The Ace Combat series has long been the console standard-bearer for flight-combat games, but as popular as those games have been, they’ve often alienated a certain segment of gamers because they venture into simulation territory. With Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X., gamers are given a bit of a reprieve from the simulation flying game, not quite to the arcade extreme of After Burner, but definitely to a degree that feels a bit more approachable than Ace Combat Six.
In H.A.W.X., gamers jump into the flight boots of an air support pilot who helps the military through a few missions that GRAW gamers will immediately find recognizable. But before you can start completely reminiscing about GRAW, the pilot leaves the military to begin working for a private security firm. Because shoplifters need to be tracked down with F16s, don’t ya know….
While in flight, players can switch targets at any time, with the enemies varying from tanks to helicopters to AA guns to incoming lets. Once a target it in your sites, you can either use lock-on missiles to take them down or up the ante by firing the wing-mounted cannons, which is much less effective but much more challenging. This isn’t anything new, but the AI is: players continually have to monitor whether the foes have gotten a target lock on their plane. If so, it’s imperative to press X to do an evasive maneuver, drop flares or manually move out of the way to avoid exploding into a million pieces over the desert.
Targeting enemies can be difficult when you get many on the screen at once, but not in a good way. H.A.W.X. seems to default its targeting mechanism to far-away enemies, even when you try to manually cycle through them. As a result, you’re seldom The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.able to actually choose the most-pressing threat, which means you have to waste time flying into the distance just to make the desired target get a long-enough distance away to be targeted by the game. This is annoying in principle, but it’s even more of a hassle in defense missions, because while you’re trying to counteract the game’s failure to let you select a given target, the enemies you’d like to target end up with even more time to fire upon the structure or entity you’re supposed to (and trying to) defend.
Eventually you’ll get past them, of course, and as you defeat those enemies and levels, you earn experience points that can be used to level-up various attributes. This is a feature that most people tend to expect from a shooter, aerial or not, so it’s nice to see it included here. H.A.W.X. also supports online cooperative play, another creature comfort of today’s modern shooters, with the added bonus of each player being able to set his or her own difficulty level (Normal, Hard or Elite) individually. This is possible because the level doesn’t determine the number of enemies or level of their intelligence, but whether their aircraft gets a full or partial missile loadout, and how much damage it takes from enemy fire. Between this self-selection and the ability to customize your loadout before each mission, H.A.W.X. definitely shows that Ubisoft was thinking long and hard about co-op play from the very beginning.
If you’re playing solo, H.A.W.X. supposedly supports voice commands, although the D-pad commands are much more effective when issuing orders to wingmen (attack, defend, etc.). Ubisoft has tinkered with voice commands for quite some time — since the original Xbox, in fact — but it doesn’t work nearly as well in H.A.W.X. and feels like something the company thought they should add because EndWar had it, not because it really adds any value to H.A.W.X.
The extra graphical work Ubisoft put in to H.A.W.X. definitely pays off, though, as the satellite imagery used as the basis for each environment delivers multiple levels that have enough detail that you’ll really feel like you’re flying over deserts and oceans and Mach 1. Never is there any graphical stutter, even though the fast-moving planes can seemingly turn on a dime, and little touches like heat distortion and engine animations when accelerating or decelerating just give the overall look of H.A.W.X. an extra oomph. Probably the nicest touch, though, is that every building in the game has actual height and dimension characteristics and isn’t just a 2D bitmap.
But even fantastic graphics can’t elevate H.A.W.X. beyond a simple weekend rental. The co-op features are definitely a nice touch, but there just isn’t enough gameplay variety or mission-structure variation to compel Ace Combat gamers to switch over, and the targeting issues are just too inexplicable and frustrating to entice most passers-by to pick this one up and keep it.
- Score: 7.3
— Jonas Allen