|Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X 2 PC Video Game|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Games|
|Written by Dan Ferguson|
|Monday, 27 December 2010|
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HAWX 2 Gameplay
I'm a big fan of the storyline. A good story line can provide excellent replay value. But when it comes to flying games the flying alone can keep me in my chair. HAWX 2 is not a flight simulator. There's no huge flight manual and not a single tutorial on how to fly the plane. Controls are simple enough that everything can be learned in the first few missions. That is good because it lowers the learning curve for some fun play. It's bad because it makes all modern planes exactly the same. Take out the advanced targeting, instruments, flight controls, etc and all that is left to distinguish planes is the cockpit picture, speed and maneuverability. As a result I was often completely unaware of which plane I was using during the campaign. Where's my thrust vectoring?
As far as airplane physics go I thought HAWX 2 was very forgiving. Corners were tighter than should have been possible, stalls easy to recover, and slipping the plane could be done at any speed. The physics depended heavily on "Assistance Mode". The default mode is "On" and the planes are kept in balance, on course and "guided" to help make flying easier. I come from a flight sim background so I felt like I was in a physics box. In reality planes are much harder to fly but can do alot of tricky things. This was supposedly enabled by the "Assistance Off Mode". Turning off assistance mode unlocks the physics box and lets you do many great things, like a back-flip at mach 2. WHAT?! Not believable. But to make the game fun and accessible we have to take small sacrifices like that. The bigger problem is that assistance off mode is third person and you cannot control the camera angle...UGH.
How about enemy physics and AI? In my opinion this was one of the worst aspects of the game. All enemy aircraft were alike to me, except as the difficulty increased they had more flares, more missiles and were better at slipping to stay behind you. Also, every enemy plane on the map basically always targets you or a critical mission objective. What this means for gameplay is endless circles stopping just long enough to lock a missile. But during that lock five enemies will lock you and fire their missiles. So back to endless circles. It's actually faster to use your cannons than to use missiles. The thing that bugged me most was that the expert AI was so good at slipping that they could back-flip or slip into a stall and fly backwards while shooting you....BACKWARDS! Of course it's nearly impossible to get a screenshot of this. I was close to getting a screenshot in assistance off mode, but I couldn't control the camera's view.
Just when you're tired of the cockpit you get to fly some new mission types that don't typically show up in a flying game. One such mission type is the UAV. Unmanned aerial vehicles are a recent addition to the military and play a very real role in today's warfare. I thought these missions were perfectly fitting for a flying game in the modern military.
In the UAV missions you are always floating high above some city trying to gather intel by checking buildings and vehicles and listening to conversations. This could be a really cool mode, but I think the experience was cheapened in several ways. First, any thinking or skill was eliminated by pointing to every objective with huge yellow arrows. Also, the vehicles of interest were always highlighted in bright white. You couldn't lose sight of a vehicle if you tried. But keeping your cross-hairs on an objective is a completely different issue. The simulated bobble of the aircraft made this a tedious task. I seriously doubt that the UAV sensors have such poor gyroscopic balances. In essence, all the difficulty was in trying to keep the cursor exactly on the objective...BORING.
How could this be made better? Make the mission more realistic. Have a briefing or an intel file that tells about the objective, but make us do the work of finding and tracking! Don't highlight the car I'm supposed to be tracking. Isn't that what's actually hard about UAV missions? Stuff like determining friend from foe and whether some guy is holding a rocket launcher or a video camera?
In addition to the UAV missions there is one AC-130 mission while you rescue Colonel Crenshaw. You get to provide support from the gunship for the rescue transport. This was a little more realistic than the UAV since you had to actually aim your guns and avoid friendly fire. But it still suffered from some of the downfalls as the UAV missions. All the bad-guys were clearly marked, even the guys shooting from inside the buildings. On the upside, this mission was probably much more fun than reality. I doubt that our gunships ever get to take out a hundred jeeps, tanks, foot soldiers, and armed boats all in a few minutes. I think the fun here was definitely more important than the realism. I would have liked at least one more mission, but more would be welcomed if it involved something other than blasting single file lines of cars.
HAWX 2 included a few other minor features that improved the experience. there were two missions that included an in-flight refueling. I'm sure this would be near impossible in a real flight simulator, but it was quite manageable in the arcade-style. It allowed the armchair pilots to get a somewhat more realistic experience. But the flight controls during refueling is another example where realism was sacrificed for usability. These between combat scenes play in segments. When prompted you hit a key to enter the segment. Once you complete the segment you move to the next segment. For refueling each segment zooms your view closer to the plane and reduces the sensitivity of your flight controls. It is easier to dock this way, but not at all real. For example, you need to hold your throttle at full during the entire docking sequence, but the throttle does not respond like normal.
Finally we come to take-offs and landings. Sadly, they are segmented like refueling. Of course this is good for anybody who has a hard time landing. When you approach an air strip you are prompted to press 'R' to enter the approach segment. As you do this the speed indicator on your HUD changes to show you the optimal approach speed and prompts you to slow down. When you reach the speed you are prompted to press 'Space' to enter the glide slope segment. In this segment you see a glide-slope indicator on your HUD which shows green when you are pitched and yawed correctly.To land all you need to do is hit the runway while in the green.
Since this can still be difficult for non-flyers there is an option for assisted landing. An assisted landing displays large green triangles through which you must guide the plane. The triangles turn rise and drop to put you on the optimum approach. If you get your attitude and elevation correct on your approach the rest is much easier.
There are a fair amount of weapons used in the game, which is nice, but nothing ever tells you how to use them correctly. The intuitive ones don't need much explanation because you lock and fire. Others you may want to read the instructions. Sometimes the most useful and most frustrating ones are the segmented weapons. For these you need to fly your aircraft level and enter the weapons mode (usually with 'V' or 'B' then 'Space'). In the weapons mode you have an overhead view where you can target and fire while your airplane flies on autopilot. This is great because you can focus on blowing stuff up without worrying about flying. It is frustrating because you cannot maneuver your plane or even slow down without switching out of the mode. So if you didn't give yourself enough space for a bombing run you're gonna have to do it over again.
HAWX 2 allows input from keyboard, mouse and joystick. I've never been a fan of mouse flying, but it was workable. Due to the limited flight physics of the game it was perfectly playable using only the keyboard. By default the throttle is self stabilizing at a moderate cruise speed. You can hold a key to go faster or hold a key to go slower. There's also not a hundred inputs like in other flight games. Since the flight modes are segmented the same keys are frequently reused. So instead of having a unique key for night vision, special weapons, landing gear, etc.the same key serves different functions in each mode, and you're prompted to press the key when you need it.
The default layout often requires you to move your hand to complete different functions. For this reason I preferred playing with the joystick. Since there was so much looping required to kill baddies I also found the joystick reduced the constant tension from holding keys down. All the keys can be customized, and you can set the sensitivities for your joystick/mouse. The controls are few enough that I could fly with a gamepad without needing to rely on any keyboard commands.