STAFF REVIEW of Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. (Xbox 360)

Thursday, March 19, 2009.
by Rick Wallace

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. Box art Kick the tires and light the fires! Ubisoft brings us a new flight game in the form of Tom Clancy?s H.A.W.X. which is deemed as an official Tom Clancy product. So that can only be a good thing, right? Well, I am a huge fan of the Tom Clancy games but I honestly feel that this one may be reaching a little to include itself with the likes of Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. It has a general storyline like all the Clancy titles and even ties into the Ghost Recon world somewhat, but something is lacking overall whether it?s an in depth story, or just a lack of stellar gameplay. So let?s get down to the review and see if we can figure out what might be keeping this game from being an elite Tom Clancy product.

You?ll be strapping into the cockpit of a wide variety of fighters as Captain Crenshaw. You are part of an elite fighter group known as H.A.W.X. commissioned by the United States Air Force but eventually becoming a gun for hire fairly early in the game. As the game progresses and the storyline builds you end up fighting for the US Air Force once again against your former employer Artemis. Artemis is a private security organization that provides support in the form of weaponry and soldiers to the highest bidder. Anyhow, that?s just a general run down on the story without giving away to much of the storyline.

H.A.W.X. is a flight game that has a little arcade mixed in with a little simulation. Diehard flight simulation lovers will have a hard time holding interest in this title. The visuals are great and absolutely breathtaking at times, but the gameplay tends to lean more towards the side of old school Afterburner. Ubisoft has already stated that they were not going for a flight simulation aspect for this game, so we really can?t hold the arcade feel against it. It is a fun game to play but can get repetitive very quickly and again the in depth storyline that we are so accustomed to with Clancy products just isn?t there to reel you in the rest of the way. I found myself moving onto another game after about an hour of playing time or 1 or 2 missions each and every time I popped this game in.

When it comes to sounds, there really isn?t anything that blows your mind or the sound barrier for that matter. It?s all typical afterburners, missile lock beeps and explosions as one would expect. You will have the typical voice chatter of your wingmen and commanding officers breathing down your neck over the com or briefing you on situations at hand or on the mission ahead. A lot of the chatter and briefing is fairly generic and seems very similar to games that have come before this one such as Ace Combat 6 or Over G Fighters. The voice acting in the game is about par and again nothing that really pops out and grabs you or sucks you into the storyline. Once again, I am just a little disappointed in the fact that a game that touts itself as a Tom Clancy title just lacks in any kind of substance in storytelling. One thing worth mentioning when it comes to sounds is the ability to issue voice commands to your wingmen. Clancy games have really started to integrate the voice command system into their games and once again it seems to work very well.

Visually as I mentioned the game can be quite breathtaking at times. With actual satellite image provided by Geo Systems you?ll be flying over real life locations with real life landmarks present and in 3D. For instance flying over Chicago you will see the Sears Tower and hopefully won?t crash into it since its obviously the tallest building in the game. Or maybe when you are flying over Washington DC you?ll take notice to the many landmark monuments that dot the landscape. You can fly in Free Flight to check out the cities in more detail and I would suggest doing so. Especially if you are familiar with any of these cities or landscapes you are flying over in the game. You will be quite amazed at the detail. The plane models are well done and seem very accurate to their true life counterparts and you?ll be treated to some spectacular views from within the cockpit or outside the plane from directly behind. Again, this view reminds you a lot of old school Afterburner.

One thing that I just can?t figure out the purpose or even why one would have the desire to play is the assistance OFF point of view. You?ll play the game at a three quarter view from outside the plane and quite a distance away. Now, one of the benefits of this mode is the ability to pull off extremely tight maneuvers that you cannot do from the normal view. This aids in making quick turns as the enemy does and avoiding missiles as they close in on your plane. But this view takes a lot of getting used to and you?ll find yourself a bit disoriented at times with the way the camera stays on your target at all times. You?ll also do a lot of barrel rolling until you familiarize yourself with the touchy control sticks and frankly will turn the wrong way at times due again to your point of view and the focus on the target you are trying to take out. I do not know if I even want to call this a great concept that needs polishing. I am sure some folks will love the view, but it definitely was not my cup of tea and I only used it when I had to and to be able to get the achievement for 1 hour of flying time in this view.

You?ll have a few different game modes with a lot of unlockable content and leveling. Those modes would include your standard campaign mode which you can play as a single player, or play online co-op with up to 4 other players across the world. When starting a campaign you can select to make the game session public for anyone to join or a friends only mode. You can also just set it to single player if you just feel like going at it alone. There are 3 levels of difficulty: Normal, Hard and Elite. In co-op mode each player can choose their own difficulty level and are not locked into what the host is playing. Those difficulties affect your weapons payload and damage taken for the most part. All missions in campaign can also be replayed individually to accomplish certain goals you may have missed the first time around, or perhaps you just want to increase the difficulty to earn more XP. You?ll also have the standard online modes you would expect with the Clancy line of games such as Team Deathmatch.

H.A.W.X follows the path of Rainbow Six in its leveling giving you multiple tasks that are worth a certain amount of XP points that is applied towards a running XP total. Each rank you obtain is based on achieving a certain number of XP points and each rank increases that number. You?ll have tasks such as shooting down 50 enemies with your cannon, or taking out 4 enemies at once with multiple missile targeting. You can accomplish multiple feats in one mission which can help you level up fairly quickly through the ranks. As you level up you will unlock new planes and weapon kits for specific planes as well as unlocking maps for use in free flying and online play.

The overall gameplay of H.A.W.X is very arcade with only hints of actual flight simulation thrown in. You?ll carry well over 100 missiles on your plane, but you?ll be limited to only 5 defensive flares. Yeah, I am scratching my head on that one too. When you take damage your missile total will decrease. The more damage you take the less ammunition you will have available. Most of the missions are fairly straight forward and easy to complete. There are a few frustrating escort missions that are probably best served in a co-op match rather than by yourself such as one mission where you have to escort and protect Air Force One from a hornet?s nest of enemy fighters. Like I mentioned earlier, the assistance OFF mode is not my thing and really does not add to the gameplay value at all, but again some folks will probably love this view and solely use this method of piloting alone due to the extreme maneuver abilities of your plane.

In the end, H.A.W.X is a fun game to pick up and play with some buddies online in either co-op or even online versus but for anything more than that it?s a bit disappointing. The missions seem generic and extremely choreographed and many times you?ll feel like you are flying the same type of mission you did in another flight title. If I had to recommend the game to folks, I would say if this is your first flight game then by all means pick it up. If you absolutely love games with co-op features then again this is a no brainer and you should pick it up. Other than that its just a casual flight game that you?ll play for a while, but will eventually end up putting it on your bookshelf to collect dust.

I would say in order to keep this title fresh it needs to have plenty of downloadable content such as new planes, skins, and maps for online play. Even some new innovative games online would be nough to keep a lot of folks playing this one for some time. Also more co-op missions would be great as this seems to be one of the key features of the game.

Overall: 7.6 / 10
Gameplay: 7.4 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 7.3 / 10


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