If you are familiar with the recent Tom Clancy universe and love aerial combat games, you will love H.A.W.X. It has its flaws but on the whole it is a whole lot of fun and furthers the Clancy megaverse into new areas.
We’ve been following the exploits of Captain Mitchell and the Ghost Recon team over a few sequels now, and numerous times we’ve called in the ait support. This game puts you in the hot seat, taking on that air support role. In the first mission, you are a part of the US military, protecting the Ghost team but soon after the team is decommissioned. Your two wingmen join you as operatives of a private security firm working for various superpowers around the world stopping everything from terrorists to dictators. You’ll run bombing missions, escort VIPs and bombers or take on ground and air units while protecting sensitive military and civilian installations.
The story is interesting but not as compelling as most Tom Clancy games. The cut scenes between missions are often a little too ham-fisted and while they tie the story together well enough, the overall story is a little flimsy. That being said, the game play is exciting and a load of fun, so the plot doesn’t really need to blow your socks off, so to speak.
This isn’t a flight simulator but the controls are a little less forgiving than an arcade style flight game. There are a great number of on screen prompts, as well as audio cues, to help you know what to do and when to do it. It can get a little overwhelming at times, especially in the later levels, but after a few attempts, you get the hang of it pretty quickly. The combat happens in third person view with a HUD that includes ammunition, bearings and waypoints.
There is also an ERS assist feature that you can use to help your flying skills. When pressing X, a series of chevrons appear on-screen showing you the best way to get to your enemy quickly or avoid getting blown out of the sky when targeted by an enemy rocket. It works well for those looking for an easier experience, but it’s a little too easy mode as well. You don’t have to use it though but, that being said, in the later levels you would have to be pretty damn good at flying to get through a mission alive. With it turned off you can make tighter turns to avoid missile locks but it also increases the risk of stalling your engines if you break too hard.
Switching between targets is easy and once you have a lock, shooting off a couple of rockets will usually bring most targets down. The problem we found was that we rarely used our machine guns. Most of the time, the action is moving so fast that you only have tone for a second or two and its best to fire off two rockets and go about your business than try and mow them down with your rail guns. As the levels progress, you find yourself using them a little more but for the most part, missiles do the job nicely.
As far as ammunition goes there are a few different types of rockets and various types of bombs you can choose at the load out screen. You can also choose the plane you want to use as well but most of the time, the recommended plane is the right one to go with. In the pre-flight briefing screen, it tells you what types of units to expect so you can make your weapon and plane choices with the right intel.
The planes look simply spectacular and the graphics are well detailed. The environments look amazing with detailed locations like Chicago, Washington and Rio, to name a few. Of course, as you get closer to the ground, you can see they aren’t as detailed as they appear but since you aren’t really meant to get too low, it’s nothing to complain about.
Part of playing the game well is using your wingmen effectively. They can be told to attack a certain target or protect you and they generally do their job but aren’t all that effective. They do rack up kills but not enough to just sit back and let them do all the work. The bulk of the combat is done by you but when you have three targets closing on the place you are trying to protect, sending them after one while targeting the other two usually works out well. Unfortunately they aren’t entirely reliable so try and take out the targets yourself if you can.
As far as multiplayer goes, there is a co-operative mode as well as adversarial mode. The co-op mode lets people drop in and out of the campaign making the missions a lot more fun since you can work out strategies over Xbox Live, it makes the missions more real somehow. Having actual people to help you and for you to protect is a heap of fun. When it comes to going up against people, there is an eight player team death match mode which can be played on any of the maps from the single player campaign. There’s no denying that the death match mode is fun but we would have liked to have seen a few more adversarial modes included as well.
H.A.W.X is one of the best aerial combat games on the Xbox 360 at the moment. It isn’t as complex as the Ace Combat series but instead aims for the middle ground making it easy to pick up and play for most people. It isn’t simplistic though, and will take a little time to master the art of flying without the ERS assists on but if you can manage it, it makes it much more rewarding.