Once you’re through the banal story and into the actual fun stuff though, Tom Clancy’s HAWX
gets a lot more impressive. You can practically watch it pick itself up, dust off the chaff of the feeble plotting and start to glow in the glory of sheer gameplay.
One of the most interesting things about HAWX
is that it’s more than just a simple arcade flight combat game, thanks mainly to the way that role-playing mechanics have been bolted on.
At first the two don’t seem to go together all that well, but it’s worth remembering that HAWX
is a military game; levelling up is more like being promoted judging by the way it’s presented. Hitting a new level gets you more than that burgeoning sense of pride. It gets you a new medal too.
In fact, it gets you more than that. Proving your skill at airborne combat will allow you to expand your arsenal of weapons and fighters. You start the game with the bare minimum of supplies – a plane that impossibly manages to dawdle through the sky without falling and a bunch of powerful, but somewhat bland JSA missiles.
Levelling up and gaining ranks however will soon give you access to huge and experimental bombers, as well as increased payloads and new types of weapons that are suited to specific tasks.
What we like most about the way the level-gaining has been built into the game though is that you can gather experience from a number of places. You’re not just limited to finishing the missions, going through the motions like one of the Red Arrows doing the same show for the billionth time. You can gain experience through multiplayer matches, which is good if you’re not all that interested in following the hollow excuse for a plot.
Conversely, if multiplayer doesn’t suit you and you’re stuck on a particular level then you can gradually harvest XP by re-attempting past missions.
Ubisoft has carried an achievement system over to the PC from the console versions too, which is something we most wholeheartedly approve of. Doing a certain number of take-downs or stunts will earn you a commendation, which comes with a huge XP boost and a specific set of unlocks. You get new weapon load-outs to equip your fighter jets with before you start the mission.
The whole game is playable in a co-operative mode too, both locally and online, that means you and a buddy can work together to try and get through those especially hard missions. There are plenty of those too, including one mission we saw that tasks you with escorting Air Force One to safety as a waves of fighters descend on the jumbo.
The Air Force One mission is fairly a-typical of the type of levels that you get a chance to see in Tom Clancy’s HAWX
too; big, open areas and a illogically large swarm of enemies. Owing to the arcade focus, HAWX
isn’t afraid to go over the edge of reason when it comes to pitting you against enemies, which is both a good and bad thing. There’s more stuff to shoot at, but it all tends to go down with just a missile or two, making drawn-out dogfights an unlikelihood.
We tried that mission at least five times in co-operative mode and still found ourselves giving the President an early landing, even on the easy difficulty – which is a tad worrying from a balancing point of view. Luckily though, there’s a whole load of different technical aids to help make the game a bit more fair, each of which can be complemented with extra hardware in the PC version of the game...