Hands-On: Hawken

By Adam Smith on August 20th, 2012 at 10:00 am.

Stealthmech descends

If anyone was keeping count, they’d probably tell you that I died a lot more often than I killed at Gamescom. Whether having my head knocked off by a hammer or huddling around a fire and failing to survive the Eastern Front, I spent a lot of time meeting makers. Let it be known, however, that I was actually quite good at Hawken, but that’s not the only reason I’m an admirer of the multiplayer deathmech delight.

Metal is alive. It walks, leaps, thunders, trips, stumbles, shakes, trembles, shrieks, warps, craters, creaks and burns with liquid intensity. Metal is alive but it is dying. Breaking apart along the very lines at which it was haphazardly welded together, the most solid of solid masses comes to a screaming, smouldering halt. Hawken’s mechs, as befits their kitmashed kinetic power and thudding grace, have more physical presence than almost any other device in the virtual realms.

My mech was light, which made it like a small building rather than a tenement block, and as another victim burst into guttering flames following an onslaught from my overheating weaponry, Khang Le, creative director of Hawken’s Adhesive Games, looked over my shoulder. “Ah, you’re one of those players.”

I’d used my jets to hover onto an overpass, cars blistering into twisted wreckage against the amored caps of my knees. From there it was a short leap, feet crunching onto the roof of one of the city block’s crowded buildings, and I could zoom in and snipe away at the enemy team, waiting for a fight to break out before opening fire so as not to draw too much attention to myself. I liked that the game flashed up ‘assist’ whenever a mech I had been peppering from afar was exploded by a teammate.

True to form, even when sealed into a bipedal war-monster, a towering vertical tank with a jetpack, I choose to avoid the extremes of action, participating from a lofty vantage point. Not for me the valiant charge, the boost-assisted strafe that sends the machine sliding into a tunnel, slamming against the wall which spews dust and sparks. I rain EMP in arcing bolts onto my enemies and the watch as my team converges like a pack of wolves, the target’s antlers now broken and no chance of the predators being punctured during the hunt.

That it’s possible to be “one of those players” in a game which already seems to be characterised by claustrophobic cityscapes and chaotic close quarters combat was a wonderful surprise. Choosing a class of mech and its weapons and equipment reveals plenty of options, and not only in terms of size and weight. The selection of items, inspired in part by Duke Nukem 3D, allows for further tactical choices, with the aforementioned EMPs nestling on the cockpit controls alongside diversionary holograms, traps and tools. It’s possible to opt for a loadout that aims for speed, meaning the game will be played with darting, surgical strikes, retreats and reparations, just as much as its possible to be the walking wall of armour and artillery that I’d expected having seen the videos.

This shouldn’t distract from the fact that whatever their size, these are machines and they are cumbersome. It’s psosible to dodge, to boost, to sail through the air, but everything feels like a man-on-machine (or man-in-machine) wrestling match. They don’t want to dance, these intimidating constructs, they want to war, and this is reflected in the slight delay on their movements. Guns fire as soon as the trigger is pulled but try an evasive maneuvre, try to swivel on the spot and react to the flaring death on your six, and the screen lurches and sways into position.

Movement has weight, just as impact does, whether with a volley of missiles, one of the city’s many vehicles caught up in the beautiful mess, or the side of a tower block. Hawken looks marvellous, the trailers haven’t deceived, but it’s not the glory of a PC being pushed to its limits, it’s a precision of design. The screen is loaded with effects but rather than bloom and lens flare, here the art represents the dirt and debris that is the accompaniament to this particular brand of all-consuming urban warfare. In an eight minute round, thousands of projectiles are fired and each one sears through the air, a static stattaco burst of interference and heat.

It’s a looker, is what I’m saying, just as the videos led us to expect. And the city isn’t all that will be on show, with open desert at the other extreme of the settings that will be offered on release. Hawken is a game where you could stand still in a corner, probably looking at the floor, and you’d still see more things happening than in hours with most games. The city, like the metal, is alive and it too is dying, although it doesn’t seem to care, with glorious neon advertisements hawking (ahem) their wares and what seem to be hovertrucks occasionally passing through the battle and then careening to the ground in dismay.

I mean, look, this is the kind of thing that just happens in the background. It’d be a dramatic QTE-based set piece in half the stuff out there.

Speaking to Le about the plans for release (full interview soon), I was eager to learn why the team had chosen to stomp along the free to play highway. It was something of a theme of Gamescom, me asking developers and publishers what they saw in free to play, and even if I wasn’t always reassured I’ve returned to England determined to recognise, more specifically, the pros and cons on a case by case basis.

Hawken’s post-release content will, so it is said at this stage, not split the community or allow advantages to big spenders. Well, not competitive advantages anyway. Paid content will, on the whole, be either entirely cosmetic or in the form of new mechs, adding variety rather than an edge over opponents. Given that the teams at play in my session were using everything from titanic heavy assault beasts to nippy advance scouts, it’s reasonable to predict that while people will have a favourite, switching into a more suitable machine to suit a game mode or map will be the best approach. Having more choices would be a boon, then, but the base game should cover for all eventualities. The paid mechs might add nuance to a role, then, or simply look more dapper.

