Inside Pulse 12

Review: Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X 2 (PS3)

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X 2
Genre: Arcade Flight Sim
Developer: Ubisoft Romania
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 09/10/2010

I’ve been a life time fan of the Ace Combat series of games ever since I popped in Ace Combat 2 on the PSX all those years ago but lately I felt that that Namco were being a bit lazy with their flagship Flight series and was happy a new competitor came in when Ubisoft announced the first H.A.W.X game back in 2008. I reviewed the game when it was released and it was a decent first attempt at the genre and I hoped H.A.W.X. 2 would build upon that title and finally challenge Ace Combat’s monopoly on the genre.

Now that H.A.W.X 2 has finally landed, we can see if Ubisoft Romania finally have the experience to make an excellent flight game.

1. Story/Modes

I lambasted the first H.A.W.X game for having a cookie cutter Tom Clancy plot. I will now lambast H.A.W.X 2 for having a cookie cutter Modern Warfare 2 plot.

Some Russian separatists have managed to link up with Middle Eastern and Somali insurgents to divert American attention away from Russia while separatist troops take over the country and fire nukes to start World War III.

If you haven’t thought of Modern Warfare 2 by now then you obviously haven’t played it yet because the similarities between the two are simply gobsmacking. It’s not only limited to story but also some gameplay elements (as I’ll explain in the relevant section). It’s like Ubisoft Romania didn’t even try to be original and simply decided to use Modern Warfare 2 as a template to save time.

It even tries the age old Call of Duty mechanic of having you play as multiple characters in the storyline. First up you have Major Alex Hunter (Ubisoft Romania aren’t very good with names OR acroynms apparently) who joins the H.A.W.X squadron from the first game now commanded by David Crenshaw (he’s the player character in the first game btw). Next is Captain Sokol from the Russian Loyalist Airforce and finally you have some dude from the Royal Navy Airforce.

That’s right; they have a British contingent in the game that’s so underutilized I can’t even remember the character’s name because they only used him in two missions the whole single player mode, one of which is a training mission. It would be better if they completely removed the Royal Navy segments from the entire game.

Three characters also means a lot of switching between them. This is also handled poorly as I can’t even remember how much time passed from the beginning of storyline till the end. After every mission the first words in the cutscene introducing the next level will have words like “meanwhile”, “24 hours later” “three weeks later” and so on. Halfway through the game I had completely lost track of the in-story timeline and frankly didn’t even care anymore.

Luckily for us, even though the storyline is a clichéd mess the selection of modes is pretty good. You have the standard single player storyline with the option of playing it in co-op as well as the free flight mode that was featured in the first H.A.W.X but in addition to those classic modes there’s Arcade mode and Survival mode.

Arcade mode is one of the good things Ubisoft has managed to rip from Infinity Ward’s playbook. It’s basically Modern Warfare 2’s special ops mode but with airplanes instead of guns. You go through the entire story mode again but with changes like different aircraft, different (or less) weapons and tougher enemies, a neat idea to squeeze some more gameplay from the single player story.

Survival mode is just what it sounds like. A basic horde endurance round with each wave bringing more enemies that are tougher than the last. Again, this is a neat little idea that gives some extra value to the game (though this time it’s ripped from Gears of War not Call of Duty).

Finally, there’s the obligatory online multiplayer modes with everything from team deathmatch to 4 player online co-op we’ve come to expect from pretty much any game these days.

If H.A.W.X 3 ever comes out, I sincerely hope that Ubisoft Romania hire another writer to take care of the story so they have more time to successfully copy shooter game modes to arcade flight sims.

Story/Modes: Mediocre

2. Graphics

I was really impressed with the graphics in the first H.A.W.X so I was quite surprised to find that the sequel didn’t have much improvement and actually seems to have gone backward in graphics. The planes don’t seem as detailed and the framerate drops in certain levels. I would have imagined another year in development plus the reduction in the selection of planes would lead to higher quality models but this does not seem to be the case.

