a major departure from the norm, fans and naysayers alike are bound to be wondering whether H.A.W.X. will rise to the occasion or drop a payload of garbage when the game launches next month. Going hands-on with the demo has left us impressed and craving more. Grab your flight suit and hit the tarmac; it's time to fly.
Opening in 2021 with a complex military conflict unfolding in South America that even ties into other Tom Clancy works, H.A.W.X. will have you piloting over 50 fighter craft, as the skies blaze with explosions and shrapnel in intense airborne combat around the globe. After a brief training mission to become acclimated to the flight controls, we jumped headlong into a combat scenario against air, ground, and naval forces. Escalating military tensions between Brazil and Trinidad lead to fully-armed invasion of Rio de Janeiro, and the U.S. steps in. At the helm of an F-16 Falcon, taking to the skies suddenly gets a lot more exciting.
Even before getting into aerial acrobatics and missile-launching glee, the look and feel of the plane as it maneuvers is extremely impressive. With assistance mode turned on, the camera rests just behind the fighter ship, offering a nice, close-up view of the detailing and light reflecting off the exterior. An unobtrusive HUD makes it easy to parse crucial incoming information about objectives, targets, and armament.
The attention to visual detail in the game can only be described as immaculate. Launched missiles whizz off the wing in a cloud of smoke and fire, leaving a tail spiraling behind them en-route to their target. Looking up from the ship itself, the gorgeous blue sky was full of fluffy clouds (you can fly through them) and the bright sunlight glinted vibrantly. Tipping the nose down provided a stunning look at the landscape and city infrastructure below. The topography, mountains, and buildings in the city itself are all meticulously constructed from satellite imagery; they're breathtaking at 3,000 feet and hold up nicely when you dip down to skim the treetops.
H.A.W.X. fortunately features a control style tailored to an action-heavy experience, and it takes only a minute or so to get comfortable with the different commands. Gameplay leans more to the air combat simulation, rather than a data-intensive flight sim. In assistance mode it's impossible to stall, and the behind-the-exhaust pipe camera angle makes it easy to stay on track. Turning this off with a quick double tap of the left or right trigger pans the camera back a distance (at a different angle) and gives you full control over the fighter. This equates to a blank check to pull some crazy, Top Gun flying, and the angle is just perfect to offer a front-row seat of the aerial acrobatic action. While it's slightly harder to aim and lock onto targets in this perspective, the maneuverability it affords is crucial to dodging incoming missiles and other ordinance. A particularly cool move that's easy to pull off involves cutting your engines at high speed while quickly turning and then jamming your thrusters back on. You can also pull off the standard loop-de-loops and other slick moves with ease.
The Rio de Janeiro scenario had our squad taking out incoming bogies high over the city, before diving down to skyscraper level to deal with tanks rolling through the city streets and in-between the tall buildings. Dealing with the latter often necessitated engagement of the ERS system that provides a visual flight path guide to help you align your approach to intercept targets or get a perfect lock during bombing runs. Throughout the mission the intercom crackled continuously with new orders and reports of waves of incoming ships. Dividing my attention to deal with each new threat, while enjoying the views and managing my wingmen, was an exciting task. Also, every foe I shot down yielded precious experience points, and leveling-up granted access to a harrier jet that handled differently and had a different weapons load-out.
If the thrilling but short experience offered in the demo is any indication of what lies in store for anxious gamers next month, Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. will no doubt be an unmitigated success. The gameplay is super tight, the visuals are amazing, and Clancy's stories are highly engaging. What more is there to ask for?
CCC Staff Contributor