Any mooted single player content is likely to appear in what is essentially a separate game in the same world, or at least that seems to be the understanding at the moment. Episodic stories, following pilots and their stompy steeds, are a possibility, but for now, Hawken is a deathmatch game, or a team deathmatch game. It’s a game about selecting, shooting and respawning. And it’s one of the few games of that type that I can imagine watching other people play for pleasure, not because it’s at the cutting edge, but because it has a too-rare verisimilitude. Of course these places and things are not real, but watching they way they react to every jolt, providing a wonderful noise of visual and aural feedback, is a distinct pleasure.

At one point, a heavy mech made its way onto my secluded rooftop and ran toward me, missiles streaking out in a deadly fan. I panicked. I hammered the ‘w’ key twice to propel myself forward at speed and we collided. The HUD broke down and for a moment it was like watching the world through fog, snow and static. Glimpses of the enemy’s silhouette broke through, looking large, and then the interface rebooted itself, systems restored and I saw the heavy reeling, lights flickering across its surface as it went through a similar process.

I used the moment’s confusion to scarper, plummeting over the edge and escaping into the warren of streets. The triumph of the terrified tactician out of his depth.

Hawken doesn’t just have the looks that won it so much attention when it was first revealed, it has an extremely satisfying deathmatch core. The biggest surprise is the varied pace, which will be even more evident on other maps, or with teams of friends rather than strangers. It’s not all sound and fury, although there’s a huge amount of that, and for that I, and my tired and flinching mind, were extremely grateful.

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49 Comments »

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  1. roryok says:

    Every time I hear something about Hawken it makes me want to play it more and more. Really looking forward to it now.

    • max pain says:

      I hope it will be psosible to run it on my PC.

      • roryok says:

        don’t be mean to adam

      • MiKHEILL says:

        Well it’s being pre-released on Gaikai initially so if your internet connection is up to it then there should be absolutely no concern about running it on your PC.

        But if that was just a jab at Adam, then ignore me :)

        • max pain says:

          My concern is about hardware as currently I only have a laptop to play games on.

    • innociv says:

      Definitely one of my most wanted games too.

      But one thing worries me, isn’t the investment money they got from the same people that invested in League of Legends?

      I hate the League of Legends business model. It’s nearly as bad as the pay2win ones.

      Only F2P games I’ve felt are really fair are Dota2, Tribes:Ascend, and TF2.
      I’ve played 3800 games of LoL, spend $140, and I’m still missing tons of stuff(not counting skins. I’m missing GAMEPLAY stuff after all that play). This is absurd. People try to argue that’s not required… but no, everything that affects gameplay is required. To play over 3800 games and not have them is absurd.

      • j3w3l says:

        Yes this definitely needs more hats. Mech’s with hats, now that would be a sight to see

  2. Shortwave says:

    All I can say is it’s a good year to be a PC gamer.
    Can’t wait to get my hands on this..

    I noticed they had the newer BenQ 120hz. Proper. : )

  3. RvLeshrac says:

    Wait, I thought we weren’t allowed to like games with guns and combat now.

    • roryok says:

      mechs are the exception

    • bill says:

      jetpacks are another exception.
      and double jumps. (but I don’t think this has those).

      Didn’t you get the memo with the official RPS rules?

      • roryok says:

        I certainly got my copy, but every couple of lines it the rules were interrupted by people shouting WARFACE and FACEWAR

    • Contrafibularity says:

      Wait, what?

      There is (or can be) a world of difference between games which feature combat and games made by the military entertainment complex.

      Also, what you said sounds terribly like a complaint, which is odd considering probably well over half of all gaming features some form of manshoot or similarly combative gameplay mechanic. I don’t think you need to worry about a shortage in ‘action games’ any time soon.

      I’m not saying Hawken will be either one of those categories (I don’t know) but it sounds like what little narrative (or social comment) it offers, will be in its dystopic urban environs perpetually destroying themselves, or something similar. So it doesn’t really sound like a Pentagon type of game like CoD/MoH/Tom Clancy/etc. are (these games actually BOAST about it). I also don’t think anyone with/on RPS ever forbade you to like action games, but this site wouldn’t be one of our most visited if it didn’t poke people and provoke them to think about what they’re playing and why, just like we do for other media.

      Also if the E3 presentation of Splinter Cell Blacklist wasn’t ringing any alarm bells I don’t know what will.

      • belgand says:

        Indeed it’s not even a case of real-world settings and man-shooting, but the style, tone, and nature of the game. Running up and shooting a bro-dude in the face with lots of brown, bloom, and fist-pumping militarism? Not so much. But compare it to a well-researched and highly tactical game along the line of the early Rainbow Six games where getting shot means you’ve probably died and planning, strategy, and teamwork are paramount and you might find the reaction being quite different.

  4. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    Seems like they really do impact and weight well. I think that is one of the prime aspects of mech games, and one where too many fail.

  5. Loki_MGF says:

    So many great looking free to play games, so little time!

    I still haven’t caught up on my backlog on Steam. Mind you, Tribes has decided that it no longer wants to work through Steam so I might have a bit more time now.

