Air warfare has come a long way since the day in 1815 that British military balloonist Henry Hunt bombed Napoleon’s tent with a stale pork pie and a ginger-beer bottle full of warm urine. The RAF are currently testing a radar-guided anti-tank missile that flies down the gun barrel of its target, blows the breech-block off, then releases a swarm of really annoyed wasps.
Amazing. Unlike HAWX. This frothy don’t-call-me-a-flight-sim flight-sim is doggedly entertaining, but has far too little personality and variety to be great. Ubisoft, realizing that most of us can’t be arsed to plough through manuals the size of Braille telephone directories, or deal with challenges like landings and spin recovery, have fashioned their own friendly, frenetic Ace Combat-like sky shooter.
Fans of that PC-shy series will know exactly what to expect from this inferior imitation. Skies, seas, and land surfaces teeming with targets? Check. Dozens of different delta-winged warbirds to choose from? Check. Jets darting around the firmament laden with enough missilery to rubble medium-sized Himalayan mountains? Check.
If you go a minute without killing something in a HAWX sortie, it’s probably worth checking you haven’t pressed pause by mistake. Most of the mayhem is wrought with fire-and-forget missiles, good for ground or air targets. This is a shame because the few occasions you’re forced to use bombs, rockets, or cannon are some of the most engaging. All kills are confirmed with a prominent HUD message that tells you how many XP you’ve just earned. Illusion-dissipating pop-ups also appear when you win achievements. Killed 1,000 ground targets? Dodged 100 missiles? Not yawned for half-an-hour? Have a pointless certificate.
The dull Clancy-couched near-future setting has allowed the devs to fill hangars with familiar fuselages. It’s also enabled them to pep up the turn-and-burn with pleasing sky-fi such as multi-missiles (down four bandits with a single key press!), ERS (HUD hoops that help you target and evade) and, potentially best of all, computerised handling assistance. When you need a little extra agility you can switch off the stall-prevention system and cloud dance as Nature intended. It’s a fine idea. The trouble is, deactivating assist also triggers an awkward third-person camera. Spoofing an incoming SAM is hard enough without the added confusion of not knowing which way your plane is pointing.
We’d better mention the surprisingly splendid scenery and inviting multiplayer. The 14-scenario campaign takes you all over the world and wherever you go the landscapes, especially the lumpy bits, are lovely. Every episode can be flown cooperatively. Tire of teamwork and you’ve got a swish deathmatch game to fall back on. What you don’t have, however, is a game with any sort of charm or character. You ‘fly’ (the flight model is as basic as they come), you fight, you pump out missiles like a broken sidewinder vending machine, but at no point do you really care. Ace Combat never felt this empty.
Apr 1, 2009