Tom Clancy H.A.W.X. was a big success when it was released and even though it received mixed reviews it still managed to sell well. Many hardware sites also used it (and continue to use it) as a benchmark when testing graphics cards. H.A.W.X. 2 is the follow up and the developers have tried to mix up the core gameplay so it is slightly less monotonous. We received our Xbox 360 copy and have spent the last week playing it.
H.A.W.X. 2 takes place in the future and the story line was rather convoluted, never managing to grab my full attention. It is all based around stolen nuclear missiles and follows a rather contrived and predictable plot. The game unfolds as you play it, with strands of the storyline being presented in cut scenes and intermissions. Basically your job is to stop the bad guys and save the world.
I was immediately impressed with the initial set up – the interactive scripting elements which have you in the cockpit, fighting as the story is presented to get you in the ‘hot seat’ of the virtual world. As with all Tom Clancy titles, there is a significant focus on technology and hardware which is going to appeal to KitGuru readers – much in the same way as Sam Fisher always got the cool toys for his stealth based shenanigans.
Most of the game obviously takes place from aerial viewpoints inside the cockpit of sexy, dangerous aircraft and the game keeps hurling new weaponry to keep the experience as fresh as it can. Hardware such as recon drones break up the in flight missions as you try to scan and locate prisoners inside specific buildings or moving targets inside vehicles. It is quite enjoyable and works well to break up the core gameplay elements.
Those of you who assume you will also be in a plane will be pleasantly surprised to hear that this time you are sometimes sent as a gunner inside a Gunship to offer aerial cover to troops on the ground below you. Not only are you a fantastic pilot but the forces sometimes require your skills as a weaponry expert. Slaughtering a bunch of soldiers running for cover with a big ass aerial gun is rather twisted and great fun.
Graphically I was impressed with the game, everything is very well designed and there is a high amount of detail on all the vehicles and objects in the game. We haven’t got our hands on the PC version yet, but if it manages to improve on the Xbox 360 version then PC gamers are in for a treat. Explosions, ambient noises and Tom Salta soundtrack elements are also well handled and increase the atmosphere levels, especially on the night missions when vision is impaired. The use of high definition maps from GEO-EYE satellites really helps ramp up the level of realism throughout.
The difficulty level might prove a little much for inexperienced gamers as I found after half way into the game that everything was ramping up considerably. The later missions proved to be extremely stressful and frustration at my own shortcomings was becoming apparent. Thankfully the AI is rarely at fault, as they have completely overhauled the algorithms from the first title. Both your team mates and the enemy are well behaved and act like human players most of the time. I say ‘ most of the time’ because later it starts to unravel a little.
Near the end of the game you are offered the ability to mark targets for kills, which means you can in theory target specific enemy units yourself. Designating enemy is the ability for your team mates to concentrate their fire on marked units while you focus on primary targets. Sadly this doesn’t appear to be a great system as you end up dealing with many of the foes yourself, causing much panic and hand flapping. I am not a great multitasker so perhaps other people might have more success.
So we have worked out that the difficulty level gets a bit harder later, but this is not helped by the game restarting you from particular checkpoints after failure with the same level of damage against the same enemy as before. While it sounds like a logical step for the developers to take, in practise it makes the game extremely difficult later. If you didn’t beat a section with a third of your health the last 5 times then the game won’t adjust the odds or your health to compensate. Repeated deaths are a frequent irritation of playing H.A.W.X. 2.
This leads me into the replay options which I feel are worth a mention, because they can be the most fun you can have with the game. Replaying missions with new craft and weapon loadouts really enhance the longevity of the title. You can even tweak the enemy skill to give yourself an unfair advantage if you want.
H.A.W.X. 2 is a very fun game, but we aren’t sure if it warrants a ‘must have’ purchase. If you loved the first title and adore flight combat games then this should be high on your list, but otherwise it becomes a harder purchase choice. Casual gamers with little interest in this genre won’t find anything compelling to part with their money.