In the Danger Zone
While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the old adage “if man were meant to fly, he would have been given wings,” playing Tom Clancy’s HAWX 2 has made me seriously rethink this decision. Much like the issues Icarus had with his wings made of wax and feathers, HAWX 2 feels like Ubisoft was trying to fly too closely to the sun this time around, resulting in a failure to reach their lofty goals. I’m not saying this sequel is a horrible game by any means; however, it has several issues, not the least of which being an identity crisis, but I’ll get into that in a bit.
With the name Tom Clancy in the title, you know to expect HAWX 2 to involve some sort of random government conspiracy or impending nuclear disaster. While I’d love to sum up exactly what the game’s storyline is about, I can honestly say it was so uninteresting and unimportant to the gameplay that I found it hard to pay attention to, especially due to the game’s subpar cutscenes. I know the game starts off by saying some nuclear missiles were stolen from Russia, ostensibly making resolving that issue the focal point of the adventure. However, since the majority of the game is just a mishmash of dogfights and aerial combat, it can be easy to lose sight of any of the context behind it.
I specifically mention the subpar cutscenes because they are easily the worst part of HAWX 2’s visuals. While the game’s aircraft and environments look great, it seems odd the cinematics would look drastically worse than the gameplay. You’ll notice most of the human characters just look awful, and there are seemingly constant framerate issues while these clips are running. Thankfully, the gameplay’s visuals are much better, with sleek and glossy planes, incredibly detailed environments (thanks to GeoEye satellite imagery), and some nice effects, such as dust trails being blown on the ground by closely passing aircraft.
Taking a decidedly Modern Warfare approach to the missions, you’ll be dropped into the shoes of American, British, and Russian pilots throughout the course of the game. As the story jumps back and forth between these different pilots, making it even more difficult to follow what is going on, the only thing that attempts to help you know who you are currently playing as are the different nationalities’ accents. However, as I stated earlier, following the story isn’t a prerequisite for actually playing the game, as all you’re required to do is follow the disembodied voice’s instructions.
Unfortunately, this winds up being harder than it sounds. Many times throughout the course of the game, I was instructed to destroy a target but wasn’t given any clue as to where it could be found. The game attempts to give you some direction, usually outlining your target in a yellow box and pointing you in the right direction. However, this isn’t always the case, as I had to fail the same portion of a few missions several times in order to figure out what the disembodied voice actually wanted me to do.
Things get even worse when you take into account you’ll typically be asked to destroy something, while also being attacked by other fighters and trying to protect friendly ground forces. You’d like to think you could rely on help from the wingmen who accompany you on almost every mission; however, they are almost completely useless. While you are fighting for your life, trying to get a lock on enemy planes and dumping flares to survive incoming missiles, your wingmen seem content to fly around in circles, rarely being able to take out a single fighter on their own. It seems incredibly odd your friendly A.I. wingmen are so completely useless considering how intelligent and difficult to evade the enemy’s planes can be. This just leads to frustration, as it often seems like you are carrying the entire weight of these conflicts on your back, with little to no help coming from the people supposedly there to help you.
Fortunately, HAWX 2 attempts to break up the pressures of these constant battles, giving players some missions that don’t involve dodging missiles and returning fire. Liberally sprinkled throughout the campaign are missions that will have the player taken out of the cockpit and placed in slightly different situations than they are accustomed to. This includes controlling a UAV and manning the guns on an AC-130. The missions involving the UAV are mostly quite boring, having you tracking individuals, listening in on conversations, and tagging targets. Taking control of the AC-130, on the other hand, is much more entertaining. In one mission, you will be tasked with helping to cover a ground transport’s escape, using this over-powered craft’s weapons. While it plays out similarly to the AC-130 segments in Modern Warfare 2, it offers a nice alternative to dogfighting.
However, this is where HAWX 2 gets into identity crisis trouble. While I found these non-traditional levels to be much needed breaks from the repetitive aerial combat, the folks this game is trying to appeal to will likely wonder why they are in the game at all. If you’re going into this game looking for nothing but a series of levels that put you in the cockpit of fast and deadly dogfighting aircrafts, you will probably not want to have to slog through missions that have you staring at buildings in order to overhear a prisoner being tortured or take away your control by placing you on rails in an AC-130.
Still, the dogfighting that is there is just as satisfying, but repetitive, as it was in the original. HAWX 2’s mix of arcade and simulation flight helps to allow players to perform plenty of interesting maneuvers in order to gain the upper hand on their enemies. Also, the addition of take-offs, landings, and mid-flight refueling are welcome, as they add to the immersion of the game. However, while these aspects do make the game feel more immersive, I can’t help but wonder why you need to refuel at all, given there is no fuel gauge to be found anywhere and you will never actually run out of fuel.
You’ll also find a ton of gameplay to be had in HAWX 2. Aside from the single-player campaign, you’re also given a few other modes to tackle. Survival Mode is essentially Horde Mode for planes, giving you ever increasing waves of enemies to combat. Arcade Mode has you running back through single-player missions, with each one receiving a twist such as taking a different plane or having limited weapons. Then there’s Free Flight Mode, which allows players to simply fly around the game’s environments without having to worry about being attacked and shot down. Between the lengthy single-player campaign (which can also be played through cooperatively with up to three other players), these additional modes, and the multiplayer options, you could find yourself playing this game for a long time to come.
If you were a fan of the original HAWX, you’ll likely want to give HAWX 2 a chance. While it adds some missions that may put off the original game’s fan base, the dogfighting core of the game remains and is still entertaining. However, if you’ve never played the original HAWX, you may enjoy having these non-traditional missions wedged between the game’s constant aerial battles, making this a better place for you to get into the series. Either way, HAWX 2 is still a competent game, although probably not as improved, polished, or entertaining as it could have been.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
When playing, HAWX 2 looks great, but the cutscenes don’t live up to the same quality. 3.4 Control
While it is possible to perform some great aerial maneuvers, the controls feel a tad cumbersome. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music, sound effects, and voice acting is all well done, however, an affinity for screeching guitar rock is a prerequisite for some of the tunes. 3.6 Play Value
While there is a ton of content in this game between all of its modes, all but the missions that take you out of the cockpit play out similarly (take out this target, destroy these planes, and repeat). 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.