Pinpointing the moment in HAWX where the last vestiges of haughty simulation fall away to reveal the chuckling figure of an arcade game is easy: it's when your flight instructor tells you that by turning off your on-board computer, you can do skids in the sky. And that, if you're being chased by an enemy jet, you can slam on the breaks to do a 180 backflip so you're flying in reverse, facing and locking on to the surprised enemy.
You just don't get flying games like this on PC, ones that skirt so closely to the ridiculous while remaining eminently enjoyable and constantly fun. What HAWX offers is a simple, incredibly slick experience, a series of 19 varied and creative missions backed up by a surprisingly robust and involving Tom Clancy-esque plot. The controls will grate at first, as, unknown to you, they're deliberately made to feel clunky and semi-responsive. The first 10 minutes are akin to playing a game from across the room by poking at it with a broom handle. Put a few missions behind you though, and you unlock the on-board computer's off button.
With the off switch flicked, the HUD is reduced, the safety systems are put out of commission (meaning you can stall if you slow down too much), and the camera pulls way back - too far back -to give you a better look at what's going on around you. In this mode, the plane becomes a twitchy dart capable of the tighter turns needed to get a lock onto the faster, more agile targets you'll encounter. Otherwise you'll be flying with your killjoy systems on, with a kind of responsiveness that becomes more amiable the more you play.
HAWX departs from other arcade flying games in its neon light parade, the glowing visual aids decorating your heads-up display. The Enhanced Reality System guides you to targets, and at a touch it can generate a suggested path to bring you into the best firing position. Pilotwings--style gates hang in the sky for you to fly through. For ground targets, especially those in narrow city streets, it'll have you arcing up and over before coming straight down towards the exposed enemy.
K Spangly, glittery techno-porn that may be, but outside the city streets example I just related it's a fairly useless feature. You'll be left slowly threading your way through clouds for up to 20 seconds at a time, when dropping into Assistance off' mode and doing a backflip will get the job done in three. I There are a few other problems too.
Ubisoft Romania have struck a deal with 'innovative geospatial products and solutions provider" GeoEye (geoeye.com), which gives the game's terrain a realistic edge (given that it is, in effect, photos of real places). The world feels terribly scaled down though, and while the combat arena is massive you often feel like you're flying around a shrunken world. Bring your plane down to ground level and the effect is far more pronounced - your jet must be half a mile long, your wings could scythe through mountains. That is, admittedly, a side-effect of my love of real, proper flight sims. To have a world to scale would slow things down to a relative crawl, and HAWX is all about speed and wanton bravado.
Elsewhere, there's no real difference in the huge array of planes you gradually unlock as the game moves forward. Weapon load-outs can be customised, though you're restricted in what you can play with early on, making the armoury rather prescribed for the first half of the game. The squad control is simplistic too, with commands to either send your wingmen forth or reel them back in to cover your arse. You can shout at them too if you've got a mic, which is an undeniably nice touch.
Everything else about the game is immensely satisfying. Watching red diamonds skitter about the HUD in search of targets on the horizon, releasing a flock .of air-to-air missiles which spiral into the distance on a carriage of billowing, snaking smoke. Screaming through the resulting fireball at twice the speed of sound, turning sharply to line up the next target. It's giddying, hyperactive, silly fun.
HAWX is more Charlie Sheen than Tom Cruise. A vaguely comical arcade shooter in the clouds, and one that never pretends to be anything else.
Pffft, well at least Ubisoft got something right...
Fans of Prandtl-Glauert singularities will be pleased with HAWX. Whereas even hardcore fighter jet sims like Lock-On neglect to include the distinct vapour cone, which occurs when travelling at a particular velocity at which a sudden drop in air pressure occurs. Though it's often debated, it's generally accepted that this drop is the cause of the visible condensation cloud that surrounds an aircraft travelling at transonic speeds. And let's be honest, you'd have to be some sort of wanker to think that vapour cones could be caused by anything other than a sudden drop in air pressure. So don't come here rocking the Prandtl-Glaurt singularity boat with your off-the-wall theories.
Download Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
One Of The things that is wrong with HA WX is that it doesn't have a beach volleyball mini-game where you wear too-tight pink shorts and enjoy an entirely too homoerotic experience while wearing wrap-around shades. You know, like in Top Gun, the movie that so clearly inspired HAWX's makers. So, while you can't strip down to your underoos and oil yourself up, HA WX does give you the heady thrills of air-to-air combat, albeit without Kelly McGillis.
Sadly, you don't get to give yourself a comedy callsign either. How much better would it have been if you could call yourself Fuckbag or Scrotum? Wouldn't it be amazing to have your wingmen screaming the word "Scrotum!" at the top of their lungs when you downed an enemy plane? Ubisoft, make it so in some DLC, please.
But, if you can't get the license to Top Gun, make sure you get Lou Gossett Jr. from Iron Eagle involved instead. It needs to be done.