Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. Hands-On Preview
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. box art
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
Unfriendly Skies
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.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. screenshot

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.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. screenshot

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.

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. screenshot

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?

By Nathan Meunier
CCC Staff Contributor

Game Features:

  • ENHANCED REALITY SYSTEM (E.R.S.): E.R.S. is in-game technology that helps turn novice aviators into elite pilots of the future. The Enhanced Reality System is the backbone of the H.A.W.X. flight experience: radars and incoming missile detection, anti-crash system, damage control system, tactical map and information relay, and weapons trajectory control. E.R.S. also allows players to issue orders to their squadron, making this system as iconic to H.A.W.X. as the Cross-Com system is to Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.
  • ASSISTANCE MODE: Players can ease into their flight missions and gain a level of comfort with the use of the assistance mode. Once employed, players can take full advantage of their technological support through the E.R.S and gain maximum piloting security. If the situation calls for the player to unleash the full potential of the aircraft, the assistance mode can be switched off and all safety features will be deactivated. This comes with increased risks, but allows the player advanced dogfighting maneuvers and stunning third-person views.
  • REVOLUTIONARY MULTIPLAYER: For the first time ever in the air-combat genre, players will be able to experience the entire solo campaign in four-player JUMP IN co-op mode. In PVP mode, players can challenge up to 15 friends in intense dog-fighting sessions and find out who's the top gun. Winning players are rewarded with experience points and money to unlock more weapons.
  • REALISM AND AUTHENTICITY: Players have the opportunity to take the throttle of over 50 of the world's most famous aircrafts, as well as being able to dogfight over realistic modern landscapes that have endured years of post-war trauma.

  • Screenshots / Images
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