When Namcos’ Ace Combat series turned their back on Sony’s black box and became an Xbox exclusive many PS3 owners wondered if they’d ever get their fix of supersonic dogfighting. Microsofts move to secure an exclusive was a clever move given the popularity of the Ace Combat series especially in Sony’s home of Japan.
Fortunately Tom Clancy’s Hawx is multiple platform and could possibly fill that gap. I must make one thing clear, I’m a bit of an aviation geek, in particular I’m a big fan of ex Soviet/Russian aircraft ever since as a child I visited the Farnborough airshow in the first year the soviets brought their MiG 29 to the west, stunning the crowds with manoeuvres that even the british pilots admitted defied logic.
My first thoughts about the Hawx demo is that the graphics are a bit murky and that someone seems to have forgotten to lip-sync the character animations. Selecting my aircraft for the mission I poked around at the various viewing options… if there’s one thing aviation geeks like it’s a good nosey around a fighter jet. Your craft stands in a gloomy hanger and looks… well a bit drab. You can zoom in and out and pan around the aircraft, and that’s about it.
Onto the first mission, essentially a training mission you’re taught some basics and in particular you’re taught how to turn “Safe Mode” off. It seems the Health and Safety brigade have decided all fighter aircraft should come equipped with a bunch of electronic saftey measures that prevent you from doing anything exciting like “stalling” your aircraft… entirely sensible you were flying “EasyJet” however this is a fighter plane and you kinda need to be able to flip your ride around in the sky like a demented butterfly. Your instructor informs you that you can disable this… hurrah! Why not leave it off all the time I wonder? Ah… no it’s a little matter of “game mechanics” it seems the aircraft default to “idiot mode” for those of us who have little sense of “up or down” or who can’t follow onscreen and audio warnings telling us how to get out of a stall. Yes folks this is video gaming for the idiot generation.
All of this wouldn’t be as bad as I’m making out if it were not for the fact that disabling safe mode (or assistance mode) didn’t force you to pilot your aircraft from a cinematic view, which whilst initially makes for interesting viewing and allowing some greater situational awareness soon becomes plain annoying as even on a large HD TV I couldn’t always tell which aircraft amongst the blizzard of fighters was mine, and when I did figure it out it was often hard to tell if I was upside-down or not (those murky graphics!) A racing game wouldn’t force you to do this if you wanted to turn driving aids off so why does Hawx?
The aircraft also come equipped with an “Enhanced Reality System” which is a useful tool that allows newcomers to flight combat games figure out how to chase and attack targets, for the most part I found that while the system took me on a number of mystery tours it did eventually lead me to a kill and was useful when attacking ground targets hidden amongst sky scrapers… though if you ever played a game like this before you’d waste much less time performing a stall-turn to get behind your targets. Ironically when new players might need it the most (fighting level end bosses) the system becomes “unable to compute” and leaves you to figure things out for yourself… and while I’m on the subject the level boss in the demo (SU-47’s) seem to have broken their joysticks and spend their entire time pulling tight circles around you. If you’ve not played a game like this before you might wonder how you’re ever going to kill them; you have two options 1) Keep trying to out-turn them (Boring and repetitive) or 2) Break off from the chase and flip-stall back onto their last position which should put you behind them for an easy kill (slightly less boring and repetitive) all of wich in my opinion is just lazy Ai design. And while we’re talking about chasing enemies let’s mention the HUD, all you’re enemies are pointed out to you on your map and HUD in yellow with no distinction being made between currently targeted enemies or even primary and secondary enemies, so while your commander is yelling at you to get on with shooting down those deadly heavy bombers you’ll either be madly scanning through every yellow target to find them or chasing some entirely irrelevant target all the way across the other side of the map oblivious to your commander because the voice acting is so monotone and uninspiring it soon becomes background noise.
I’ll mention the story-line last because in all honesty It’s not that impressive and features every lazy next-gen game writers favourite villain, yes you’ve guessed it, the PMC (Private Military Contractor) An additional gold star to anyone who can guess that, yes, you start off the game working for shadowy “Artemis Global Security” company until, surprise, surprise you figure out they are the bad guys and switch sides to defend the good old “US of A” against an invasion led by Artemis. In all honesty I can’t figure out when I come to that point in the game if I might just surrender and do the world some good and let them invade the US.
I’ve read a few of Clancy’s novels and while they’re not my favourite fiction they are generally very well written and feature believable story-lines… something his games do not.
Summing up… the game lacks any real sense of the thrill of flying a supersonic fighter, there’s no effort made to convey the speed and the graphics are just a little too murky. There is promise here but for me it’s let down by the camera issues and some poor enemy AI. If you own an Xbox 360 get Ace Combat, it’s much more fun, prettier and you can probably get a cheap deal in the second hand bins.
If you’re a PS3 owner… you’re probably only going to get some enjoyment out of Hawx if like me you’re an aviation geek and can’t carry on waiting for something that might never happen… the day Ace Combat comes back home.
Still these thoughts are based on the Demo and things might change, but with the release date slated for next week I wouldn’t bet on it!