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?
Lame Name, Potentially Good Game
July 18, 2008 – The Tom Clancy name has been attached to some excellent franchises over the years. With great games like Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter showing fans the quality that inevitably comes with the name, any time Tom Clancy gets attached to a game people naturally take notice. Although many expect these games to involve controlling a character or group of characters on foot and brandishing guns, Tom Clancy’s latest outing is a serious departure from this formula, as players will take warfare to the skies in Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X.
As with most of the previous games that bare the Tom Clancy name, H.A.W.X. is simply visually stunning. The first thing you will notice is just how beautiful the aircraft are. Over fifty planes are realistically recreated with intricate details and accurate modeling. They are also well animated, complete with superheated exhaust spewing from their tail. Once you can finally convince yourself to take your eyes off of your plane, prepare for your jaw to hit the floor.
H.A.W.X. is host to some of the most visually impressive backdrops that have ever been seen. The maps are incredibly vast and yet still richly detailed and full of variety. While flying high in the sky it is hard to gauge what exactly resides on the ground, but upon closer inspection there are fully realized cities with unique buildings and surroundings. Not only are these maps gorgeous but they are also incredibly realistic. To guarantee that the game didn’t weigh style over substance, actual satellite photographs and data were used to produce amazingly accurate recreations of their real life counterparts. No matter which of the seventeen included maps you are playing on, expect to be stunned when flying low to the ground.
Fortunately, H.A.W.X.’s gameplay seems to focus more on combat and less on flight simulation. Often in games that involve flight, you will be punished for not flying correctly. While there is still the possibility of stalling out, H.A.W.X. is a lot more forgiving than I would have expected. This allows you to perform necessary maneuvers and experiment with the controls without the constant fear of crashing headfirst into the ground. Even if you do happen to stall your plane, leveling your wings and gassing will usually help you regain control.
For players who are still afraid of taking control of aircraft, the game also includes a very useful assistance mode that should put your fears to rest. This mode will make it virtually impossible to crash your plane. When activated, it basically eliminates the possibility of stalling out and also provides you with a colored path to follow. This path will lead you wherever you need to go, whether it is to find an enemy to shoot down or your mission objective. Thankfully, this mode can be turned on and off easily while playing with a few button presses, allowing players to use it whenever they feel the need. The only real downfall of this “safe mode” is you will not be able to perform the game’s most stylish, and often necessary, aerial maneuvers when it is activated.
H.A.W.X.’s storyline is standard Tom Clancy fare and even has ties to other titles such as Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. It takes place in the near future, as things seem to be getting heated in South America. As usual, the U.S. steps in and attempts to end the conflict before it can become a much larger problem. Not surprisingly, this results in basically a full-scale war that has you dog-fighting around the world.
The single-player campaign will include seventeen missions to complete. While not everything has been revealed just yet, there should be a good variety of objectives for each mission. Fortunately, players will also be able to team up with friends to help bring peace back to the skies. The campaign will support up to four player co-op that allows for teammates to jump in and out at any time. Details about multiplayer are also scarce, but a four vs. four deathmatch mode has already been shown. Players will earn points for every plane they shoot down, with the points eventually being used to affect the current match. Points can be spent on things like repair drones and EMP blasts that will give your team the upper hand during battle.
With its beautiful and realistic graphics, forgiving controls, and fun gameplay H.A.W.X. may just give Ace Combat a run for its money when it is released. While there aren’t tons of flight combat games to be found on the market, this certainly looks like it will be a great addition. If you are a fan of the genre or just a big Tom Clancy buff, you should definitely keep your eye on this one as it approaches release. Just make sure to have your Top Gun soundtrack cued up, as you will likely take this title into the Danger Zone.