Wot I Think: Tom Clancy’s HAWX

By Jim Rossignol on March 24th, 2009 at 3:30 pm.


Shiny lookin’ flying game Tom Clancy’s High Altitude Warfare eXperimental squadron landed safely on the IBM desKbox last week. In the quiet hours between sleep and typing endless alpha-numeric characters into the uncaring face of the internet, I’ve been giving it a go. So should the titular Tom Clancy be proud of the polygons to which his name is attached? Or is it time to grab the ejector seat lever of shame? Here’s Wot I Think.


Something like a reason for gladness: a use for analogue control devices. A flying game! They’re almost as few and far between as space sims, are they not? Okay maybe not quite as rare, but they’re certainly unusual fare. I had to dig out huge fossilised boxes from under the stairs to get close to my Microsoft joystick, and although I could see it pinned under that box of Kieron’s magazines that somehow ended up in my house, I finally gave up and used my 360 controller instead. Not bad, you know. The feisty airplanes fly okay with a thumbstick, although the stick button-press function meant my greater exertions expended all the counter-measure flares from my bird. It’s okay though, I was much more likely to crash into the ground than be shot down. And I only occasionally flew upside down.

HAWX is, I am forced to observe, a bit broken at the outset. The Steam version of the game, which I have been playing, elects to install .NET Framework whenever it starts up, promptly crashes the installer, and then launches the game without another hitch. It’s a peculiar thing, but some how confirms the experience: Jim Rossignol, you are playing this game on a PC. Yes, random technological error, I sure am.

The game itself is immediately playable, and the methodology of air combat is instant and tangible. No simulation take off and landing trappings here, it’s just about the shooting. You’re in the air immediately, the targets are ahead of your, and you starting learning the ropes. Of course on my first go I immediately flew into the ground while “having a look”. Then again while getting in a fiddle trying to change the view point – first person is so much more involved that the plane-cam third person, I feel. Once these minor issues were out the way I was swooping about and ordering my wingmen about with aplomb. The assist stuff, which gives you a VR “tunnels” you should fly down to avoid a missile or chase a baddy, is really neat. I can see why they were so pleased with it. I’m guessing it’s not too far from the reality of computer-assisted combat flight that real pilots face today.

That said, what comes later, which is the ability to turn off the assist systems and be flung into a RADICAL CAMERA ANGLE (which was apparently key to the way the game was marketed) seems almost irrelevant to how things play out. The time that the game spends selling the idea to you does little to explain why it might be a good idea. Aside from one tutorial mission you never need return to it. Assist on always seemed the sensible way to fly, to me, since it allows you to stick to the superior first person perspective, and, well, I know how planes move about in the sky. It also provides the signposts for where to fly. On harder difficulty levels assist off becomes purely a good way to jump out of the way of missiles, and the third-person perspective lands you in all kinds of trouble. Rely on the electronic signposting to dodge missiles, or to get you behind an enemy plane, and you’ll win out – not least because you can’t afford to waste missiles by fluffing a lock with a poor approach on the target. That’s all too easy if you’re flailing about doing stunts in assist off mode. All in all, the capacity to turn the assist off sounds exciting, but amounts to little more than a loss of HUD clutter and a dramatic change in perspective.

That satellite-imaged terrain, by the way, seems a little variable. In some places the scenery is spectacular, but in others it’s a little like the photograph-of-featureless-hill in sims of old. If there was one complaint I could have about the visual design of the game it’s perhaps that it needed to be both more extreme, with battles in bad weather, or under spectacular sunsets. But also in that the impacts on the ground seemed a little hollow. Is that really how popping open a tank should look? It’s flashy, but rather weightless.

Anyway, the bizarre near-future plot in which air-bound corporate mercenaries bomb rogue states into submission makes little sense, but it’s essentially nothing more than a gunmetal excuse to give you access to the huge range of modern combat aircraft that Ubi have licensed for the game. There are Eurofighters, Dassault Mirages, Lockheeds and Grummans encompassing all types of F-number planes, and even the splendid Saab 35 Draken, which looks a bit like a spaceship from Buck Rogers. I had a small metallic model of a Draken when I was a kid, and I still wonder what happened to it.

Yeah, I can never be a fighter pilot. I’m too old to start training, probably, but I’ve also got a knackered eye. I couldn’t spot a bogey from a bird-strike until it was too late. Yeah, maybe the six year old boy in me would really like to have been an instrument of NATO’s “peace-keeping” war machine. It looks like a fun time.

