In a world of Ace Combat, taking to the skies and slapping a Tom Clancy name on the box probably isn’t enough. HAWX (or properly H.A.W.X.) takes the player into the shoes, err, seat of a pilot working for a military contractor. Anyone familiar with the arcade action of Namco’s series will be instantly familiar with what’s going on here.
Initially, it seems as if HAWX doesn’t do anything different. It has some unique assisted dodges to help newcomers dodge missiles or take an angle on tough targets, but it’s stuff veteran pilots won’t need. Instead, this is standard fare, lining up enemies, locking on, and firing.
When HAWX pours on the intensity, it works well. An early mission over Brazil, loaded with land, sea, and air foes is a perfect example. Generals are screaming in your ear to protect multiple targets, ground troops are desperate for help, and co-pilots can’t handle the stress of all the enemies. Sadly, few missions live up this to this pace, relying on irritating escort missions or confusing target finders.
The one thing HAWX has going for it is a unique third-person viewpoint, called Assistance Off. While it takes away your radar and altitude meter, it provides a third-person look at the action that’s surprisingly useable. This allows for rapid changes in direction that would otherwise be prevented by the planes computer protection. The only real issue with this view is that altitude is difficult, if not impossible, to judge. Also, it’s not appropriate for missions where you need to avoid radar. You can’t see far enough in front of you.
A bright spot if four player co-op through the main campaign. While this kills the difficulty, blasting away with friends increases the fun factor two fold. A few versus modes are less exciting, doing little to expand from simple deathmatch contests that are expected anyway. Earning experience in the single player campaign does unlock new jets for use in multi-player, adding a mildly addictive quality to the operations at hand.
The story, despite taking place during (and after) Ghost Recon 2, leaves a lot to be desired. The early “plot twist” can be seen coming a mile away, and it loses all impact when it’s done through generic computerized screens in-between missions. There’s an obvious blast against using PMCs, but it’s not well written enough to care.
At the very least, HAWX provides some competition to the dominant Ace Combat series. That’s a positive for this under-utilized genre, but sadly, HAWX doesn’t do anything to be different. It’s programmed by a different development team, but it might as well have come from Namco. The more fantastical approach actually works better for Ace Combat, especially considering the disappointing story to be had here.