HAWX: NYCC (Much) Cop?

[When I was at NYCC, I found some time to have a quick crack at a load of games on the floor. Quick cracks. I’m going to write up the ones that stick in the memory.]

If anyone on the development team is hanging around the Ubisoft booth, you’re glad that they’re not actually standing beside me and watching. It’s about 10 minutes before the doors of the con close, and the early-twenty-something guy on the controls have spent at least the last ten minutes circling aimlessly in the sky. Really trying has long since drained away. He’s destroyed two of the three drones which he’s been charged with shooting in, but the third is proving elusive. Occasionally a missile collides with him. Occasionally he dodges one. He seems to take down the last one down by some semi-random method, puts down the controls at the end of this abstract training sequence before the mission proper and steps away into the thinning crowd, cursing about the bloody camera.

Developers would be wincing at this point, because they always do when they see someone playing their game wrong. I’ve seen it in action many times – most memorably in the creeping horror of the Looking Glasser watching a PC Format staff-writer butcher every single man in a castle. Since there’s no devs her, I’m wincing for them. I know how the game should be playing. I was there when the game was unveiled – so being one of the first to audibly laugh at the name, the full title of Tom Clancy’s HAWX making it sound as if Mr Clancy has his own male strip-team or something. I get the point. It’s an action flight sim. Traditionally they’re played solely from the cockpit. However, they wanted to try and grasp the sense that how magically insanely agile these next-generation fighter planes on, and how they can manoeuvre in ways which are more akin to a UFO than a traditional plane. To do this, the game keeps a cheery dichotomy between Assist-On (where you fly from the cockpit and have more computer assistance) and Assist-Off (where you fly from an external view which… it acts in its own way, which can’t be characterised simply as “Tracking cam on whoever you’re dogfighting with you in the middleground”). The advantage of the alternative mode is that you’re able to pull stunts which are cheerfully infeasible for anyone who was brought up on Top Gun, and being in this third-person perspective allows you to actually see them (So realise what you’re actually doing) and do things like dodge missiles and line up shots and all that.

That’s the theory.

It’s not really that simple. In this demo-pod version the game does itself no favours in introducing this characteristic take. After some basic flying, it locks you into the mode and refuses you to let you out. And by the time I’ve worked my way up to the same drones the earlier person was wrestling with, I’m in a similar situation of a camera which is so obtuse to seem unfathomable. And that’s the problem with HAWX – what makes it most unusual is also what’s immediately alienating. Perhaps there is a mass of unique pleasures there when it clicks. But unless the full game introduces the assist-off mode in a less sink-or-swim way, most people are going to bounce off the surface of this in exactly the same way I didn’t bounce of the surface of the floor when I stalled my plane for the fourth time.

The Demo’s out on the 360, and on the PC on the 26th, so everyone has a chance to find this out for themselves shortly (or have already)… but I suspect the reviews are going to be interesting on this one. The Tom Clancy games have been models of accessibility for most of this decade. But at the moment, even at the best, this is feeling like something that’ll end being to the average combat-flight sim what Space Giraffe was to the average shooter. And at the worst… well, just a whole load of people walking away from the cabinet, swearing at the camera.

That Fucking Camera.


  1. Jonas says:

    So… not a joystick game, then?

    I’m still holding out hope this will be a good game. I am really craving more action flight games to use my excellent new X52 stick with.

  2. mejobloggs says:

    I just recently got a joystick, albeit a fairly basic one and was looking forward to this :(

    What other joystick games are there with decent graphics?

  3. Xercies says:

    Jumpgate Evolution will probably need a joystick.

  4. Whiskey Jak says:

    I tried the demo on the 360 and I found that the whole assist-off mode is mainly a “break hard, make a full 180 on a dime with your plane( yeah I know) and full throttle to pursue the enemy that you just got past.

    Also, shooting with the missiles (B on the Xbox pad I think) makes it a whole lot easier than trying to gun them down, which I pointlessly did for the first two drones because I didn’t know about the freaking B button.

    Once I got that, I must admit that I really liked the demo in the end and that since I’m looking for something different to play, I’ll probably be picking this one up.

  5. Jonas says:

    Xercies: Yeah I’m looking forward to Jumpgate Evolution myself. Currently my stick is only used for Freespace 2, though I may get Evochron because the demo had such awesome physics.

    mejobloggs: Blazing Angels 1 and 2 were made by the same studio as HAWX – they have good graphics and fairly fun gameplay, and they work alright with a joystick in Simulator mode – there are two issues though:

    First of all, some of the timed objectives are timed for effortless gamepad controls, not slow but accurate joystick movement, so the time limits are extremely harsh when you’re playing with a stick.

