Tom Clancy's HAWX – hands-on

We know what you’re thinking: airplanes equal flight sim equals dull. And usually we’d agree with you. But in the case of HAWX (High Altitude Warfare, Prototype, in case you were wondering) you’re wrong. Dead wrong. This is no more a flight simulator than Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is a realistic war sim, and yet both find room to balance intense combat with a more thoughtful approach to help you get the most out of your squad mates and the near-future technology at your disposal.

Here that specialist technology is the swanky ERS (Enhanced Reality System), which works much like GRAW’s Cross-Com visor. In short, it lets you control everything easily and with the minimum of fuss. Every last bit of information and help you need is located here, from tracking missiles and displaying a tactical map that shows every enemy to firing weapons and giving orders to your squadron.

There’s risk management associated with the ERS too, which turns out to be a brilliant way of appealing to newbie pilots and veterans. With Assistance mode turned on you get full ERS support, but your plane’s maneuverability is limited. With assistance switched off, the camera pulls back to a more distant third-person view allowing you to perform advanced dogfighting and missile-dodging moves such as a Cobra, a J-turn, scissors and a Kulbit – but by slowing down you run the risk of going into a stall. Playing in the third-person view is disorienting, but you’ll need to feel comfortable using it going into some later missions when the action feels like you have a missile on your tail every couple of seconds.

If, like us, you haven’t the foggiest idea what these advanced moves look like, then you’re probably going to want to fly with assistance on, though this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to crash as we soon found out while playing our way through six single-player missions and having a decent bash at the blistering four-player Co-op mode.

First up was ‘Adder’, in which we had to protect a refinery somewhere in the Middle East from a surge of tanks and then a second wave of bombers and escorts. What should have been a routine protect-and-destroy mission was complicated by the fact that if one bomber broke through then it was game over, and we found out the hard way that calling on squad-mates to either go on the attack or defend and cover is vital.