Back in 2005, Warhawk began life as a tech demo designed to showcase the Sixaxis tilt function and PS3’s ability to render hundreds of on-screen aircraft. Two years later, it’s an almost unrecognizable online Battlefield: Modern Combat tribute with extensive on-foot warfare, available as an online-only game from the PS Store. Warhawk’s development history might be baffling, but the concept couldn’t be easier to grasp - a sign-on, blast-off massively multiplayer online war game, as two sides go head-to-head. And judging from our experiences on the recent public Beta test, it could be the multiplayer sleeper hit of PS3’s troubled infancy.
The game initially feels geared towards air combat - though it’s a different experience to that promised at E3 in 2005, where early videos highlighted scores of twitchy, maneuverable planes screaming through the air, assaulting enormous behemoths, in scenes akin to Independence Day. Judging by the Beta version, the aerial combat is less epic, but a vast expansion in terms of depth.
For example, while the “Warhawk” plane - a futuristic Harrier jet - remains crucial to the game’s mechanics, they’re a lot more agile, with players flipping between “hover” (ideal for targeting ground-based foes) and “jet” (ideal for evasion and covering ground fast) mode with the tap of a button. Sixaxis control is responsive, if twitchy - perhaps preferable to analog control for rapid evasive rolls, but not precise targeting. Aerial battles are a bit stop/start despite the sheer volume of combatants, and it’s hard to track exactly who you’re after.
On the ground, nippy 4x4s and ponderous, powerful tanks are liberally distributed. The jeeps can accommodate three players: a driver, passenger, and a vulnerable-looking gunner who, for the sake of exposing himself to a riddling of bullets, is able to control a gatling gun. And, of course, the vehicle’s cooperative nature can only be fully appreciated online. Tanks are similar; only room for two, but when one’s operating the central cannon and the other is protruding from the turret wielding a hefty rocket launcher, it’s a daunting sight.