Now, H.A.W.X isn't a first or third person shooter like so many other Clancy titles; instead it's more of a direct competition to a series like Ace Combat. This is quite the change in venue for the franchise, and at first I was afraid that it just wouldn't stack up to the quality we expect from a Clancy game. Sadly, I must admit that H.A.W.X isn't quite as good as most of the Splinter Cell games and the like. It lacks polish in some areas and overall it doesnít quite feel like the developers nailed the concept. However, H.A.W.X is still a blast to play and it certainly does give Ace Combat a run for its money. Overall that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The game takes place in the near future, as most Clancy titles do, and features a ridiculous plot filled with political turmoil and a world gone awry. This should be nothing new to seasoned vets, but anyone expecting a solid story filled with great exposition is going to be left wanting. This game is strictly about the experience of flying in the wild blue yonder and blowing the crap out of anyone who gets in your way.
For all intents and purposes H.A.W.X plays out exactly like you'd expect it would. It's a straightforward flight combat game where you strap yourself into the cockpit and test drive, er...fly, some damn fine aircraft. The game has plenty of planes to try out, each with their own statistics and special traits. For instance a jet like the F-15 has a high speed ranking, but something like the A-12 has better handling. There are also different armor rankings, weapons packages, and additional benefits to each plane to experiment with. As you play you'll find one that suits your needs perfectly, and the nice thing is that there's a lot of variety.
The controls for the game are also very responsive no matter which jet you decide to take for a spin. Now, it's interesting to note that there are actually two different control settings that are similar, yet completely different. With the Assistance On setting you're given a third person or cockpit view of the action. While the control of your ship is On you won't stall out no matter how crazy you fly or how hard you bank a turn. It's also easier to get a handle on the environment and your relation to your enemies. With Assistance Off the camera pans back a great deal to make your plane much smaller. This allows you to see the game from a skewed angle, and while it makes combat much more difficult it is ideal for pinpoint turns and dodging missiles. It's worth experimenting with both and thankfully you can swap between the two on the fly by tapping the shoulder buttons twice rapidly.
As far as the actual controls of the game are concerned, the left analog basically controls the roll, pitch, and yaw of your jet while the right merely manipulates the camera to give you a better glimpse at the environment. The left shoulder button brakes, the right accelerates, the bumpers slide your plane slightly, and the face buttons are divvied up to allow for targeting, calling in perks, and combat such as cannon use and firing missiles. It's very intuitive and it feels very natural, so I must say that Ubisoft definitely nailed this aspect of the game.
Now, when it comes to the actual gameplay in H.A.W.X there are basically two modes: single player and versus. The single player campaign consists of just under twenty missions and there are three difficulty settings to tinker with. Unfortunately the single player feels merely like a training ground for the multiplayer component and it's not quite as robust or rewarding as you might hope for. There is some nice co-op implementation where up to four people can play through missions via Xbox Live, so that helps extend the experience if you have some friends you want to help out.
As far as the multiplayer versus mode is concerned I'm afraid the experience is not very diverse. While satisfying and a hell of a lot of fun, the versus mode only consists of Team Deathmatch. There are no other game variants built in and it leaves H.A.W.X feeling woefully incomplete. Why no Capture the Flag mode, King of the Hill, or Juggernaut type deal? It easily could have been worked into the structure of this game's engine. Maybe we'll see something like that down the road, but as it stands right now things are very limited.
With that being said the multiplayer and single player modes also feature experience building. Much like with the Call of Duty franchise as you build experience you'll gain access to new things to use. New planes and weapon packs become available to you as you rank up, and it's very satisfying taking one of these puppies out onto the battlefield. This system, combined with the gameplay, make H.A.W.X addicting as all heck despite the lack of game types.
Unfortunately as fun as H.A.W.X can be there are some game-breaking glitches that run amuck. For instance, don't be surprised if the game freezes at the title screen which will prompt you to turn off your Xbox and boot it back up. Also during Xbox Live multiplayer matches the communication is messed up to the point that you will only be able to hear certain players, or nobody at all. This is usually a prelude to the game locking up during the load screen for an upcoming match. There are other glitches in the game such as an inability to lock on with missiles, missiles that fire but aren't displayer, and deaths that will occur because your system didn't warn you about incoming artillery. It's all very frustrating and annoying, though oddly enough it wasn't enough to deter me from going back to the game. I experience these events multiple times, and so did just about everyone else I played with on Live, but the core game of H.A.W.X is just so darned fun that I didnít' want to stop playing. Ubisoft, please patch these glitches and add multiplayer modes (for free) to save your game!
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X is an awesome game despite its quirks. The gameplay is just about perfect and the online combat is about as addicting as any FPS out there. Sadly until Ubisoft addresses the issues that persist throughout and maybe adds some new modes, I'd consider it recommended, but not highly so. The game is tons of fun though I can't see the masses being gluttons for punishment (like me) to keep going back to a title that constantly locks up and glitches on them.
The achievement points in H.A.W.X are fairly easy to obtain and there's a decent spread between single and multiplayer. On the single player side of things you'll get an achievement for completing each mission, flying certain ways, and beating the game on all three difficulties. As far as the multiplayer is concerned you'll have to rack up multiple kills with each weapon, try different planes, play a lot, and win. You need to invest some serious time into getting all 1,000 available points, and it forces you to play online in order to do so.
H.A.W.X is presented on the Xbox with support up to 1080p. The game uses some fantastic plane models and with over 50 to choose from there's quite a lot of variety to be had. Equally impressive, if not more so, is the satellite imagery which was used to create some incredibly realistic looking maps. There are points where you'll swear like you're flying a jet through a Google Earth image, but if you get up close and personal with the locales the magic will be stripped away. Then again, I suppose the point of the game is to keep you 1,000 km above the ground so if close enough to see the jagged textures then you're probably about to die anyways. H.A.W.X's design is otherwise simple and it offers little surprises for Ace Combat or Blazing Angels veterans. The explosions are nice, the environments are detailed, and the plane models look outstanding. I guess that's all you can really ask for.
Equally impressive is the sound direction for the game. H.A.W.X features some great effects in the midst of battle and it crafts a nice sense of immersion. I will say that I was a tad under whelmed by the jet noise and felt that it could have been slightly more robust, but explosions, missile fire, and everything in between sounds exactly like you'd expect it to. The music is a tad bland, and it's more or less expected Tom Clancy fare. Voice acting is also something that's not a strong point since the plot is an afterthought and the dialogue is a clear example of that.
If you're looking for the next Blazing Angels or Ace Combat-like experience to tide you over then H.A.W.X is a fantastic choice. The controls are arcade worthy, the core elements of the game are incredibly addicting, and the presentation all around is very good. Unfortunately a lack of multiplayer modes and a plethora of glitches take this game down quite a few pegs. As it stands it's a solid, fun game, but it's far from being perfect and there's a lot of missed opportunity here. I'd consider it recommended, but there are definitely those out there who will get more or less mileage with the title.