    Secondly, the game is intent on levelling out your plane, even in simulator mode, meaning you have to keep twisting it uncomfortably when you’re executing a long roll.

  6. bitkari says:

    What other joystick games are there with decent graphics?

    Joysticks are pretty useful for flying planes & choppers in Battlefield 2.

    Oh, and there’s always IL2 Sturmovik!

  7. jackflash says:

    “What other joystick games are there with decent graphics?”

    Try DCS : Black Shark. If you’re not into hardcore realism in your flight sims, I believe you can turn much of the ultra-realism off for an easier entre.

  8. Aubrey says:

    HAWX really strongly reminded me of a game I never finished.

    The cannons in HAWX are about the only thing my prototype beat them on, though. I’m very impressed with what they pulled off. If they didn’t have to use the X = Roll, Y = Pitch paradigm for controls (i.e. go totally unrealistic as opposed to selectively unrealistic), they might have cracked the controls fully.

    As it is, I still rather like it. Oh, and voice commands work as well, just as a side thing. Definitely cool to have for ordering wingmen about. Wish more games had it for those sorts of higher level things.

  9. Kabouter says:

    Played the demo on the 360, I thought it was rather fun actually. Took me a while to get a hang of the assist off mode, but when I did, I had a really good time with it. I actually think it’s much better than the default camera mode, seeing what you are doing is a huge improvement over how it is in other arcade flying games if you ask me.

    That said though, I still won’t buy it full price. While it’s fun, I really can’t see it being fun for much longer than the demo lasts. Maybe I’ll pick it up from the bargain bin at some point.

  10. Vandelay says:

    If you mean a good joystick game, but not necessarily a flight sim, then you can’t go far wrong with Freespace 2. Unfortunately, I found it unplayable with a pad as you really need to have a hand free for the keyboard, but I remember having tremendous fun with it back in the days of using my Microsoft force feedback joystick.

    Here’s hoping that this is a good game, as I haven’t played a flight sim in a good long time.

  11. Seniath says:

    I just tried the demo briefly, but got bored quite quickly. It seemed to suffer a little from one of EVE’s (admittedly PvE) flaws; I didn’t really feel like I was shooting down planes or blowing up tanks, instead I was firing at little red squares in the distance.

    On the topic of joystick games, all I have to say is Incoming!

  12. Gap Gen says:

    I’m gonna mention ArmA again. I’m gonna do it.

    One of the joys of ArmA is in the scalability of the engine. So yesterday two of us guided laser sights for a harrier jet to bomb a town to bits. The first time I managed to tag my own location instead of the enemy tank’s. I survived by virtue of being behind some railings (you have to love the ArmA engine, really).

    The second time, having aligned the laser marker properly, the harrier locked on to and successfully destroyed the target, a fuel dump, a tree, a lighthouse and both of the spotters.

  13. DeuceMojo says:

    That demo is KILLING me. Took like an hour to download (high demand for this thing?) on Friday night and I think I’ve already erased it.
    Thought the 3rd person (assist-off or whatever) would be awesome, like Ace Combat Plus, but man I was disappointed. All I wanted to do was roll 90 degrees, yank back on the yoke and turn hard around those freaking drones. Impossible. No “lock” on your perspective in that mode. MADDENING. After what seemed like 30 minutes, I “succeeded.”
    Succeeded in shooting down the drones and succeeded in swearing I would never buy this game.
    Ah, Ubisoft, I thought I knew you. First, Assassin’s Creed, then EndWar, now HAWX. Try beating that bargain bin trifecta.

  14. PHeMoX says:

    Yup, I am looking forward to Operation Flashpoint 2. Not sure about ArmA II, but it’s basically the same juicy awesomeness.

  15. BobJustBob says:

    Sounds like you’d want the dev there so (in a fantastic world where it rains Vanilla Coke Zero) the dev could implement changes based on your feedback.

  16. Consine says:

    I love the demo on the 360! It took me a few tries to figure out the whole assistance off thing but once I did, it was awesome. I was pulling of insane 180 turns like in those crazy youtube vids. By no means is it supposed to be anything remotely resembling realism so this is strictly for people looking to have some good fun.
    I keep playing the demo every day, the coop seems fun, and I can’t wait for it to come out.
    XP systems and planes that go boom is a match made in heaven for me!

