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Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 (X360)

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 (X360)

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 Review

Back in the day there were few genres of game more exciting than the flight simulator. It was the perfect way to show off how computers could emulate modern technology, even though none of us had ever seen the inside of a cockpit, and was often pointed to as a counter-argument to anyone who said computer games were bad. Not only was it trotted out every three months that children who played on flight simulators had improved hand-eye co-ordination but occasionally the odd story about a child of twelve passing some simulated pilots exam would surface.

Not that anyone really wanted to spend that time taking off and landing Boeing 747s… It was all about the "dog-fight", which while a huge and technical affair in the real world, had been reduced to little more than an aerial demolition derby on most home computers. Gamers might well be coming for the reality but they stay for the carnage. Yet, with a wide range of virtual thrills and different ways to get that destructo-fix the genre as a whole has been largely ignored by the modern player.The sequel to the Tom Clancy title aims to try and resurrect the genre’s flagging fortunes. Can it succeed?

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It’s clear that the limitations of the genre as a whole have been on the mind of the developers when creating H.A.W.X 2. Huge open expanses of sky and endlessly firing off automatically targeted missiles at wave after wave of enemy in short spurts it can be exhilarating but in the long term repetition will scrape through the rush and force the player to hit the ejector seat. So Ubisoft Romania have decided to break up the fast paced action levels as best they can with a variety of missions that look to push the air combat genre into new territory. Funnily enough the move into the more mundane missions that real pilots would be posed with brings an extra dimension to the title.

For example some missions see aerial espionage as the order of the day, no need for combat or a wave of heat seeking explosions, just the slow burn tension of tracking vehicles in grainy night vision. As well as this many missions have scripted events, such as boss fights or emergency refuelling, that suddenly shift the focus of the wider mission to something more immediate. Certainly the missions and storyline here are more sophisticated than in the first title and in the vast majority of like-minded games, even if the multiple plot strand storyline does descend into Clancy-esque babble if too much attention is paid to it.

The fact that the game is a flight simulator that isn’t afraid to include non-flight elements such as a few simple escort missions that focus on combat is to be commended. Clearly the developers have learned from the mistakes made in the first game and it has to be said that it’s only in the later stages of the single player campaign that the game mechanics and the more open ended missions start to feel a little laboured.

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AI has been improved from the first game too, so much so that even the most seemingly routine of combat scenarios now has to be approached with extreme caution and will test the skills of H.A.W.X veterans. While it of course makes the game more rewarding in the long term and prevents players racing through the single player campaign, it also makes some missions somewhat frustrating. This is especially true with missions that have a time limit as enemy planes will evade attack through all manner of sophisticated manoeuvres, making it much harder to complete in the timeframe than is necessary. That AI doesn’t seem to have been extended to the wingmen though and only the ability to designate targets for them saves this aspect from mediocrity.

The controls are simple and feel very responsive. It’s not easy to marry the complexities of three dimensional flight with arcade action and obviously some concessions have to be made. A detailed simulator this is not but it is more complicated than the likes of Afterburner and it presents a happy medium. Some types of movement will take a bit of practice but the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as a lot of flight combat games.

While the single player campaign is varied although a little short – even with the tougher missions factored in – replayability is found in the various game modes that are included as part of the package. Once a mission is completed it can be attempted and explored at a player’s leisure and with a different weapon and plane combination if so desired. Arcade mode is a far more visceral gaming experience, dispensing of all the trimmings of the game and focusing on the combat, along with a variety of tweaks that can be implemented to make it easier or harder as desired. It’s in the co-op modes where the game really becomes a lot of fun though, the difference between having up to three other human pilots communicating and devising strategies making the game feel all the more real and opening up, allowing new things to be attempted, something that isn’t really a recommended course of action when flying solo.

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The level of polish is clear to see and for it is as sleek and shiny as any of the planes available to fly in the game. There’s a real sense of speed in the dogfighting sections and a surprising level of detail on the ground, even as it passes by in a near blur. The different segments in the game all have their own feel to them too. When moving away from the more vivid aerial combat, the espionage sections have that grimy and grainy feel that plays out like Splinter. Even the different countries have visibly perceptible differences thanks to the use of specific palettes for each setting.

Effects from weapons feel slightly underwhelming, although that is to be expected as the game tries desperately to straddle both the arcade and the simulation genres. Still, some great big whopping explosions wouldn’t hurt, even if it did come off as a bit Bruckheimer. In general though the feel is consistent and clear, viewpoints changing as the player controls guided missiles directly and all in keeping with the modern era combat that is the staple of a Clancy based title.

The strange let-down in the graphics is in the cut-scenes, which seem to throw up some glitches or clipping as well as – at least in our case – strange slow down and flickers that spoil the moment. Whether this is an issue with the engine or not isn’t known but it does kind of ruin the story-telling element that is usually important in games such as these. It doesn’t harm the enjoyment too much but it is a curious issue to have, given that cut scenes generally don’t have any of the problems that rendering a live action game might encounter.

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AudioPlanes are loud and should SWOOP and WHOOSH in a deafening roar. They don’t really do that here and the sound feels underwhelming in comparison to the on-screen action. That could likely be a deliberate decision as it must be said the in game noise has many useful functions. Different noises point to stalls and missiles being locked on, prompting evasive action, so anything too brash would prevent these from coming through. Still, when a player can make more convincing plane noises with their mouths, it is arguable something isn’t quite right.

In regards to the soundtrack it is exactly what is to be expected of the Clancy series of games. The slow and sinister build-up before the dramatic clash of strings and synth that is percussion light and tension heavy. In truth it feels a bit much at times, especially during some of the earlier missions, yet it does give the game an almost cinematic quality, more so than the visuals in the cut-scenes.

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While the title improves over the first without any doubt it still tries to be all things to all men. It looks to satisfy hardcore flight fans and action lovers alike. To a certain extent it even tried to appeal to those who want a good old rip-roaring yarn of political intrigue. So in the end, where does its appeal fall?

Overall it would have to be somewhere in the middle ground, appealing most to those who simply want to experience something a little bit different to the genres that have been flogged to death and copied a thousand times. Just because the implausibly acronymed H.A.W.X. 2 isn’t necessarily original it doesn’t mean it isn’t refreshing. It offers several sections that play like strangely compelling mini-games and the main thrust of the action isn’t half bad either. This does mean that it’s not necessarily cohesive and it isn’t always riveting but for the subject matter it’s a solid delivery.

Overall the game won’t live long in the memory after completion however the co-op mode is undeniably fun and will extend the shelf life beyond the norm.

Gameplay 80/100

Instant pick up and play but with enough depth to master more tricky manoeuvres. A lot more variety than the first title.

Graphics 75/100

Impressive when it comes to the planes and backgrounds, not so impressive in other areas, the game relies on its speed to carry the visuals.

Audio 75/100

The soundtrack is a bit generic but in game sound effects actually provide a useful function in terms of gameplay.

Value 78/100

The single player campaign is short and frustrating in parts, with the other modes offering more or less challenge as deemed fit. The co-op mode elevates the package above "standard".

(Not an Average)

A fine distraction, different to anything else out there when played as an individual. A good amount of fun in co-op mode.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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