  6. f1x says:

    I’m still amazed by the graphic quality of Hawken, correct me if I’m wrong, they developed the engine aswell?

    and with such a small team….

    • max pain says:

      I believe they’re using some version of Unreal Engine.

      • Mr. Mister says:

        UE3/UDK, and I may be wrong, but I think they started developement over UT3, since I recall an old video with the announcer kill messages from UT3.

  7. Muzman says:

    Does the giant HUUUUUUURRRRRRRN machine play a particular role like airstrikes in Modern Warfare or is it amusingly intrusive atmospherics?

    • Kemipso says:

      Hey,

      if you’re refering to the flying saucer with turrets, it seems to be spitting stuff at the enemy team, as seen on the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udEAEARD-Fo&t=1m33s

      I never played the game myself so take it with a pinch of salt or two ;-)

      • Mr. Mister says:

        I think there’s a gamemode where you collect resources (by holding capture points maybe?) to build the big ship which will attack the enemy base.

  8. Didden says:

    I have to say, Hawken sparks something that Mech Warrior online doesn’t. Looks promising.

    • Premium User Badge

      Cinek says:

      You mean crazy running & gunning? Sure it doesn’t. But I don’t feel like it’s a good thing at all. I prefer using other parts of brain as well, not just the one responsible for reflex.

      • genosse says:

        Me too, but coming from the World of Tanks closed beta, MWO CB feels so awfully rough around the edges that it is – at least for me – not yet worth playing. I am no diehard fan of the Battletech universe and I like mechs just as much as the average guy, and what I have seen from Hawken so far seems a lot more polished.

        I hope it does not disappoint.

        • DuddBudda says:

          did you even read the NDA?

          • genosse says:

            No. And even if I did, I would not care to be honest. What is the worst that could happen? Ban me from a game I don’t enjoy playing? I’d rather practice my right to free speech in that case.

            I also bet the devs are still happy with the money I send them, despite my comment on RPS that really didnt compromise anything. ;)

          • DuddBudda says:

            you’re a selfish asshole

  9. JackDandy says:

    Really glad to hear about the possible single-player plans…

  10. Rivalus says:

    Is there any chance there will be a (paid) single player version offline?

    • goliath1333 says:

      Hahaha, you mean you don’t want the excellent feature of always being online? You can chat with friends! See their achievements!

      p.s. no, no chance at all

  11. pupsikaso says:

    Ugh. Sniping in a mech game? Come oN!

    • DeathHamsterDude says:

      Sniping?! In a 40 million dollar mechsuit? COME ON!

      • Groove says:

        We’ll just get the guy in the 50 million dollar mech-pants to snipe. COME ON!!

  12. Godwhacker says:

    This looks amazing, but I’m just not sure I can stand the idea of another multi-player shooter where I have to spend weeks levelling up.

    • nearly says:

      leveling…up?

    • Cvnk says:

      I’m sure it would be much more enjoyable if you spent those weeks playing the game instead of leveling up. I’ll never understand why people obsess about that sort of thing. A fun game should be fun no matter what “level” you’re at and if it isn’t drop the game.

  13. Iskariot says:

    I have been an admirer of Hawken since the beginning, but…. I am not a multi player gamer.
    The moment there is a good single player version of Hawken I will buy it.
    I hope they will come up with a cool story that deserves the impressive visuals of the game.
    I also would love to be able to exit my mech, do repairs etc.

  14. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    I need a bit more than just deathmatch. CTF or something similar would suffice.

  15. Smarag says:

    Yet another potentially good game ruined by pay to win and to think I was so excited about this a year ago. What a pity.

  16. Enkinan says:

    This looks pretty great. It has a feel to it that just seems spot on. Looking forward to it.

  17. Hug_dealer says:

    i wish the hawken devs well, but the more i watched the game, the more i realized its not the mech title im looking for. I prefer simulation style to arcade. Ill probably buy this just for shiz and giggles, but MWO is looking more my type.

    • PodX140 says:

      Yeah. This doesn’t look mecha per se, but it definetly moves too quickly and haphazardly for mechs.

      Looks great for what it is, but also not what I was looking for.

  18. TailSwallower says:

    Any word on LAN support? Wait, stupid question, that would require buying something.

    Oh well, hope my internet connection is up to it, and that I can convince friends to try it out. Sure, it’s free, but it’s always easier to twist an arm when you’re physically in the same room.

    • Amun says:

      LAN is still popular. Too bad the games don’t go where the players are. =/

  19. Cvnk says:

    Excitement about the game aside, this is an exceptionally well-written article. In fact I think Adam’s exuberance really comes across and sucks you in. If the trailers I’ve seen (with their glorious sound design) hadn’t already convinced me to at least check this game out, this article would have.

  20. hello_mr.Trout says:

    this game would appeal more to me if it had a fully destructable environment: imagine starting out, in the shiny neo-future architecture with your chosen mech, and watching the pavement be slowly torn up by all your stomping weight, buildings and bridges collapsing, eventually leaving just a ruined husk of city in your wake. it would also potentially add different tactical requirements to the gameplay, depending on what stage of destruction the environment was in.