Sept 5, 2007
Two E3s ago, when we got our first real look at Warhawk, it was intended to be an earth-shattering launch title for the PS3. Featuring a persistent, constantly ongoing war spread across a fully explorable landscape, it was going to be Grand Theft Auto in a futuristic warzone, with players able to jump into any vehicle, take on missions and fight however they saw fit. Somewhere along the way, though, it was decided that those grandiose visions wouldn't really work. In fact, any sort of single-player mode was scrapped, and Warhawk was turned into what's essentially a slick-looking, futuristic take on Battlefield 1942. And although we'll miss the rich potential we were once promised, we're pretty happy with the results.
Warhawk doesn't really break much new ground (especially not if you've played any of the Battlefield or Tribes games), but as a pure multiplayer experience, it's unrivaled on the PS3. What you've got is basically a huge, detailed playground - five of them, actually, each with five to seven different layouts - for up to 32 players to go nuts in at once. There's all kinds of interesting terrain to explore, and each map is packed to the gills with weapons to shoot, vehicles to drive, bases to capture and devastating turrets to man. Most of the time there's plenty for everyone, so you'll rarely be tempted to, say, frag a teammate in order to get to the nearest plane before he does. Hell, there's even a planes-only Dogfight mode, if that's what you're after.
Be warned, though: Warhawk is multiplayer-only. There are no bots, tutorials or single-player missions to help you learn the ropes. You can start a LAN game by yourself if you just want to explore the massive environments or get the hang of the vehicles, but you won't get any action without other players - and while up to four players can jump in with a split-screen local game, the real fight is online.
Specifically, the real fight is trying to find a server online that isn't full - be ready to start each session with a lot of frustrating rejection messages, unless you want to set up your own game (which is pretty easy, with players able to choose from five different game modes and customize the match settings to their liking). That goes double if you're trying to play on a ranked server, which is necessary if you want to start unlocking new outfits and camo schemes to customize your on-foot avatar and the planes he jumps into. Once you've found a decent game to join, though, the frustration fades away pretty quickly.
The game's two sides consist of the earth-tone-wearing Eucadians and the sinister-looking Chernovans, and while there was once a story to explain why they're at each other's throats, they may as well just be wearing red and blue now. Both sides play identically, with the same weapons and skills, and while their vehicles might look different - particularly the Chernovans' black, bat-winged Nemesis fighter, which draws a striking contrast to the scrappier-looking Warhawk and its World War II stylings - they're essentially the same.
Even without different-but-complementary factions, Warhawk matches are fast, fun and surprisingly addictive. Part of this is down to the sprawling, varied landscapes and the fun that comes with exploring them - we're talking mountains dotted with European-looking villages, bombed-out skyscrapers, tropical islands and archipelagos made up entirely of sheer, precarious cliff formations. Being able to play different ways adds to the fun as well, and being on foot - which enables you to collect a wide array of interesting weapons, including flamethrowers, mines and binoculars that can be used to call in artillery strikes - is just as enjoyable as manning the turret on a jeep, rolling a tank over your adversaries or swooping around in an aerobatic fighter jet. Even the stationary missile and flak turrets are rewarding, in that they enable you to quickly rack up aerial kills and earn awards for the match.
Of course, that brings us to the game's biggest flaw (aside from the occasional freeze glitch which will hopefully be patched in the very near future): the Warhawk/Nemesis fighter jets. Flying one of these things is half the reason for playing - hell, the game is named after one of them - but it takes a lot of skill to keep them in the air. Not because of the optional motion-sensitive Sixaxis controls (which aren't as difficult to master as they might seem), but because the fighters are way too easy to shoot down. You've got to be fast, good with evasive maneuvers and extremely quick with the anti-missile chaff if you're going to survive for long.
In levels with a lot of solid ground to fight over, it's often best to use the planes for short hops from one place to another - if you fly around for too long, you're liable to attract the attention of a missile turret, tank or dude with a rocket launcher, and then it'll all be over as soon as they draw a bead on you. With lots of missile-dodging practice, though, flying will be worth your while - just expect a long learning curve before that happens.
As fun as Warhawk is, it's just barely worth the $40 it costs to download it from the PlayStation Network - we've known for a long time this was going to be multiplayer-only, but the price still feels about $10 too steep for a game with no single-player anything. The retail version is actually a better deal at $60, as it comes packed with a wireless Bluetooth headset (valued between $22 and $40 at retail), which is the best possible way to hear the muffled shouting and breathing noises your teammates will spew every time they lean a little too hard on the left thumbstick and activate the "talk" feature. Price concerns aside, though, Warhawk packs a lot of depth into its rapid-fire multiplayer matches, and its sheer variety, rapid pace and endless fun make it a must-play for PS3 owners.