One of the reasons for this is that enemy plane models are now more detailed. In other games in the genre, the planes flown by your enemy are very low quality models because you were never supposed to get close enough to them to notice. In H.A.W.X 2, because gameplay demands that you get in close to your enemy and finish them off with your cannon, the developers have chosen to make the enemy planes much more detailed. On the one hand, explosions look even more awesome now that you can see bits and pieces of your enemy fly around engulfed in fire but on the other hand it makes your plane, the one you see most often, look worse and I really don’t think that’s a great tradeoff.

The terrain looks great but compared to the first game it’s nothing special. In H.A.W.X you were flying around Rio, Washington DC and Tokyo but the missions in H.A.W.X 2 mostly have you flying around uninhabited terrain. The only real standout areas are the beautiful mountains in the Russia stages (seen in the demo) and the oceanic oil rigs level but otherwise this game is a waste of the geo-eye satellite Ubisoft keeps touting about. The worst thing is that you’re constantly near the surface due to the nature of the game and that simply exposes the limitations of the satellite mapping technology when you should be flying high to look at the beauty from far above.

The final nail in the coffin is that the PS3 port is lazy. The aforementioned oil rig stage drops to 20 FPS and has a blur filter for some reason so getting this on Xbox 360 is preferable.

I’ve badmouthed the graphics a lot but they’re not bad per se, just not at the quality level set by its predecessor.

Graphics rating: Below Average

3. Sound

H.A.W.X 2 follows right in the path of its prequel in terms of sound.

The voice actors do a decent job of voicing their characters but expect a lot Russian accents. Your commander (and former PC) David Crenshaw sounds something like Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. Overall, the voice acting is at the minimum level we consider acceptable in this day and age of videogames.

The music however is top notch. I especially like the music in the Russian stages as it has some great orchestral tunes running through those battles that make them seem even more epic.

Sound rating: Decent

4. Control/Gameplay

Ubisoft Romania touted that the AI in the game will be highly advanced and that dogfights will involve more gun range turning dogfights. Well they delivered them but the result isn’t pretty.

You know how by the end of games like H.A.W.X and Ace Combat you end up with a kill count approaching 400 planes shot down? H.A.W.X 2 makes it much harder to do that because missiles take longer to lock on (they won’t even lock on if you get too close to your enemy), you have less missiles than usual, enemies are given a limitless supply of flares which throw your lock on off and they’ll make impossible 90 degree turns that throw will catch you off guard with regular impunity. Even with all this, you’re expected to escort or support something during EVERY mission but you’re too busy chasing a single enemy pilot in circles for 10 minutes trying to get a gun kill on him. It’s utterly ridiculous. During one Russian mission you have to escort a train carrying some nukes (of course) from both planes and ground artillery. I LITERALLY let every single thing hit the train; sure I got a lot of game overs but each time the mission restarts at a checkpoint with the train at 30% health. That way I managed to finish the mission because the train would hit a checkpoint before dying and restart with 30% health.

Speaking of restarting, you will be doing it a lot. Even though your missiles are woefully inadequate, the enemy has no such qualms; their missiles are much deadlier than usual. In other games you would just have to pull some hard turns and the missile would be thrown off but not in H.A.W.X 2. Oh no, in this game you have to be at a 90 degree angle to the missile and REMAIN that way until the missile passes you. If you try for example a loop to throw off the missile (A favourite technique of mine so I can get right back to aiming at whoever I was aiming at before the missile) you’ll receive a missile straight to the face. This is bad for two reasons: One is that you’re spending a lot of time manoeuvring with enemy planes in close range to line up a gun kill when a missile comes in and completely ruins it, you’re forced to evade the missile and the guy you were following is now behind you shooting missiles at you (no gun silliness for them). Second is that you WILL have 4 guys shooting missiles up your ass for the ENTIRETY of the game. You dodge one missile only to be hit by one of the three others and since SAMs come into play most missions since you’re mostly a bomber pilot you now have to contend with missiles coming from multiple angles.

