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PS3 Review – Tom Clancy’s HAWX 2

September 25, 2010 Written by Ray Conley

Tom Clancy’s HAWX 2 brings back a sense of familiarity from its predecessor, but not without bringing a few additional tricks to enhance the aerial experience.  In HAWX 2, you’ll find a variety of missions that will engage you with full-out aerial dog-fights and pulling the occasional recon missions, all the while trying to uncover terrorist plots woven with conspiracy.

In HAWX 2, it quickly becomes apparent that terrorism is on the rise, and the solution needed to solve the world’s crisis is burdened on the shoulders of a few pilots from the United States, Britain, and Russia.  The storyline attempts to borrow mechanics that were successfully used in the memorable Modern Warfare series. You’ll be jumping into different flight suits from three different characters from each of the aforementioned countries as you unwind the plot.  However, the presentation seems to trip on itself as the storyline comes apart about halfway through the campaign.  In spite of not fully understanding the background information behind each mission, one thing however, was clearly apparent.  My job was to blow stuff up, and I guess in the end, that’s what it was really all about.

Gameplay in Ubisoft Romania’s fighter-sim, was overall manageable.  You get to select from three different point-of-views to control your fighter – first person, third person, and cockpit.  The controls were quite intuitive as well, allowing newcomers to comfortably ease themselves into controlling the fighter.  If you’ve got the hardware, you can also attach flight sticks that are compatible with the game to allow for added realism and control. HAWX 2 starts you off easy with missions that will allow you to adapt to the control schemes before tossing you into the fray.  Don’t worry.  There is plenty of time and missions to get in some practice, which are a cake walk in the beginning.  However, be prepared when the game suddenly picks up the difficulty about halfway through the campaign.

In HAWX 2, each mission will pit you against multiple objectives, many which can be time sensitive.  Most missions will require you destroy a target.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  As you progress through the campaign, you’ll notice your HUD and radar will quickly litter your screen with yellow target indicators, leaving it somewhat confusing to discern which one is your main objective.  However, a closer inspection on the HUD will reveal that your main targets are identified with small asterisk within their target box.  Focusing on taking out those will bring you closer to victory and speed you on to the next objective.  If you’re still finding yourself lost, the safest bet is to destroy everything if you’ve got the ammo capacity.

Part of what makes HAWX 2 challenging is the new and improved AI of your enemies.  They will evade and dodge as you take potshots at them.  Firing missiles will be rendered ineffective as they also love to dispense flares, which they never seem to be in short supply.  This can make takedowns tedious and challenging.   As you make it halfway through the campaign, the AI difficulty will suddenly spike, increasing the frustration of completing each objective. You do have teammates at your disposal, but unfortunately, it feels like they never graduated from flight school.  While your wingmen are always around for a conversation, they always seem to abandon you to fend off wave after wave of enemy fighters.  Sometimes, I wonder if your teammates ARE the conspiracy.

One of the best things about HAWX 2 is the visual presentation.  The rendering of each fighter is done to perfection, leaving the player with the feeling of flying a sports car than a ragtag fighter.  Thanks to the use of satellite imagery from GeoEye, the vistas of the land from above are simply breath-taking combined with scattered clouds that stretch over the beautiful scenery.  Just don’t fly too close to the ground, as the illusion will be somewhat marred if you pay attention to the textures.  You’ll find that during the UAV missions, you will get the opportunity to really appreciate the amount of detail that was incorporated to bring about realism to the environment, which does a fine job in spades. The environment simply has to be seen while in motion to really appreciate the level of effort put into the detail. The explosions of your take-downs are done exceptionally well, and scoring hits will leave your target trailing smoke until you force it into a ball of flame.  Taking out ground targets can be just as exhilarating, especially if you utilize the missile cam by holding down “X.”

Strangely that level of tender love and care was not given towards the pre-rendered cut-scenes.  The clips shown between each mission are puzzling as they don’t seem to show the same quality of detail seen in the missions during the gameplay.  The character models are simple and the animations are stiff.  It’s a very shocking contrast to see the gameplay renderings and the cut-scenes trying to work together, but it comes across more as a distraction when trying to pay attention to the storyline.  I found myself wanting to skip the videos all together, just to end the eye-sore.

The sound is decently incorporated in HAWX 2.  The sound effects have been implemented well, from the sound of the afterburner to the dull hum of the cannon firing at a steady stream.  Sometimes a sound cue won’t register, but this rarely happens enough for it to be a major concern.  The voice acting is actually performed quite well, but can be inconsistent at times.  During the missions, your teammates will chime in with chatter that give the missions an authentic feel and pace, while some of the cut-scenes, again, fail to keep that same vocal atmosphere consistent. The music composed by Tom Salta, however, is utilized extremely well.  All the epic musical cues come in at the right moment, and succeed at giving each mission a touch of “Hollywood” nostalgia.  During one Russian mission, I caught myself grinning as a Russian vocal overture filled my cockpit, instilling me with a sense of purpose, pride and anticipation of the fight ahead.  I now understand how effective propaganda music can be.  Overall, the music successfully accomplishes what it was set out to do and convincingly embeds the player fearlessly into the dangerous skies.

Some of the newer features that were added into the game include recon missions with a UAV and unloading tons of munitions from an AC-130 Gunship, something that might seem reminiscent if you’ve played the gunship level in Modern Warfare.  These missions are nice break from the hectic action of the dogfights and allow the player to act on the intel side of the operations, while occasionally taking out a few targets with drone missiles when the order is given.  Another fun feature is the ability to perform takeoffs and landings.  Some missions will have you begin taxiing from the hangar, or launching from an aircraft carrier.  On the carrier, you’ll notice the flight crew giving you hand signals for takeoff – even the little things make a world of difference towards an authentic feel.  Landing is the tedious of the two, as you’ll also be performing some of them at night with night-vision goggles (NVGs).  You’ll also get to test your accuracy behind the stick as you line yourself up for a midair refuel.  For landing and refueling, you’ll have option to turn on flight assistance with your HUD to help guide your movements for easier control.

If you feel the need to have some real company during a mission, you can host or join a four player co-op session to bring the fight.  Engaging the opponent with live help makes the difficult missions much more manageable and less tedious.  But if you’re itching to raise the stakes, you can also dive into a multiplayer session with up to eight players if you can find the people willing to play.  As you progress through the ranks, upgrades can be made to your fighters with perks, which can help give you an edge over your opponents.  Overall, this mode will probably be the one that you keep coming back to, as it keeps the dogfights somewhat fresh and challenging.

Ubisoft Romania didn’t seem to push too hard to reinvent the HAWX series.  Much of it will be familiar if you’ve played the first one.  In no way does HAWX 2 really redefine the genre either; rather it is a finely tuned arcade flight-sim, which fires off stunning visuals and an impressive soundtrack, but the uneven presentation and finicky AI keeps HAWX 2 from reaching a full adrenaline ride.

Fans of the first game will definitely find this arcade title very likable with the upgraded tweaks and enhancements to the gameplay.  If you’re a newcomer to this genre, you won’t feel alienated by the controls as they are quite easy to pick up without a steep learning curve.  There is definite fun to be had your first time around and there is always multiplayer to engage in the online experiences.  For what it’s worth, if you’re looking to try something new apart from your typical first-person shooters, HAWX 2 is a great place to start.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

Top notch visuals and epic soundtrack

Intense dogfights

Uneven AI and presentation

8 out of 10

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