One of the hardest missions is Operation Iron Arrow. In it, the enemy has placed a number of jamming stations on the ground in Chicago, which scramble your ERS, but by staying within a certain radius of an AWAC the signal remains clear. Of course, this is more difficult than it sounds when you have to protect the AWAC from enemy aircraft as well as destroy the jamming stations it finds.
These kinds of multi-layer missions where either a slight restriction is placed on where you can fly, or you’re faced with a difficult choice whether to pursue enemies or stay put and protect an ally are the ones that work best.
Others are more straightforward dogfights, but even these manage to look and feel epic in scope, or carry a kick in the teeth right at the end just when you think it’s all over. Operation Glass Hammer is probably the best example of this, with Rio under attack from all angles from fighters, landing craft, tanks and CAS planes, followed by the appearance of some Ace pilots, who prove pretty adept at dodging your missiles until you’re willing to switch Assistance off and try some more advanced aerial moves to take them by surprise.
Even the climax of the first mission, Operation Adder, is pretty testing thanks to the introduction of a few bombers who end your flight career prematurely if just one of them gets through your defences and drops its entire payload on an oil refinery you’re supposed to be protecting.
If all these missions sound a bit taxing and exacting, the checkpoints are superbly spaced and positioned right before the main action begins, so you’ll never get stuck for too long or have to fly looking at scenery for ten minutes. It’s such a simple thing to get right, but you’d be surprised at how games such as Blazing Angels managed to cock up its checkpoint saves and suck the fun out of the game like a deflated Zeppelin.
The online co-op and Team Deathmatch multiplayer mode look to add a whole new dimension to the single-player missions. Now, instead of issuing simple attack or defend commands to two AI wingmen, you can bark more detailed orders over your headset at up to three team-mates and even engage in a little friendly competition to see who can rack up the most kills. Imagine the difference the wingman command system will make to, say, Operation Torchlight; three players could cover the different flight paths the enemy squadrons take, while the remaining player could stay with Air Force One at all times and mop up anything that gets through. If you’re thinking about playing co-op, or even four-on-four Team Deathmatch for that matter, it won’t be half as much fun or as rewarding if you don’t have a headset.
HAWX is exactly what you want from a flight combat game. It’s instantly accessible without pandering to thickies, it leaves it up to the player whether they want to use a more advanced control scheme (but cleverly incorporates the two), and the missions are varied and exciting. Ubisoft Bucharest has obviously learned one hell of a lot from the underwhelming, period dullathon Blazing Angels, making HAWX leaner, meaner and more addictive. It’s our current flight combat game of choice.
Mar 4, 2009