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PlayStation 3 Review: H.A.W.X. 2

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In 2009 Ubisoft released Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. and quickly the game proved itself to be a fun arcade-like experience with a light simulation element, a strong online component, and a solid campaign. The title did reasonably well in the sales department and it was obviously successful enough for a sequel, which recently hit store shelves. How does the second set of aerial dog-fighting match up to the original?

First and foremost, H.A.W.X. 2 is a continuation of the story from the original game. David Crenshaw is back, but in a somewhat different capacity. Instead of stepping into the cockpit as him you get three other pilots from different nations who all work together for a common goal. Like other Tom Clancy projects, the plot here focuses on some turmoil in the Middle East and eventually things in Russia go south (yawn). It’s familiar territory to anyone that has played other Clancy titles and there are references to characters and events from other games as well. It all comes together to make H.A.W.X. 2 feel like it fits in with the Clancy universe, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

As interesting as the story can be at times, it’s really something you click through just to get to the heart of a mission. There are 20 missions in all here and H.A.W.X. 2 offers a bevy of other modes as well. In addition to the single-player campaign there’s an Arcade Mode, Survival Mode, and Free Flight Mode. The game also features online co-op and multiplayer matches that support up to eight players at a time. The options all around are plentiful and the gameplay options are robust, so what makes H.A.W.X. 2 tick?

The heart and soul of this game is the dog fighting and just like the first H.A.W.X. this one has plenty to offer in that regard. Flight controls are relatively straightforward with a variety of fighter jets and armaments that really let you tailor the experience to how you play. Pitch and yaw, high speed flying, and locking on missiles all play out exactly as you would hope and the gameplay is intuitive. That’s the core structure of the game, and thankfully it’s good, but there are some nitpicky flaws that really take down the overall experience.

For instance H.A.W.X. 2 tries to shake up the variety with regards to mission structure. It’s not all straight-out dog fighting or escort missions, though both are here in spades, but this time around the game also does its best to spice things up with UAV sections and parts where you utilize an AC-130 machine gun. On their own these other elements aren’t necessarily bad. The UAV section stands out as kind of boring, but the AC-130 action is a nice change of pace with infrared turned on and some nice explosions. Still, neither is as fun as the dog fighting, and when you’re playing the campaign these other styles of missions really break up the action and pacing in a not-so-kind way.

The other blip in the radar of H.A.W.X. 2 is the scaling challenge, or lack there of. The game starts out simply with opponents who all but line themselves up for you to blast them out of the sky. Things get a little more difficult as the game progresses and then at some point the challenge meter skyrockets, leaving you frustrated and continuously redoing sections again and again. When you have to spend half of the allotted time in a mission tracking down one enemy that you must kill, it gets rather annoying.

All told the single player campaign takes about 10-12 hours, which I suppose is part of the reason Ubisoft went with the tweak in gameplay variety. Still, like the first game the best moments of H.A.W.X. 2 come from the online play. Co-op is a blast and it elevates the experience quite a bit, though the same variety of gameplay still brings down the pacing. The multiplayer component is solid though and rewarding with a nice set of perks and unlocks that come from experience and games played. It’s definitely where you’ll be spending most of your time and that’s not a bad thing.

Graphically the game looks great as well. Each vehicle is beautifully rendered with some high levels of detail. The models closely resemble those of the first game and everything on the HUD will be instantly familiar to those rejoining the franchise. Environments are nicely detailed as well and there are some photo-realistic backgrounds thanks to satellite imagery from GeoEye. With that being said the environments definitely fall under the category of “cute from far, but far from cute”.

From a distance the cities beneath you look fantastic and woodland areas hold up as lush and lively looking. When you get close to the ground, however, they are heavily pixilated and downright ugly. The game also has a tendency to lack in quality when it comes to cut scenes. Character models and animation is never “top notch”, and it’s not better than the original by any means. Still, the experience as a whole is pleasing to the eye. It’s just not entirely cohesive.

The sound in the game is another area that received some nice direction. Dialogue, effects, and music come together to make H.A.W.X. 2 a rich and rewarding experience. Gunfire and the roar of jets fill the soundstage intelligently and really bring you into the action. Whether you’re playing online or off, the sound never misses a beat.

H.A.W.X. 2 isn’t exactly the sequel fans of the first game were hoping for. Sure the online modes and co-op still steal the show, but the single player experience is a lesson in poor pacing and frustration. It’s this imbalance that leaves the game feeling closer to good rather than something spectacular. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but with just a few tweaks here and there the game could have been special. As is it’s the kind of game that you could get by with a rental rather than an outright purchase.

H.A.W.X. 2 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Language and Violence. This game can also be found on Xbox 360 and Wii.

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About Todd Douglass