Tom Clancy's HAWX 2 - hands-on

We rather liked the original Tom Clancy’s HAWX, what with its deft mixture of arcade and sim elements that allowed the player to customize the experience to fit desired levels of hardcore-ness. Our recent hands-on with HAWX 2 revealed that we’ll definitely be getting more of the same, but with a few doohickeys sprinkled on. We played through four complete missions, and each one provided a unique hook that made it stand out from the others.

Above: The A10 Warthog has always been a favorite of ours, ever since the UN Squadron days. Of course, we had to fly it under that bridge

First up is the introductory mission called Contact, which starts things off with the newest HAWX feature – taking off. Sure, it doesn’t revolutionize the gameplay, but it is a nice added experience that makes the whole journey feel more real. It’s fun to taxi along the runway and wait for clearance before surging across the tarmac and roaring up off the Earth. This first mission also builds anticipation well – initially your job is to conduct recon against suspicious vehicle movements. You’re expecting to start raining hell right away, but instead come across several false alarms, which again takes the gaminess away and makes it feel more realistic. We won’t spoil what happens later in the mission, as it takes an unexpected turn.

Next we take on the role of a Russian pilot moving to intercept a fleet of stolen bombers. Alongside fellow squadron members, we take part in an absolutely huge air battle, with dozens of fighters and bombers weaving in and out of a veritable hurricane of bullets and missiles. After taking down the enemy craft, we then are ordered to finish off remaining bombers that are far off – which will require in-air refueling. We turn on the pilot assist system, which seems oddly to work against us rather than for us. It takes forever to follow the designated path to the refueling tankers, but we assume we can trust the system to know something we don’t. We’re not so sure, because we get there literally with twenty seconds remaining, and then guide the touchy nozzle into the tanker’s hose-cone with mere seconds left.

Above: Sometimes, one missile just isn't enough

With a fully belly, it’s on the final part of the mission. Here, more fighters and bombers are attacking a base in snowy mountains. We switch to the distant third-person view and proceed to dogfight at low altitude, almost scraping across the rocky peaks. It’s not easy taking down the enemy here – they take sharp evasive turns and constantly spit flares to throw off our missiles. A combination of rapid missile barrages and peppering cannon fire finish of these squirrely bogeys.

The third mission launches us from the deck of an aircraft carrier, and here the take-off contrasts with that of the ground-base from the first mission. The launching is neck-breakingly fast thanks to the catapult system, hurling us off the deck in barely a second. This mission tasks us with re-taking a small city of interconnected oil rigs. We have to deal with radar towers, SAM launchers, naval destroyers, and other fighters. Here, swapping between air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles must be done constantly.

After taking down half the enemy forces, we’re given the suggestion to return to the aircraft carrier, land, and reload our weapons. We don’t seem too low on ammo, but decide to try it out. We switch on the guidance system, and again, it seems more of a hindrance than a help. Since the system must build a pathway on the spot that guides you to a safe landing, it devises a bizarre, convoluted trail that sends you banking all over the place in an attempt to line you up perfectly for an easy landing. We’re betting it’s easier just to line yourself up roughly to your landing point first before turning on the guidance system.

Above: Swooping close to the oil rig towers is just too tempting to pass up

Of course, after weaving all over the ocean and finally approaching the deck, we explode instantly when we land. Whoops – looks like we didn’t notice the text in the lower left corner of the screen informing us how to lower our landing gear. Strangely, when we respawn, we have tons of ammo and so don’t need to land to finish the mission. We do manage to explode again – although this time because we weaved too close to a tower on an oil rig.

The final mission takes us on a night bombing run in a distinctly fighter-looking craft that uses guided smart bombs. We take off from the aircraft carrier, flip on our night vision, and head for the coast. We have to stay above 5000m in order to avoid anti-aircraft fire, although this just provides immunity – we tested it out and dropping below the designated height did not result in instant death. Anyway, switching to the precision bombing view locks your craft into autopilot and gives you a nice top-down perspective. In order to take out the enemy ships, it takes pixel-perfect aim, but with plenty of bombs available it’s easy. In a nice touch, the bombs visibly curve in their flight paths as their computers guide them to their targets.

Finally, enemy HELOs come after us once we’ve caused enough havoc, and since this time we’re not equipped with any missiles, we must use guns to take them out, and this also requires entering the anti-air danger zone. This proves surprisingly easy even if we take some damage. The last part of the mission sees three enemy trucks racing in opposite directions away from the city’s heart. We shoot back up to the flight ceiling and swap to bombs… only to find we don’t have clearance to fire because the risk of civilian casualties is too great. Not only is it a realistic touch, it also means we have to swoop low and take them out with strafing runs with our cannons.

Above: Your squadron buddies certainly aren't useless. In fact, we caught them stealing our kills numerous times

With the enemy properly vaporized, we fly home, this time remembering to lower our landing gear first. Looking back on the four missions, the diversity of gameplay can’t be argued. Does thesequel play it safe by not pushing the envelope? Perhaps. The additions it does have all seem to contribute positively to the complete package, even if the assisted piloting for refueling and landing seems a bit wonky. Will the game set the flight genre world on laser-guided fire? Not likely, but it looks like it will satisfy fans of the original HAWX, especially if it can maintain the gameplay diversity through all of its missions.

Aug 5, 2010