And if HAWX is anything to go on, fighter pilots really just get to drag some reticules together whilst avoiding getting shot down by other aircraft or anti-aircraft guns. How hard can be it be? Actually I’m prone being a little flippant around HAWX: the single player campaign does actually provide near perfect difficulty curve, and the missions are suitably varied. From slow bombing runs to frenzied dogfights, they just about encompass all the variety of aerial combat in modern war. There are moments, here and there, even without the RADICAL CAMERA ANGLE, when you pump the afterburner towards the enemy, have wingmen cover your ass, spit out four missiles in a volley, and have whirling bads explode on your face. Those moments are okay by me.

Use the full scope of the sky and find yourself twisting through dogfights, looping the loop and generally being more like a stunt-plane than a sober military type. You can push that much further with the assist off, but the forced camera suddenly seems to undermine what you’ve achieved, and kicks you out of “I am fighter pilot today” mode. HAWX errs on the right side of doing things in an arcade style (I’ve little interest in precise flight sims) and the balance of shooter and flight is relatively refreshing. Of course if you’re playing on a console you’re probably going to prefer Ace Combat (that never made it to desKbox) or be totally at home with the exploded third-person views.

But then there’s online multiplayer: the exulting choir in my head sings a little when I get to play a new type of multiplayer. Co-op campaign, ranked dogfight matches – a chance to become both an ace pilot and a solid wingman. I start poking people on my Steam list to see who else has the game? We can play a co-op campaign. No-one? Ah well I’ll jump in online and see what open games are available…

Right. Right. Crash to desktop makes more sense, I guess. I got other stuff to do, anyway. Things to blog, washing up waiting for me.

I want to like HAWX. I like that it gives me options, and lets me totally ignore its main feature, and be fine with that. I’d ideally like to be able to play it multiplayer too, but that’s not happening today.

The heart of the game is kind of grey and unambitious, but that’s okay: Flying! Shooting! A garage filled with $20m aircraft – which are at least all there, even if the difference is negligible and they all pretty much perform on spec for any mission. Yeah, it’s a tiny little military porn dream, all wrapped up in instant accessibility. With chums yelling in your ear I bet it’s a riot. Sadly, between the bugs and lack of dynamism this is hardly something I can recommend to anyone, least of all you, Steve. Perhaps pick this one up in a few months when the patching teams have done their thing, or when it’s down to $10 somewhere.

Like my little metal Saab Draken, I suspect HAWX this is going to end up as something of a lost toy. We’ll remember it every now and then, maybe wonder where it is today, but we won’t genuinely care, and it won’t really matter.

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46 Comments »

  1. unclelou says:

    Perhaps pick this one up in a few months when the patching teams have done their thing, or when it’s down to $10 somewhere.

    I’d be happy enough if it was priced competitively at all, but there seems to be a general conspiracy in Germany not to sell the game under the RRP of 50,- EUR. Which is, for a PC game, unusually high. I’ve not seen Empire for more than 39,-, for example.

    And I am not really interested enough to order it from somewhere.

    • PHeMoX says:

      It’s because retail stores have those fancy dollar signs in their eyes… all the time. HAWX was pretty popular on consoles, hence why you won’t get it for less than 50€.

      It’s stupidity in progress at best, because I for sure won’t buy into that crap. The demo felt good and made me want to full game, but at least for now… it’s not going to happen. I think 25€ is more than enough for that game.

  2. sissyneck says:

    and here i had been thinking that this was just the tony hawk franchise going completely off deep end.

  3. Ian says:

    No “HAWX RAWX” verdict then?

    Shame.

  4. schurem says:

    game shure is better placed on the big living room HDTV and xbox controller.

  5. cqdemal says:

    For me, it’s like Dynasty Warriors. With planes.

    It is fun, but is also beyond disposable.

  6. LewieP says:

    @unclelou

    I know you said you weren’t interested in ordering it, but you can get it for £18.62 delivered to Germany from Amazon UK. Works out as €20.27.

  7. unclelou says:

    game shure is better placed on the big living room HDTV and xbox controller.

    Big TVs really don’t do anything for me. The deciding factor for me is how much of your field of view is filled, and that works better for me with a big widescreen monitor I sit close to than a TV that is usully further away, with the added bonus of seeing more details.

    I sometimes wish I’d find the console-gaming situation as immersive as sitting in front of a PC, but it just never happens. :-/

    Oh, and of course a pad is the way to play this.

