Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X 2
Developer: Ubisoft Romania
Release Date: September 7, 2010
I reviewed the first H.A.W.X. back in March of last year and overall I enjoyed the game despite its flaws, like a cliché storyline and a lack of mission variety. I actually liked the game more than Ace Combat 6, which in my opinion the worst AC game ever made (and therefore I’ve made an enemy of 90% of the arcade flight sim fandom).
So Ubisoft released a demo of H.A.W.X 2 on both the PSN and Xbox Live (though you need a gold subscription for that) and features two missions from the game, a mission as a Russian fighter pilot in the North Caucasus region flying a Mig-29 and a mission in Somalia as a new H.A.W.X pilot with the F-35A (or B, I can’t really remember) in a bombing mission.
Overall, I enjoyed the demo very much and despite a few flaws it does seem like a major step up from the first H.A.W.X.
The very first thing that greets you is a CGI cutscene of a Russian general explaining how some separatists launched a surprise attack on a Russian Air Force base and stole some bombers and you have a mission to intercept them. So any hopes for a less clichéd storyline are pretty much dashed from the beginning but at the very least the presentation seems a lot better than in the prequel.
When you start the mission the first thing you notice is that the plane’s controls are “heavier”Â and that your jet has more inertia than before. If you bank your plane slightly to the left or right, the Mig will slowly drift in that direction like a real plane would. Don’t get me wrong, H.A.W.X 2 is still an arcadey flight game with completely unrealistic physics, but the developers have attempted to add a small amount of realism to make the game more challenging.
The graphics have also received a boost. The planes and terrain look great and when you manage to shoot down an enemy you’re not just treated to an explosion. Rather, the entire plane is ripped apart and wings and canopies go flying in different directions. It really makes a kill feel worth it. They also need to be worth it since actually getting a kill is quite difficult in this game. Enemies actually evade missiles effectively now, use terrains such as mountains and pop flares when you’re locked on to them. In fact, most of the time you actually need to get into gun range and use your cannon to get a kill, which gives me mixed feelings. It does make the dogfights more exciting but incredibly time consuming at a certain point. I kept yelling at the enemy pilot to “die already”Â because I was on his tail for a couple minutes but he just kept popping an infinite amount of flares. To be honest, I think he was spamming flares because this was the part in the tutorial mission where the game explained how missiles can’t be relied on 100% due to flares and such and the developers wanted to make that clear as the other planes in the mission didn’t use flares AS much, but we’ll have to wait for the full game before we can see if they’ve struck a balance between missiles and guns.
The second mission didn’t answer that question because the only weapon I had in the mission was a precision bomb that showed off another new feature of the game: the bomb camera. When you activate the precision bomb, you don’t get a reticule on your screen that shows where the bomb will fall; instead you switch to a bomb camera similar to what you see in real life footage of planes bombing targets (except not in black and white and not as grainy) and you simply aim and drop bombs where you want them to land. It does make using bombs more fun than most other arcade flight games.
Other new features in the game include midair refuelling in the first mission and carrier take off and landings in the second. Overall, they’re okay but there are some problems. When you initiate mid air refuelling, the camera switches to a third person “over the shoulder”Â style, and as you get closer to the drogue (the refuelling hose) the camera zooms in more and more which creates a cool effect. My only complaint is that I thought I was close enough to start refuelling but nothing happened so I kept getting closer and closer till the drogue was literally big enough to swallow my entire plane! How did that happen?!
The problem with the carrier take offs and landings is that they really feel tacked on. In Ace Combat 5, when I took off or landed on a carrier I felt inertia and needed skill to land. In H.A.W.X 2 I simply launched off the catapult going 0-450 MPH in two seconds, and as long as I slam on to the deck of the carrier it counts as a successful landing no matter how badly you screw it up (you can actually land the plane sideways and you’d still complete the mission).
There are some bugs in the demo as well, though that might be because this is some early code. When I’m first placed on the carrier for takeoff a message pops on the HUD telling me to start the engine (square for PS3, X for Xbox 360) so I duly do so but then…nothing happens. I can’t take off or move, my plane simply sits there on the deck. I restarted the mission and found out that I had to wait two seconds for my commanding officer to radio me and tell me to turn on my infrared vision (which is wrong because it’s actually night vision) THEN I can take off. Also, curiously some planes are mislabeled in the PS3 version but not the 360 one, which could indicate why the PS3 version was delayed by a week.
Overall, H.A.W.X 2 looks like a fun sequel but if you’re the kind to fret about why there are no tailhooks for a carrier based aircraft in a game where you can carry 30 bombs and missiles on a single plane and not worry about fuel, then this isn’t a game for you. But for the rest of us, September 7th should tell us if H.A.W.X 2 can satisfy the “Highway to the Danger Zone”Â fantasies.