Review: H.A.W.X.

Tom Clancy’s line of video games usually never fails to impress. You’ve got Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and Splinter Cell to power the line straight to the top of charts when new titles are released. H.A.W.X. (High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron), the latest addition to the lineup, take to the skies with real world jets and arcade-style gameplay. While this is absolutely no Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation, what’s here is very much enjoyable, especially if you’re more into the fun aspect of gaming rather than the technical or graphical – and who usually isn’t?

H.A.W.X. is, by no means, a flight sim. If that’s what you’re looking for, you will most definitely be disappointed. All of the focus has been shifted to purely combat. You don’t have to worry yourself wth complicated control schemes, learning to correctly take off or land, or structuring missions. It’s all been handily laid out for you here, making the title accessible for both genre veterans and newcomers alike.

Missions range from escorts to good, old-fashioned “shoot down every enemy plane in sight” romps. Your primary method of fire is via missiles, which never run out. A simple targeting lock-on is all you need to take note of when thinning out the baddies in each mission. Flying to an enemy seen easily via the Tac-Map on the lower left of the screen prompts a yellow missile lock-on. From there, you just fire off as many missiles as it takes to ensure they connect with the enemy. After that, simply lather, rinse, and repeat. You’ll become best friends with missiles, as they get the job done quickly and effectively. Each level is comprised of inherently the same challenges that will require much of the same kind of maneuvers from you each time, so you’ll be come accustomed to the way things work in no time.

What there is a variety of in H.A.W.X. is in the department of airplanes and the like available to choose from. Before each outing you’re given the choice between with plane and set of ammunition you’d like to take on the mission. If that doesn’t make too much sense for you, and you can’t understand or decide what needs to come along, a “recommended” package is available to hasten the process. If you’re more into customizing your plane, however, you can tailor loadouts and even the plane to what each mission might require. To aid you, the game includes percentages of what you may find in the ensuing level – you won’t be going into things blindly.

To keep you moving long after you complete the 10-hour campaign mode, there is an extensive library of in-game challenges to complete. While these don’t usually yield “real” achievements in the 360 sense, this RPG-lite element will award XP for certain challenges successfully completed. For instance, if you kill enough enemies with a specific weapon, you’ll garner a good chunk of XP to put toward obtaining skills. It’s an aspect of the game that you’ll enjoy as you rack up more points, a la Call of Duty’s multiplayer challenges.

As previously stated, don’t expect any complicated flight mechanics. H.A.W.X. is nothing at all like a flight sim. It’s terribly difficult to crash into the ground unless you’re just not paying any attention at all. The game provides auto-assistance, which does most of the work for you. This does tend to make the game a bit less threatening, as the fear of crashing and burning is all but removed unless you’re a completely clumsy flyer. This is where the game becomes just a bit transparent, as it isn’t too challenging when there is little danger of failing present, except on higher difficulties. Each mission is quite short, however, and takes little time to wade through. Though the game does offer plenty of missions to satiate your hunger for gameplay, you will find yourself finishing up rather quickly.

The biggest draw is most certainly the gameplay, as H.A.W.X.’s story leaves much to be desired. It’s by no means a gripping narrative seeing as it’s told through text and voiceovers throughout each mission. As a retired USAF pilot (David Crenshaw) who has just began his career with PMC Artemis Gloal Security, you’ll be embarking on various fire-support missions with the unit known as H.A.W.X. While there are some twists to uncover, the plot can become a bit confusing and convoluted due to the rate at which story details are unraveled.

As for the graphics – they’re most defnitely not the best you will encounter, but they’re detailed enough for gamers to appreciate the authenticity of each plane. However, one glaring flaw you can take note of is the fact that when you fly low to the ground, things become far too pixellated too quickly. There are no cutscenes propelling gameplay, and what human characters you interact with are shown in small boxes during airfights. The portraits look and move nicely enough, but H.A.W.X. is missing the elements of graphical prowess that really made Ace Combat shine.

Voice acting is nothing to write home about either, but various explosions and in-game laser targeting as well as music is on par with what we’ve seen on other flight-sim titles. The voice acting can become downright atrocious at times, and even laughable. However, H.A.W.X. does offer voice commands like what we saw in EndWar. You can use the headset to input a limited array of commands to your squadron. While it works effectively enough, you might begin to feel like a bit of a dork when sitting in your living room shouting commands to imaginary teammates.

As for online ventures, Versus mode is a bit confusing and boring. Though it’s just like an in-air deathmatch, it can be tough to find enough players to get a game off the ground, as there are limited players. The mode is devoid of true customization of matches and offers little more to expand the game experience. However, this could change with possible releases of future DLC packages.

All in all, H.A.W.X. can be described as “Ace Combat-lite”. While it has plenty to offer for fans of the genre, it can be downright boring at times when you take into account its flimsy narrative and lackluster gameplay. It can offer plenty of fun times if you pick it up, but if you’re looking for a realistic, challenging flight sim experience, look elsewhere. However, what’s here is most definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re into the more arcade-y aspect of Tom Clancy titles.

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