  8. unclelou says:

    @Lewie

    Thanks a lot! That does sound rather tempting. Less than half of what I’d pay here. Although amazon.co.uk has recently stopped delivering some items to Germany. They claim it’s the legal situation (which is nonsense), rumour has it it’s the weak pound. The bastards! :)

  9. Andy says:

    @unclelou: I you ever DO want to order it from somewhere, the Spielegrotte has the UK version of the game for 30€, plus shipping and handling fee because as a UK version, it doesn’t have a USK seal.

    http://spielegrotte.de/index.php?kat=100056&anr=43793

  10. Andy says:

    eh, too slow. But amazon UK seems tempting… now let’s check the price for the 360 version.

  11. Pags says:

    I actually had a model of the Saab 35 Draken too; I remember the nose was made of soft black rubber and I thought it was ugly so I pulled it out. It is now gone, probably to Oxfam.

  12. mandrill says:

    I enjoyed the demo immensely and will be purchasing this once the price comes down and the patching boys have done their thing. Sounds like it would be a blast at LAN parties (which reminds me, I really should organise another one of those. There are a few titles which have come out recently which merit it.)

  13. Zetetic Elench says:

    Wait, “tom clany’s hawx”? Did they make a typo in the installation?

  14. DBeaver says:

    (slight spoilers ahead, if anyone cares about that)
    In stark contrast to your opinion, I found Assist Off mode rather useful, and ERS slightly boring. I really didn’t like for the game to tell me how to fly in order to succeed. I figured out the basic idea of taking down tanks in an urban environment by attacking vertically from above myself, and was rather pleased with the results. The only mission in which I used ERS was the one where you attack Norfolk and it’s “go according to the planned fly path or become a SAM sandwich”. On the other hand, in the mission where you are supposed to bomb some ultra hi-tech ship with good air-defenses into oblivion, the only way I could easily shoot the required amount of missiles/bombs up its bridge before being taken down was to go into Assist Off, and do sharp turns after every bombing run.
    In fact, I find it nice that the whole campaign is playable in two very different styles of play, and since I didn’t encounter any technical problems with my copy, I think it is a great game, even though slightly shortlived.
    P.S.-I didn’t try multiplayer yet, I’m waiting for the next LAN party… maybe it’ll bug out then

  15. wcaypahwat says:

    I was somewhat dissapointed that this is more enjoyable to play with a 360 pad than it is with a joystick.

    And yeah, the dumping of all your flares while turning to hard was also a problem for me.

    But hey, it only cost me AU$50.

  16. jonfitt says:

    I was thinking it’d be worth a whirl when it’s cheaper. Ubi games have a good track record for sales (Ubi sales week this week!).

  17. Schmung says:

    The assist off mode seemed so broken to me that I promptly deleted the demo and removed the game from my mind. The camera in it is just such an enormous pain in the arse that I stopped caring and didn’t bother finishing the tutorial.

  18. unclelou says:

    The assist mode is never mandatory except in the tutorial though.

    Plus, you can change the controls between “normal” and “expert”, the latter I found made things much easier for me. I see why people don’t want to use it, but it isn’t”broken.

  19. spelk says:

    I think the assist off mode perfectly complemented the more action orientated combat, its not needed, if you want Ace Combat play, but there is something special about seeing your bird do the tighter evasive moves and swing round and lay a couple of JStrike missiles up the tail pipe of the enemy. The targeting in this mode is a bit hit and miss, essentially locking onto the nearest enemy, but in a multi-plane dogfight with fighter jets, assist off is where the thrill and adrenaline is. Your perspective is relative, and wobetide anyone wanting to take on ground targets with assist off, splash one lizard. But for ariel dogfighting its the mutts. Assist on mode is required, for ground targets and getting a sense of whats next, and where you’re going, but assist off gives you your combat in a glorious real time “replay mode”. The missions play out quite well as co-op missions, often requiring multi-objectives to be covered by different players, and the TAC map helps with the planning of your sky based team work. Some of the missions were truly stunning, and frantic missile fests, some required precise flying, overall I think the mix was well balanced. Just the finale was a bit lack lustre. Top title for people who love their jets, and the action you can take part in, and also enjoy the glory of unlocking custom loadouts and other jets.. I just fell in love with the Harrier all over again.

  20. AlexW says:

    The fact that you can’t have Assist-Off with the cockpit view, or at least get rid of “Do this to win!” corridors, really puts me off, because that unhinged viewpoint seen in trailers makes me feel sick.

