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» Warhawk (PS3)

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Warhawk has been on the radar of every (potential) PS3 owner since almost the very beginning of the PS3 saga.  This now multiplayer-only shooter promised an innovative six-axis control scheme, huge battlefields and intensive action on foot, in ground vehicles and in the sky.  While many features were cut during development, amongst others any kind of singleplayer (yup, not even bots are present) and the game was turned from a full-fledged release into a PSN release the end result still looks like it has all the necessary components to be a hit!

As simple as it gets

There is no story to Warhawk – two factions, the Eucadians and Chenovans battle it out on five huge maps. The first (and possibly most awe inspiring) map is the Archipelago, a mix between the Unreal Tournament skyscrapers maps and regular island maps. Second in line are the Badlands, which can best be described as a war torn desert map, similar to ones found in Battlefield and such. Next comes the Island Outpost which is just what the name implies – an island terrain with plenty of outposts. Eucadia on the other hand is the complete opposite with its high mountains filled with architecture. Last but not least comes the Destroyed Capital which is just what the name implies, namely a devastated expense of a once proud city. Each of the maps can be played in any of the available game modes, but due to their varying size and layout some are better suited for CTF or Nodes while others offer the most fun in (team) deathmatch.

I’m sure that CTF (Capture the Flag) and both deathmatch variants don’t need extra explanation. Nodes on the other hand warrants another word or two. In theory this game mode is very similar to standard dominance modes, well known from Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142. A team gains points by holding nodes across the map – the first team to reach a certain amount of points wins. There are two catches though. Each of the nodes has 4 stages. The first one is neutral which simply means that no team is holding it. When a player walks up to a node (baring the possibly that another player from the opposing team does the same) the node starts charging up, spreading its area of effect (nicely shown on the heads up map). The area has no direct effect on players, but two neighboring nodes can’t have their areas touching if they don’t belong to the same team. As a result a fully charged up node belonging to the red team prevents the blue team from charging the neighboring node further than stage 1. The result is that it is impossible for one team to take over the entire map in one wave, as conquering a node also means dealing with the two neighboring nodes (or one node in case of the 1st and last node in a line).

I’ve mentioned two warring sides, so some of you might be hoping for two unique races similar to what can be seen in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Warhawk actually being a remake of a PSX game, that couldn’t be more far from the truth. The two sides might look different, but that is as far as the differences go. In fact, from anything more than 30 feet the airplanes are the only thing you can even begin to guess which nation they belong to. But that doesn’t really matter, as the HUD makes it evident whether the trooper/tank/plane in front of you is friendly or not.

This makes the extensive customization options fairly unnecessary. All the time you spend in tweaking your colors, insignias and such will hardly be noticed during the game. That said, because of the fact that higher ranks (reached by playing on ranked servers) unlock additional insignias it is possibly to distinguish veteran players from the newcomers simply by looking at their outfit or plane decals. It hardly makes a difference in the end, but being able to show off by having a cool decal that most don’t have access to is a great way to boost your (digital) ego.

Jumping into a game

You must be itching to know how Warhawk actually plays. Well, if you plan on getting the PSN version instead of the retail edition which comes bundled with a headset and manual, be prepared to swear a lot as you get killed almost instantly every few seconds for the first few hours. The amount of stuff happening on the screen will overwhelm your senses and experienced players taking advantage of that will undoubtedly make your first impression less than stellar. Reading over the manual will help somewhat, but other than knowing the controls in advanced even the manual won’t be able to save you from a few humiliating situations.

Luckily things improve drastically over time. As with the best shooters on PC it doesn’t take long before you start to appreciate the scope of things. Whereas in most shooters the size of the battles never really feels epic the fast respawn time of vehicles makes it seem like there are hundreds of combatants fighting for their side instead of just 32. And even if you die and somehow manage to respawn on the other side of the map (by choosing the wrong spawn node) action is never really far, as usually at least a few enemy players are trying to conquer the nodes far away from the heat of battle, resulting in frantic 3 on 1 showoffs. This might sound unfair, but because there are weapon spawns right next to the spawn nodes it only takes a second or two before you have an even footing against your foes, which are probably already damaged from previous encounters.