Also, in another bid for realism you’re mostly going to be bombing things on the ground in this game. No, there’s no cool missions like protecting air force one or protecting Rio from a massive invasion or playing hide and seek with SAMs like in H.A.W.X 1 or fighting huge flying airbase bosses like in Ace Combat; Nope, just constantly bombing ground targets in fictional Russian and Middle Eastern cookie cutter locales. To add salt to the wound, in yet ANOTHER bid for realism your missiles can no longer lock onto ground targets, you need to switch to Air to Ground missiles to do that. You might think that’s not a big deal, right? Wrong, air to ground missiles now also now take a long time to lock on (not a good thing when you’re flying to the ground) and take forever to reach their targets when they are launched. For some reason, you can launch a single missile at a time and it takes something like 5 seconds to launch a second missile even when the airplane description specifically says you have 4 mounted on your plane at the same time. This sucks when you have a huge amount of ground targets to take out (basically every mission) and forces you to make multiple passes. All the while you’re getting shot up by enemy planes and SAMs and pretty much everyone is screaming in your ear for support.

So after all that bad mouthing, is there anything GOOD in the game? Sure, for one thing, some of the new weapons are fun to play with. Standoff missiles are awesome, basically you launch the missile and then are transported to an over the shoulder missile cam and guide your missile to the target, which is endless fun. Precision bombing (seen in the demo’s second mission) is fun as hell and is one part where realism is better than the old arcade way of doing things. Problem is, the game rarely lets you play with these weapons, sticking you with Heat Seeking missiles and Air to Ground missiles for the majority of the game.

There is also an AC-130 section in the game similar to Modern Warfare. It’s a fun little diversion from the main mission but for some reason the developers also stuck 3 UAV missions that I could really do without.

The new take-off and landing parts of the game are also fun and challenging. Taking off is also sometimes used as a story device which is quite cool.

Multiplayer is robust (Bear in mind I couldn’t play multiplayer in the first H.A.W.X) and includes several maps with different objectives as well as co-op single story missions. Here’s a crucial tip, have a friend around or host a co-op session. The game gets much less frustrating even if the game does throw more enemies to compensate, having an intelligent human watching your back, even if you’re uncoordinated, is a massive leg up over the useless CPU allies you’re usually stuck with. It’s like Trauma Center: New Blood which had a single player mode designed for co-op play.

Overall though, you’re getting a jumble of good ideas grafted onto some horrible ideas in some strange Frankenstein-esque manner which will only have you reaching for the pitchfork instead of praising the inner beauty of the game.

Control/Gameplay: Poor

5. Replayability

Like most Arcade Flight sims, H.A.W.X 2 doesn’t last very long in single player story mode with about 5 hours from beginning to end with the constant restarts. However, Ubisoft have retooled the game’s level up system for the better. In the first H.A.W.X you got experience points for kills and objectives in any mode and each level up you were given new weapons or new planes or new paint schemes. This was bad for me because my favourite plane, the Su-47 Berkut, was stuck at the maximum, level 40 and I never managed to get it.

In H.A.W.X 2 you instead receive a token for every level up you achieve. You can then spend these tokens on five different branches of upgrades and every few upgrades you can unlock a plane. I poured all my tokens into the “Electronic Warfare” branch to unlock the Berkut early so I’m happy on how that worked out.

Unlocking these upgrades go straight into your multiplayer game. Things like more damage for your missiles or better evasion can be unlocked as well as special abilities and equipment such as Enhanced Guidance Pods which let you lock on to an enemy even if he pops flares. Basically, it’s like unlocking weapons in Modern Warfare 2. A very successful model I might add.

The best thing is that you no longer have to grind the same story missions over and over to get XP. You can use Arcade mode, Custom story mode (you can choose different weapons and planes for the story missions) and Survival mode all give you XP to buy more upgrades.