  21. Steven says:

    I found the assistance off mode much more fun. The “Normal” setting for assistance off is slightly confusing for someone one played flight sims before (for example, the plane banks when you intend to roll), so I usually use “Expert” mode.

    For me ERS makes things too easy, plus, it is just amazing to execute a break turn and flip your jet 180 degrees, pop a few missiles into the plane that was on your six, just right before you go into a stall.

    I just wish there were more dogfights like the one over washington, where you weren’t worried about protecting friendlies.

  22. unclelou says:

    The fact that you can’t have Assist-Off with the cockpit view, or at least get rid of “Do this to win!” corridors, really puts me off, because that unhinged viewpoint seen in trailers makes me feel sick.

    I never used these “corridors” – not sure, but I think you can even turn them off entirely in the menu. Or just don’t press that button.

    I’ve got the impression the options how to play the game confused people. ;)

  23. Kompi says:

    Oddly enough, the biggest annoyance I had with HAWX was that you couldn’t have both have all the nice and helpful HUD clutter and the cockpit view at once – first person and cockpit view is mutually exclusive, which I felt was somewhat breaking; either you get all the handy information or the immersive cockpit.. but never both. Novalogic’s old F-22 games let you have both, so I can’t quite figure why the much newer HAWX doesn’t.

    All that said, I found Assist Off a great deal of fun – though it has a tendency of sometimes making you lose track of which way you’re actually leveled, it provided a very cinematic-eseque manner of flying which I found alot of fun. After all this time of equating “Stall” with “very, very bad!”, there’s something amusing about using it to your advantage. No other game have made me cause so many intentional stalls for the sake of RADICAL FLIGHT MANOUVERS. Assistance On and Assistance Off are completely different modes, so I found it rather fun to be able to switch between them. Though the camera is.. temperamental, at best.

    Like others, I do despair at how poorly it treats a joystick. I actually tried with a 360 pad, but I didn’t get the same mileage as some here for some reason, with the result that I settled for using the arrow keys. I might try the pad again and see if I do better with it this time.

  24. leeder_krenon says:

    this game is pretty fun. i like that i can actually have a chance of shooting something down, unlike IL2 1946.

  25. PositiveG says:

    If you guys liked this, there are plenty of new games like this out, with a bit more accurate flight models.

    http://www.simhq.com has a forum for most of them, and contrary to the authors experience, we’re experiencing a bit of a revival in newer flight sims.

  26. DigitalSignalX says:

    How is it with just KB and mouse? I’d like to see reviewers at least provide 1-2 lines of description for those of us who don’t use sticks or controllers.

  27. pepper says:

    Havent played the game yet, but i won it in a contest and should come in sometime this week, maybe a good idea to team up with a few peeps from the RPS chatroom and do some dogfighting and see how that plays out?

  28. malkav11 says:

    I don’t have it and can’t comment for sure (I’d play it on 360 if I were going to, I suspect.), but my experience has been that flight sims and space sims are two genres that collectively hate you if you don’t have any sort of analog control scheme. The only thing I’ve ever found particularly playable in the genre was Freelancer, which is specifically mouse oriented and thus bemoaned by the hardcore.

    I guess I could just get a joystick, but (perhaps because I’ve never been able to play them properly) I’ve never been into either genre enough to bother.

  29. bitkari says:

    Where’s my Strike Commander remake, dammit!?

  30. Meatloaf says:

    Honestly I found Assist Off to be very useful, but only versus the more difficult enemy planes. I had a hard time dogfighting someone if they were one of the better enemies, and we just ended up going in circles. Turning assist off gives you much more speed and agility, allowing you to get behind the other plane and dodge their missiles. However, Assist On is the only reasonable way to make precise shots on anything on the ground, and it’s much easier to aim the 4-shot AA missiles. It seemed to me that sticking to a single mode of control is a bit limiting, and both are useful for separate situations.

    Also, what other game lets you drift a fighter jet?

  31. IanAetch says:

    I’m not sure about this, but are you even capable of doing the ridiculous stuff in Assistance ON? In Assistance off, one of the planes from the demo could flip end for end, viper style.

  32. Jim Rossignol says:

    DigitalSignalX: playable with mouse keyboard, but a bit frustrating after using analogue controls.

  33. My name is RUSE! says:

    Bah. I know it’s not supposed to be a flight sim, but when I bank a plane, I REALLY want it to turn in that direction. You know, slightly obey the laws of physics a little bit?!