Speaking of weapons, they are probably the biggest flaw Warhawk has. It’s not that they are unbalanced or anything – in fact, each one of them is perfectly suited for specific tasks. It’s just that they are extremely boring and predictable. The standard assault rifle is excellent for fighting other soldiers, but that’s about all you can do with it. Likewise the flamethrower serves best to kill unsuspecting players or burning up stationary turrets, but has a limited range which makes it useless against players who are aware of you. The sniper rifle, while extremely effective against foot soldiers can’t even make a dent on a regular jeep. And as expected the rocket launcher while deadly to vehicles can’t really be used in close quarters against other soldiers.

But even with 16 players per team you’ll probably still spend most of the time in vehicles. The ground means of transport act just like you would expect, with one stick in control of the chassis and the other managing the turret/camera (where applicable). As with the weapons every vehicle has a very specific role in combat – tanks are intended to be frontline turret busters while machine gun mounted jeeps make for ideal infantry hunters.

The focus however is on aerial combat.  The VTOL aircraft featured in this game are without doubt one of the games main highlights. At first controlling them can be a bit of a challenge because of the extreme speeds in plane mode and complex controls in hover mode, but once you master them there is nothing stopping you from becoming the next Tom Cruise (from Top Gun for those who don’t get the reference). When speeding through the sky the left analog stick serves as the main joystick while the right one allows you to roll and do loops with ease. You might think that these are purely cosmetic, but when you have laser guided missiles on your tail and an angry player in a flak turret firing at you you’ll be thankful you can make these seemly random acrobatics.  That is until you’ll be the one firing at another plane and the player you are after starts swerving all over the place. In the end the planes act as an integral part of the whole experience and are without doubt extremely well balanced against the rest of the game.

The power of the PS3?

Warhawk isn’t the most graphically advanced game out there and it was never marketed as such. But that doesn’t mean it is ugly by any means. The player models are pretty basic, though only in terms of polygon counts. The same goes for the vehicles and some of the geometry. To make up for this the textures are surprisingly good for a console game, especially when you consider the size of the maps and the amount of things going on simultaneously. In fact you’ll often be left wondering how the PS3 managed to pull off some of the huge battles you’ll find yourself in without a noticeable performance drop.  There is a strange beauty in how the game looks right after you spawn away from the action. Far away in the distance you’ll be able to see the planes circling the sky and the occasional tank making its way to the heat of the battle. It won’t be long before you find yourself there as well, but these short intermissions have a certain calmness about them that is not typical for multiplayer games.

Much like the graphics the audio doesn’t look (or rather sound) like much at first, but you’ll soon grow to appreciate all the small details put into it. With a good audio system you really feel like there is a battle raging around you. The network code is also superb with virtually no lag even when playing against people halfway across the globe. The VoIP implementation is not the best I have encountered, but I found myself understanding my teammates better than I usually do in Xbox Live titles.

A Warhawk review wouldn’t be complete without at least touching on the notorious six-axis controls. For all you Lair haters out there let me first point out that all motion controls can be turned off should you desire so. Leave them on however and you get a mixed bag of good ideas with several issues. The first problem most will experience is the floaty nature of the control scheme which results in loss of accuracy. To make up for that you can assign crosshairs controls to the analog sticks when controlling the vehicles with six-axis, so the system isn’t all bad. Judging by the way how players fight in the sky I’d say only about 20% or so actually use motion controls as opposed to the majority who still prefers standard analog sticks. Either way, as long as you have the choice no one can really hold it against Warhawk for trying to push the envelope.

Conclusion

It is ironic how often the most marketed titles end up as huge disappointments when smaller games turn out to be extremely enjoyable. Warhawk can’t really be considered a fully fledged title due to the relatively low number of available maps and vehicles. That doesn’t prevent it from being one of the best way PS3 owners can spend their money right now though. With just a bit more content and perhaps a singleplayer component (even if it means just adding bots) this game has the potential to be the PS3 GotY. A future content update perhaps?

 

Gameplay
87/100
The game might seem simplistic at first, but when 32 players start fighting there is nothing simple about that!
Graphics
87/100
It might not be the most advanced game on the system, but it does a good job of maintaining a high framerate with some spectacular action on the screen.
Audio
89/100
The sound effects are terrific and the VoIP implementation is rather good. Find a good clan and you are set for life!
Value
85/100

The lack of bots or a singleplayer campaign puts a dent in what is otherwise a game you’ll end up playing for months.

Multiplayer
93/100
The network code is flawless and the online interface makes finding games a breeze.
Overall
(not an average)
88/100
If you want to drop bombs as a way of getting back at someone who just sniped you, Warhawk is the game for you.




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