  17. Rodafowa says:

    If you switch to Expert controls, you can do everything that Assist-Off mode allows you to do without having to wrestle with That Fucking Camera.

    Still, it really is just a tarted-up, less tonto, slightly overcomplicated, slightly less fun Ace Combat. If you’ve got a FunSquareSuperPlus and you want an arcade flight sim, that should probably be your first port of call.

    That said, the majesty of AC6 didn’t really shine through in the demo either, so… sigh. Life’s so complicated.

  18. Jason Moyer says:

    So, is there a point where the game forces you to play from some shitty external camera, or can you use the cockpit camera all of the time?

  19. Schmung says:

    Tried it on 360 and the infuriating camera broke me. I hated it utterly.

    Jason : In order to do anything fancy with then plane you have to advanced mode. Doing this locks you to an external camera. A really, really bad external camera that makes doing simple things incredibly difficult because it moves around so bloody much that any sort of basic orientation is nigh impossible.

  20. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    It did take me a good 15 minutes on the demo before I realised that to make a tight turn in Assist Off mode you have to slam on the brakes and turn (then burn hard so you don’t stall). Once I worked that bit out it was a lot more fun, not quite as arcade-y as Ace Combat or something, but definitely easier to just fly about than a normal flight sim.
    Although trying to take out tanks hiding between buildings with missiles was a bit of a pain in the arse.

  21. CdrJameson says:

    When designing we often decide not to include ‘clever’ behaviour from the computer, because to the player it just seems baffling or random.

    This is an important lesson.

  22. itsallcrap says:

    Fix it! Make them fix it!

    I really want this to be good.

  23. Sunjammer says:

    I absolutely loathe the camera choice they made. I don’t see how a camera can’t be third person AND capable of a better angle. It’s so far off from your plane you get next to no sense of speed (which the game has plenty of from a cockpit view), but this over the shoulder and down default angle makes me absolutely furious. Why the hell, exactly, am i not allowed to see IN FRONT of me. Better yet, why am i not allowed to control the camera with the right stick, now that it’s effectively useless anyway. What feature of this magical future-plan is it exactly that denies its pilots the ability to look where they are flying?

    As a huge fan of the Ace Combat series, i’m really amused that they’ve basically made Ace Combat Gaijin Edition and made it so you can turn off the playability. I’m totally FOR the ability to pull off these kinds of absolutely insane stunts, but i’m not convinced i couldn’t be pulling them off effectively from the cockpit view. I hope they wisen up and allow for some assist-off camera options beyond the garbage on show in the demo.

  24. Sunjammer says:

    Also HAWX! HAWXXXXX!!!

    Whoever came up with that name seriously needs a thorough trouncing

  25. DeuceMojo says:

    Sunjammer, it will all make sense when the sequel comes out. You know…


    I hope they fix it too, it does look prettier and seems to be a little more fun than Ace Combat.

  26. dsmart says:

    That demo is KILLING me. Took like an hour to download (high demand for this thing?) on Friday night and I think I’ve already erased it.
    Thought the 3rd person (assist-off or whatever) would be awesome, like Ace Combat Plus, but man I was disappointed. All I wanted to do was roll 90 degrees, yank back on the yoke and turn hard around those freaking drones. Impossible. No “lock” on your perspective in that mode. MADDENING. After what seemed like 30 minutes, I “succeeded.”
    Succeeded in shooting down the drones and succeeded in swearing I would never buy this game.

    It is quite clearly an arcade shooter. It wasn’t billed to be anything more than that. So anyone going in and trying to pretend like it was billed as something else, is just being foolish.

    If you have a joystick and don’t want the game developer telling u how to fly – while having a pseudo-realistic flight combat dynamics on hand, this (released yesterday) is how it is done. Pay close attention.

    /me = shameless bastard

    it does look prettier and seems to be a little more fun than Ace Combat.

    Really?!? Them’s fighting words!! Have you even played AC6? I mean, played it on an HDTV, not some 4:3 antique from the eighties? HAWX doesn’t even come close. Even the much touted GeoEye satelltite maps look quite rubbish once you start to actually look at the scenery. Thats the problem with using satellite imagery – they look good up top, but quite rubbish down below. AC6 looked and played better IMO.