    At any rate, given that I enjoyed Ace Combat on PS2 so much (even with it’s whacky Japanese ploto-irrelevento), I somehow expected more from HAWKS after all these years of having the Ace Combat formula to leech off.

    That said, 360-controller-on-PC is now a proven concept for me though. Success?

  34. phuzz says:

    @Jim if you press Alt+Print Screen you’ll just capture the current window, rather the whole screen.
    Handy eh?

  35. ChaosSmurf says:

    Personally I found mouse + keyboard utterly inferior to keyboard only in HAWX, which is really good once you get used to it. I’ve never owned a flight stick, but I’ve played a couple of space/flight sims that worked ok with keyboard/mouse+keyboard (StarLancer and some demo I played where you aimed with the mouse… It was pretty cool)

    Tried to do some coop over hamachi (internet LAN thing) with a friend yesterday – none of his missiles would hit. Some odd lag bug or other, they’d lock on, he’d fire, and miss by about 300m (on ground targets). Was a little shit.

    I found Assistance OFF to be the only way to fly, though that might be due to the keyboard-only controls being mcuh friendlier in that mode.

    I thought they could have used the ERS a lot more, like they did in the SPOILERS stealth bomber mission – that was pretty awesome.

  36. dsmart says:

    Not sure why anyone really expected this to be anything more than what it ended up being. From the onset it was billed as the farcical side of air combat. They delivered.

    If Ace Combat 6 – a far more superior product – were on the PC, now that would have been wicked. I have it on my XB360, complete with the joystick/throttle combo which I got as the special edition.

  37. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    Dear Tom Clancy:

    PLANES DO NOT DRIFT!

    That is all.

  38. cassus says:

    This game is to real flight sims what Hello Kitty: Cutie World is to OFP or Armed Assault.

    It’s a huge piece of retarded crap basically. It’s like dressing in a full set of kevlar body armor to ride your bigwheel equipped 3 sets of training wheels.

    RRRRRRRRRRRRUBBISH!

    *folds cranky pants and neatly stuffs them in the back of the closet*

    It is pretty though. Which i guess is all that matters.

  39. Fat Zombie says:

    Counterpoint:

    Of course, not everyone has five years to spend learning flight models, basic then complex controls and maneuvers, IFR and VFR flight, before finally starting to learn combat. Sometimes, they’d actually like to fly a really fast jet, and feel awesome doing so (rather than immediately stalling, getting hit by 300 SAM missiles and dying of DVT at the same time).

    Games like these are outlets for that sort of fun. Rather than Hello Kitty, it’s more like comparing Call of Duty 4 to Armed Assault; much, much, MUCH less realistic, but fairly fun, lightweight thrills.

    Even if it does have an extreme case of Multi-Track Drifiting

  40. Fat Zombie says:

    Also, I can sympathise with leeder_krenon. IL2 1946 is a wonderfully authentic game, still very pretty and with very nicely-handled, realistic crates to pilot. It’s good fun in those parts.

    However, I tend to stop playing after about an eternity of spending hours flying to the fight, then being shot down by bastard AIs (or bastard armchair simmers online) or having my engine burst into flames because I hadn’t set the radiator correctly or I’d throttled up too quickly.
    Sometimes, after all that, you want a game where you can foish straight into the fight, do a handbrake turn in an SU-27 and fill some evil dude’s backside with missiles.

  41. Lizard Dude says:

    Who is Steve?

  42. marilena says:

    Actually, planes do drift, although they do not call it that. It’s called super-maneuverability and is mostly attained through the use of thrust vectoring, but there are some other ways too, like having canards (which stay horizontal irrespective of the plane’s angle of attack).

    In fact, planes drift pretty much all the time. The Angle of Attack is the angle between the direction of the plane’s nose and the direction of the plane’s movement, so it is a measure of how much the plane is drifting at any given time. Normally it’s just a few degrees, but it can go higher.

    The game’s exaggeration is that it allows all planes to do this, when only some of them should be able to. You can do this type of maneuver even with a A-10, which is kind of absurd. But there are many planes that can do this type of thing, from Su-27 and Su-37 to F-15 Active, F-22 and Saab Draken.

    Anyway, here’s a video of a Su-37 doing the famous Cobra maneuver, which relies on this “drifting”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uTfZLQdkHo.

  43. Fat Zombie says:

    …unfortunately, you can’t perform the Pugachev Cobra in HAWX. Shame.

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