Reviewed: September 25, 2010
Released: September 7, 2010
Ubisoft takes to the skies with their latest high-tech flight-combat sequel, H.A.W.X.2. Recently, there has been a lull in the aerial combat genre so this was a welcome addition to my gaming library, at least in theory. I certainly enjoyed the first game in the franchise so my expectations were high.|
As with any good sequel, Ubisoft has built upon the original filling in some missing components and enhancing what was already there to begin with. New for this year are take-offs, landings, and mid-air refueling, plus the added ability to play the campaign cooperatively with up to four pilots.
H.A.W.X.2 spans the globe as you take on the role of multiple pilots representing multiple countries. Youíll fly a varied assortment of real-world aircraft engaging in aerial combat, ground assaults, escort missions, and even some exciting new aerial recon and surveillance. These new modes are actually the highlight of the entire game and break away from the more traditional combat modes.
All of the missions flow together in a seamless timeline of events that tell an exciting story. The missions are so entwined that in one mission you will ďpaintĒ targets during an aerial recon mission then return to the area in a stealth bomber to blow those same targets off the map. Other missions will have you eavesdropping on conversations with a laser mic or providing air support for a ground rescue mission.
When it comes to gameplay H.A.W.X.2 builds on the established genre then takes it to some exciting new places. For those looking for the classic Ace Combat look and feel you can settle in to the Assistance Mode where speed is regulated and its impossible to stall. In this mode you can cycle through the traditional views like the chase cam, cockpit, and nose view. It is also in this mode that you can engage the E.R.S. (Enhanced Reality System).
The E.R.S. can be toggle on in a variety of situations from missile avoidances to engaging an enemy in a dogfight or plotting a complicated course toward a concealed ground target. Itís especially useful in carrier landings and midair refueling. When activated a sequence of triangles appear on your HUD indicating the desired flight path. All you have to do is maintain course and speed through these ďringsĒ to accomplish your goal.
Later in the game you will encounter advanced enemies and in greater numbers and you canít always rely on computer assistance. Itís times like these you need to turn Assistance Off and get more tactical. In this mode youíll switch to a third-person perspective from an isometric angle that allows you to see your plane and multiple enemies. This mode can be a bit awkward at first; your joystick and flight directions are no longer relevant to your viewpoint and it can become extremely easy to crash if you are engaging in low-altitude combat. But by using this mode your plane has much greater maneuverability and the ability to perform slip turns so you can lock in on the enemyís ďsixĒ.
I was extremely disappointed with my copilots this year. The A.I. is horrible, to the point where they hardly create a distraction for the overwhelming odds youíll be going up against. Itís almost as if the designers were relying on the fact that you would be playing this game cooperatively. You donít even have the ability to order your squad to attack your target or protect your ďsixĒ. You will be doing almost all the work in the campaign missions.
H.A.W.X.2 supports several flight sticks including the one that came bundled with Ace Combat 6. Sadly, the game is infinitely better with more intuitive controls and realistic handling if you have one of these sticks, but that alienates everyone who doesnít have one already and doesnít want to spend a large chunk of cash on a relatively niche controller. Donít get me wrong Ė the game is fully playable and enjoyable for the most part with a standard controller, but it is just so much better with a stick. And for some reason, they removed the voice activated command system this year. Admittedly, it was kind of gimmicky in the original game but it worked and I used it.
Over the course of the rather lengthy campaign you will earn experience points that will rank you through various levels, earning you new planes, weapons, and access to new missions. While you often have several choices of planes and weapons for each mission, there is always a recommended plane and load-out so you can jump right in.
H.A.W.X.2 offers a fantastic multiplayer component starting with a drop-in/drop-out co-op mode for the campaign mode, now with up to three other pilots. Nothing is quite as exciting as having a group of friends actually playing as an organized fighter squad. Hopefully they will serve you better than the computer A.I. You can also engage in PVP modes for solo dog fighting or even team battles with up to 8 players. Experience earned in multiplayer is shared with that earned in the solo career.
As before, the game relies on realistic satellite photography to create photorealistic landscapes that look amazing from 5,000 feet but start to fall apart when you skim the deck. The lack of 3D buildings and trees really detracts from the overall realism, but then again, H.A.W.X.2 was meant to be played from high altitudes. In some missions you are even hit by AA fire if you get below a certain altitude. Whereas the first game relied on iconic locations, the sequel takes place in more generic locations so you really have no point of reference. Mountains and oceans look great but itís hard to relate to anything. In the first game you were defending our nationís capital. In this game you are bombing power plants in some generic city.
Plane models are excellent but unless you are playing from the chase view youíll never see your own plane and unless you hold down the missile fire button to follow your missile to its target the enemies will never be anything other than boxes and diamonds, such is the curse of long-range combat. Even when you move into dog fighting range the enemies are mere blips on the screen. At least with ground assaults you have the ability to zoom in several levels and see the basic shapes of tanks, trucks, and mobile SAMís. H.A.W.X.2 steps up the presentation with some in-game cutscenes and mission briefings that really help move the story along. Itís a huge improvement over the original game despite a few framerate glitches and texture quality issues. Obviously, a flight combat engine isnít ideal for rendering cutscenes.
The audio presentation is superb with a great soundtrack that will get your patriotic blood pumping and even boiling at times. The rest of the sound experience is mostly your engines, which are muffled unless you are playing from the chase view, the whoosh of missiles, the clatter of machine gun fire, and powerfully deep explosions. Youíll also get the occasional mid-mission briefing and chatter from your wingmen.
H.A.W.X.2 is a good 8-10 hour game on the standard skill setting and there is no telling how long you will play this online. There are plenty of people playing and itís a fun way to rank up and earn new planes and weapons you can use when replaying the story mode at higher skill levels. The co-op mode is also insanely fun and more strategic than playing with the standard A.I. There is a healthy mix of Achievement Points that covers completing missions to performing well and hitting various milestones during combat. The Survival mode will certainly test the endurance and skill of even the best pilots as wave after wave of planes attack you until you eventually get blown from the skies.
H.A.W.X.2 is a great flight combat game when approached from a cooperative standpoint, but the single player is a bit lacking. Despite some incredibly fun and original missions, much of the game still relies on you going up against impossible odds and with very little support from your wingmen. This makes things painfully difficult in the final levels as you fly in tight circles trying to avoid enemy missiles because you ran out of flares 15 minute ago and the enemy never runs out of missiles. It gets even worse when you are trying to escort ground forces or protect a target, which essentially puts the mission on a timer. Itís these missions where you merely try to survive until the next checkpoint.
H.A.W.X.2 is definitely worth a rental if you have any interest in the genre whatsoever. If you already have a flight stick then its also worth checking out, but unless you and a few of your friends all plan to buy and play this game diligently for months to come, itís a hard game to recommend as a permanent addition to your library, since most of the fun is based within the shared gaming experience.