Hawken Review
Hawken Box Art
System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Dev: Adhesive Games
Pub: Meteor Entertainment
Release: December 12, 2012
Players: 1-16
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Violence
Heavy Metal Discord
by Shelby Reiches

It feels weird reviewing a game that is blatantly in open beta, but, given that Hawken’s cash shop is open and has been since the “open beta” launched on December 12, it certainly feels like a legitimate release. And they want your money. They want it as badly as any other developer out there, but Hawken is a free-to-play title, and so it must be a bit less transparent in how it proposes to part you from your money.

The first step appears to be making a game that doesn’t carry the most common markers of a free-to-play title. Hawken has gorgeous graphics (but runs smoothly) both on a technical and aesthetic level. The post-nanovirus industrial arenas of Hawken are that carefully engineered sort of haphazard that befit the original Death Star, thousands of intricate metal parts that seem both random and purposeful at once, or rocky deserts with mechanical husks providing shade, cover, and texture.

Hawken Screenshot

On a more functional level, the cockpit has been cleaned up a bit since the E3 demo. Though it still prefers rendered gauges over a completely free-floating HUD (better befitting the theme of the game), there are now more colors than gray and green, making it easier to assess one’s status on the fly. This is further aided by graphical indications of damage, such as a cracking windshield and glaring red lights that inform you of your imminent destruction. There are other little touches, too, such as your mech’s visible arms (à la Steel Battalion) and the superb animations.

Sound, too, is impressive, with the mechs making meaty crunches as they stomp through the game’s arenas, missiles exploding in the air about them, gunfire ricocheting off the walls or your enemy’s hull. There’s this terrific impact to the sound effects that ensures you know what’s going on, even if it’s hard to visually determine what’s happening around you (and, given how fast-paced a game it is, it can be). Hawken’s production values are certainly above reproach, and will do their part to draw you in, but the fast-paced, often hectic combat will be what keeps you there. That and the customization element.

Hawken Screenshot

The game’s style of play lands halfway between that of a mech sim from the olden days of PC gaming and a first-person shooter. Best controlled with either a dual-analog setup or a mouse and keyboard, Hawken’s mechs move fairly quickly when just milling around, but also possess an extended, boosted jump, the fuel for which can also be used to dash along the terrain so as to quickly cover ground. In combat, lateral dashes are more akin to quick boosts, mech hopping dramatically aside and potentially out of the way of a deadly volley of missiles. This action has a bit of a cooldown that is independent from the fuel gauge, so repeated zig-zag dashing is not a viable strategy.

There are four game modes, encompassing the basic deathmatch and team deathmatch, as well as Missile Assault and Siege. Missile Assault is Domination, with three missile silos that, when controlled, launch their payloads at the enemy’s base, gradually bringing its health total down until it crumbles to the ground. Siege, meanwhile, involves first gathering energy resources from hotly contested wells, then returning that energy to base to launch a battleship. Once one (or both) of the battleships have been launched, the focus switches to the anti-air missile launchers around the map. Control them so that they fire on the enemy’s battleship, taking it down and allowing your own to do damage to the enemy’s base. Rinse and repeat until one team’s base is destroyed.

Hawken Screenshot

None of these are especially complex, which is okay. They’re a lot of fun, the actual matches forcing you to constantly be on the move, aware of what’s going on around you, shifting fluidly between offense and defense as you seek a hidden corner in which to repair. In capture-based modes, objectives are generally close enough together that moving from one to the next is quick, but you can’t just stay at one and defend the lot of them (a testament to the game’s map design).

Where it all starts to break down is in the “free-to-play” nature of the game. Mech games have always been predicated on variety. The only distinguishing characteristics between them and other shooters are their typically plodding pace (comparatively) and the malleability of the combatants themselves. Hawken largely does away with the plodding pace of other mech games, but it still has the customization elements in reserve. They’ve certainly been dumbed down, though.

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