Even your plane gets XP! The more missions you do with a plane, the more XP you get towards it’s “plane mastery” level which unlocks new weapon kits, increases the plane’s abilities or gets you new paintjobs to use in both single and multiplayer modes.

So you get a lot more than most Arcade flight sims!

Replayability: Very Good

6. Balance

I’ve already covered how this is a single player game designed for co-op play. You will be utterly frustrated by how much the game throws at you and expects to survive much less actually succeed in the missions.

Not only that but the enemy missiles have better tracking ability, the enemy has infinite amount of flares (you have a maximum of around 15) and uses them with impunity and the final insult: Enemy planes make ludicrous 90 degree turns that you can’t possibly follow even with Assistance OFF mode.

So basically, the game is cheating to create some artificial difficulty. It reminds me of the worst parts of Mario Kart.

Balance rating: Bad

7. Originality

Adding some superficial new features (take-off and landing, in air refuelling) and ripping ideas (including entire storylines) from Modern Warfare 2 (Drones, AC-130, Special Ops mode…the list goes on) does not make for a very original game.

On top of that, it still carries the original’s flaw of being derivative Tom Clancy bull wrapped up into yet another game. Would Mr. Clancy have sold the rights to his name if he knew how much games Ubisoft would churn out of their numerous divisions?

Originality rating: Very Bad

8. Addictiveness

Thanks to a robust collection of modes and good online multiplayer and co-op, you’ll generally be able to find something to keep you playing in H.A.W.X 2 especially now that you not only level up yourself but also the planes you fly. Upgrade tokens and several options to pick from makes gathering XP much more rewarding than the old linear level up system and having survival and arcade modes as well as custom story settings makes the grind more pleasurable than most other games with similar set ups.

Addictiveness rating: Very Good

9. Appeal Factor

The reason there was only one real flight combat game (Ace Combat ) in the market meant that it wasn’t really a very huge segment to target. Unlike Ubisoft However, Namco does take its sweet time releasing Ace Combat games so there was room for another game to come in.

However, H.A.W.X really rubbed people the wrong way first time around (even though I liked it personally) and so releasing a second game that is released to lower review scores and a buggy demo version was not the way to create a good first impression. Considering fans can also grab Ace Combat: Assault Horizon on PSP only a week or so before H.A.W.X 2 came out means fans have an alternate choice if they didn’t like Ubisoft’s offering.

Appeal factor rating: Poor

10. Miscellaneous

The game suffers from noticeable bugs such as the ability to fly through ships and ram enemy planes with no penalty whatsoever and Ubisoft hasn’t really addressed any of them. I recently started the game up and received a notice that I needed to download a 50 MB version 1.1 patch before continuing. I noticed absolutely no changes in the game or the poor framerate in the PS3 version and could find no mention of the patch online, even in the game’s official forums. Way to go Ubi.

One PR success I can say Ubisoft did pull of is making an 8 bit demake of H.A.W.X 2 available online through the game’s facebook page amongst other sources. It plays like a classic scrolling vertical shooter reminiscent of the classic 1942 and is one of the best marketing gimmicks I’ve seen in a long time.

Miscellaneous rating: Decent

The Scores
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Below Average
Sound: Decent
Control/Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Bad
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Decent
FINAL SCORE: Mediocre Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Instead of a sequel, H.A.W.X 2 feels like a step backward for the franchise. The developers tried to change the gameplay dynamics of the genre in an effort to be unique but in the end managed to make a game that is frustrating to play and doesn’t even look as good graphically as its predecessor.

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  • Sharif Ahmad

    yes , this game sucks big time.and i dont understand why all those dumb AI enemy plane only target me, while the other dumb freindly aircrafts are roaming around freely.A few times i even had 8-10 missiles after me from enemy ships, planes ,sams. how do you expect someone to evade those.