Deathmatch Doves: Hawken Hands-On
Hawken is a multiplayer F2P robot combat game in open beta. Jim Rossignol is a handsome, if slightly soft, games journalist. Together, they are words about a game on a blog, please.
Finally I managed to get some time alone with Hawken. We seemed like we were meant for each other: me a hardened dork with a history of multiplayer enthusiasms and robo-infatuations, him a speedy battle mech multiplayer combat game. We'd have so much in common.
Love at first fight?
But there's more to it than than my feeling that we just weren't meant for a long term relationship. We got along. He made me laugh. I complimented his design sensibilities, and talked about how much he reminded me of when I was a younger player, full of hand-eye co-ordination, Quake-inspired fortress type games, and pizza.
Yes, there's a lot to like about Hawken. The maps are small, claustrophobic, and interconnecting, like old deathmatch games. Hell, the entire thing is “like old deathmatch games”, with its running around and blowing stuff up. But it doesn't look like those old games, because it looks incredibly and fancy and new. And you can heal yourself with a drone robot. Which feels odd, but okay.
Those maps are astonishingly pretty cyberscape dystopian futurism, too, with flickering neon, ash-flecked air, and battered synthetic surfaces. Some of them have impressive verticality: layered loops with the ability to drop down and leap up stories of huge, rumbling buildings. Yes, I really like Hawken's visual design. But then the screenshots told you that. While I've gravitated towards games with large open spaces as the years have passed, I still quite like blasting my enemies into burning chunks in a tight corridor. (And. In. The. Game.) The maps are varied and quite beautiful, and so detailed. That part of your brain which filters visual noise is going to be engorged with new blood vessels after a week of this.
That leaping thing, I should say, isn't just me being flippant about FPS movement, it's actually crucial to the design of not just the maps, but Hawken as a whole. These are not mechwarrior's striding tanks, these are skating, racing, leap rocket-bots. Everyone can hurl their robot about with jet thrusters, making dodging an accelerated doddle, and leaping up thirty feet a basic part of movement. This is a fast game, although not Quake fast, because you are so embodied in metal and glass. Here everything is about making you feel like you are piloting an agile mech, and it works well: cracks in the cockpit screen, sparks, stomps, and shared of hot metal in the air.
I think whether people are able to engage with and enjoy Hawken depends wholly on how they swallow this feeling of movement. I kind of like it, and I know others won't. But I was certainly thankful that the FOV can be pushed up to 90 - without that touch things would have been a little constricted. I definitely took to it instantly (unusual for me these days) and enjoyed racking up kills on the prey-filled servers.
Anyway, yes: robot deathmatch. Hawken is about playing either team deathmatch, deathmatch, or one of the two ordnance-based game modes. The first of these is something like a conquest game mode, and the other launches giant aircraft things that bombard the enemy base unless they (or you, if the situation is reversed) can shoot it down with a big gun. These two later modes are the thing that makes Hawken feel like it's own game, and not some sort of throwback. They feel intense and alive, and I like that.
Hawken is in open beta, but you can already spend money on its shop of things. To encourage you to spend, the starting robot is basically Evil Edna with a windscreen wiper.
Which means that some people will want to upgrade to sexier machines. Others will make do with the killer TV set, of course, not least because there's sort of a perverse joy in piloting a spectacularly ugly junkbot in a world of ultra-slick robo-design.
You can get a robot through many hours of play, of course, of you can use Earth money to but their digi-currency and get a new ride for under a fiver. This is sort of telling regarding the disparate values of virtual items across games. Compared to Planetside 2, which a gun is about a fiver, to get an entire robot (albeit without upgrading parts) for a fiver feels like a bargain. Weird.
The robots rotate on a trial basis, too, so you can always try something that isn't a free junkbot. You get to sniff the merchandise without actually soiling it, because you can't customise the trial robots. If you want to have your robot and change its parts, you have to buy. That can be done with XP you earned playing, of course, it just takes longer.
In conclusion: Hawken and I will see each other again. But we're not going to have a long relationship. There's just not enough there. Not for a mature gentleman. It feels incredibly well made, like a hand-crafted thing, except all digital grain and electronic edges. The combat is pacey and bombastic, and offers the right kind of reward for skill, as well as money.
I'm going to be keeping an eye on the beta, and I think you should, too. After all, it's more free robots.