H.A.W.X. 2 Review (Xbox 360)

Game Review: H.A.W.X. 2
Release: September 7, 2010
Genre: Flight Combat
Developer: Ubisoft Romania
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii
Players: 1-8
MSRP: $59.95

Back in early 2009, Ubisoft had a dream—a dream of incorporating just about every game in the Tom Clancy franchise together through one global, catastrophic war.  GRAW 2 covered the ground war on a squadron level, and EndWar allowed you to strategically take control of huge numbers of troops in a voice-controlled RTS.  However, ground warfare is boring (unless you worked for Infinity Ward prior to 2010,) so Ubisoft decided to take to the skies with a new flight combat experience that bridged the gap between arcade flight games and full-on aviation simulators.  H.A.W.X. was born… and it wasn’t half bad.  A year and a half later, Ubisoft Romania has developed a sequel to the franchise: H.A.W.X. 2 (I know, it’s unoriginal, but at least it’s to the point.)

H.A.W.X. 2 is remarkably similar to the original game in terms of gameplay.  Missions start with you taking control of a specific plane and carrying out missions against both ground and air targets.  Occasionally, you’ll be tasked with defending a location against invading troops or eliminating specific targets within a given time period.  All the while, you’ll find yourself dodging an endless barrage of missiles and anti-aircraft fire.  To add a little variety, Ubisoft has also included UAV missions and gunship missions… just like in Call of Duty.  More on that later.  In addition to the solo campaign, online competitive multiplayer and four-player co-op is also included, as are a free flight mode, arcade mode (which places specific stipulations on existing campaign missions), and survival mode.

Thankfully, the core gameplay from H.A.W.X. 1 is largely intact.  New damage models for the planes give you very distinct visual cues as to how close you are to blowing to pieces, and the GeoEye satellite-sourced environments look really, really good if you stay above 1,000 feet.  The first game pitted American aces against an evil private military.  It was unbelievable, but it worked.  H.A.W.X. 2, on the other hand, borrows a few story elements from the latest Modern Warfare game in order to move things along.  Rather than stick with one protagonist, you’ll find yourself switching between American, British, and Russian Loyalist pilots as you fight insurgent and Russian Separatist armies across Eurasia.

The best thing about the H.A.W.X. franchise is how nicely it bridges the gaps in the flight combat market.  Japanese arcade-style games like Ace Combat are never going to appeal to the Modern Warfare crowd, and neither will a full-blown sim that only allows a six missile payload.  The inclusion of the OFF mode allows players to break the rules of physics to a certain extent; powersliding a jet suddenly becomes possible with a simple double-tap of either trigger.  Even though the game doesn’t go out of it’s way to even point out the feature, OFF mode is often how dogfights are won or lost.

Sadly, H.A.W.X. 2 does fall short in a number of areas—perhaps even more so than its predecessor.   While the plane graphics have improved slightly, they are more often than not hidden behind dark nighttime or dusk lighting conditions.  The cutscenes are one particularly low point; they’re a mix of pre-rendered CG and in-engine captures.  The in-game scenes are plagued by last-gen graphics and low frame rates, while the pre-rendered moments are dogged by abysmal voice acting and a complete lack of diversity.  In the end, these shortcoming manage to make a fairly intriguing story absolutely mind-numbing to watch.

Additionally, it must be noted that H.A.W.X. 2 tries very hard to waste your time.  The AC-130 mission (straight out of Modern Warfare) is an entertaining break, but the four or so UAV missions are not.  Essentially, your job as a UAV pilot is to hover stationary over a city while staring at a satellite image.  On occasion, you will get to shoot a missile or listen in on a phone conversation… that’s it.  You never even see a rendering of said UAV, and to say that you are “piloting” it is certainly an exaggeration.   Takeoff and landing sequences are also new this time around, but aside from a couple of instances, they really don’t add anything at all to the gameplay.  On occasion, I wrecked my plane while landing after a mission.  Accordingly, I had to reload the last checkpoint and try landing again.  Not fun.  Last but not least, the final two missions are hugely frustrating.  It took every fiber of my being to keep from throwing my controller into the TV while dodging satellite laser beams in the last level.  It’s hard to avoid a vertical line of insta-death whenever you have no sense of depth… maybe it would work better in 3D?

The Final Say: Quite frankly, H.A.W.X. 2 is a mess of solid core gameplay mixed with tacked-on, ill-conceived “improvements.”  It’s unusual for the first game in a series to be superior to the sequels that build upon it, but that is certainly the case here.  That’s not to say H.A.W.X. 2 is a bad game; I really believe that if the developers had another six to eight months, they could polish it up just fine.  Taken as it stands, H.A.W.X. 2 is very rough around the edges.  I liked the first one better, and I can’t reasonably recommend the sequel at its current price point.  Wait until Toys R Us knocks it down for the holidays, then give it a shot.

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