Review / Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. (PC)

Any game which focuses solely on flight combat is tough to find these days. Don’t get any expert on genre started on the slim selection of present day flight sims that have even an ounce of combat elements in them. They’re just not as abundant or prevalent as they used to be, especially not in an age where the idea of pick-up-and-play mechanics are sometimes essential for appealing to a wider audience.

Developed by Ubisoft Romania, Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. is, to say the least, a pick-up-and-play flight combat videogame. Despite the title bearing the Tom Clancy name, the amount of realism in the game isn’t high and the amount of tactical consideration is relatively low. There are plenty of things you don’t need to worry about in H.A.W.X. such as taking off and landing. While that may garnish some criticism, one can’t help but applaud its attempts of at least getting to the action as quickly as possible, making this fight combat videogame a surprisingly fun one.

Taking place in the future, the player fills the role of David Crenshaw, a fighter pilot in the High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron or H.A.W.X. for the U.S. Air Force. Immediately after a mission involving a Ghost Recon squad, the H.A.W.X. project is deactivated resulting in the recruitment of Crenshaw and his wingmen to the private military corporation, Artemis Global Security. When a contract with a Latin American country goes awry in the midst of intervention by the U.S. forces, Artemis decides to go rogue and fight against their homeland, leading to the activation of the H.A.W.X. squadron once again with Crenshaw and friends at the helm. Crenshaw doesn’t talk at all throughout the campaign and in a way you could call him a Gordon Freeman type of character as everyone the player encounters just loves to express their gratitude to Crenshaw as well as how well he does his job.

Prior to starting a mission, the player is given the loadout of missiles and sometimes bombs. This videogame however, will always present the recommended loadout as well as planes though the player can choose any plane or weapon combination if they’ve unlocked it. Unlocking anything from planes to loadouts is done by leveling up in H.A.W.X. which can be accomplished through both the singleplayer and multiplayer. Very reminiscent of MMOs, you are given experience points when you destroy a target, fulfill the requirements of a challenge or complete a mission. The leveling system alongside the massive array of jets available to the player allows for plenty of replayability especially if multiplayer isn’t for you.

Every mission in HAWX will have you start in the air already near your target. Some of these missions contain a large portion of opponents which is probably why your plane handles damage based on numbers with 100 being full health. You are also given an enormous amount of ammo including unlimited rounds on the canons and multiple missiles and bombs that are limited based on a recharging mechanism. Mission types vary from eliminating ground targets such as tanks and AA weapons, to aerial targets such as bombers, helicopters and other fight planes, there’s even the occasional naval target. The majority of missions however, will require that the player keep another target safe, be it protecting, supporting or escorting the target. They’re a bit excessive but nothing groan-worthy as it is still fun in most of the missions.

The arguably most notable aspect of the gameplay in H.A.W.X. is the Enhanced Reality System or ERS, which when active gives the player the typical HUD regardless of perspective, allowing for the appropriate targeting and display of information pertaining to speed and altitude. The most significant ability is the use of a feature in the system that will guide the pilot with the optimal route for just about anything, whether it be the best method of taking out a tank shielded by towering structures, intercepting an enemy fighter or even evading a missile that the enemy has launched. Having the ERS system off however, is a completely different story as the pilot will have to fly the plane from unusual angles, most of the time pertaining to your current target. With the assistance off, planes are able to stall and recover with near-ease introducing the aspects of the game which are far from realistic. Planes are also able to do a near instantaneous 180 degree turn which requires the plane to be slowed enough that almost puts it in a stall allowing simple methods of turning the tables if you’re being chased or trying to evade a missile. It will undoubtedly leave a daunting first impression particularly with flying the plane at such odd angles. In some missions, the HUD will be jammed nudging you to turn the ERS off, however the game is still playable without it. The system as a whole, especially assistance off may seem trivial at first but further along into the game, it reveals its significance in some situations and is actually very satisfying when watching your plane maneuver at various angles.

The visuals in the game are good of course, until you fly at altitudes where you can see the textures of sometimes a flat surface. Regardless, the integration of GeoEye’s satellite imagery makes viewing the landscape from high altitudes very realistic. The presence of weather in some levels will have some effects on your HUD, if it is raining your HUD will have water on it, especially in the cockpit perspective but if you reach a high enough altitude, you can get scale above the clouds and out the rain.

H.A.W.X. allows for co-op up to four players. Players can even chose difficulties independent of each other making for some interesting gameplay. Difficulty will adjust the amount of ammo you have as well as how much damage you can take. You may encounter some players taking down enemies with ease while others are screaming that they need more missiles. Multiplayer, though small in content, is capable as being just as fun as players can customize their planes based on the level they’ve achieved and pit them against 4 other players in matches of TDM that allow up to eight players total.

A feature of the videogame that wasn’t too heavily emphasized on pre-launch is the integration of EndWar’s voice recognition system. Granted you have a headset you can talk directly to your plane and issue orders. Commands such as, “Launch!” will fire your missiles, commands like “Switch!” will switch your targets. There is definitely a slight delay between the moment you say something and the moment it actually recognizes the input and carries out the command but it’s cool nonetheless.

H.A.W.X. is a fight combat videogame that provides little to actually call it a sim. It’s not realistic in any sense of the word. Flying jets in Battlefield is more realistic than H.A.W.X. to put it bluntly. Despite all of that, it is still one fun videogame. The twists it provides on the flight genre with the ERS and leveling system make this a game that is capable of standing out from other modern flight videogames. Though this can’t really be recommended to hardcore flight sim players, gamers who want to take to sky with an experience that gets straight to the point while still retaining some entertainment value will have much to find in Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X..

+ Leveling system provides for replay value
+ Enhanced Reality System allows for interesting combat
+ Ability to command your plane with voice recognition

– A bit too excessive on missions that involve keeping target safe
– Multiplayer is small in content
– Realism is a small factor