As Maverick from Top Gun would say, â€śYou donâ€™t have time to think up thereâ€¦ If you think, youâ€™re dead.â€ť Itâ€™s the sort of thing that a man piloting a F-14 Tomcat that costs around $38 million US dollars shouldnâ€™t be saying. But despite Val Kilmerâ€™s haircut and an over-the-top display of man love, Top Gun made me fantasise about becoming an ace fighter pilot. Ubisoftâ€™s follow-up to the high-altitude shooter might be just the ticket for those like me who didnâ€™t quite live out those dreams.
Tom Clancyâ€™s Hawx 2 puts players into the cockpits of 32 of the worldâ€™s most technologically advanced flying machines. Instead of the single-threaded story seen in the original, this sequel revolves round three different US, Russian and British campaigns. Each national pilot has their own back-story, much like the Call of Duty series, and you will skip around the globe completing missions for each nation that feeds into an overarching narrative.
Although the plot is fairly convoluted, it turns out that a new world war is approaching because someone canâ€™t babysit some nuclear warheads. After three nukes go missing from a military base in Russia, insurgent forces have been launching attacks against US air bases with increasing frequency and potency. Throughout the game youâ€™ll be taking on these invaders and completing missions for the Scots, Russians, Yanks and more. All complete with horrendous accents and cut-scenes that would make even Michael Bay wince from excessive military clichĂ©s.
As fans of Tom Clancy would come to expect, Hawx 2 oozes technology and doesnâ€™t waste a single pixel in displaying the engineering prowess that comes with modern warfare. Laser guided rockets, satellite imagery, infrared intel, supersonic stealth vehicles and robotic flying drones all make an appearance. There is even reference to Tom Clancyâ€™s Ghost Recon thrown into the mix later in the game.
For this sequel, it appears that the developers have paid careful attention to comments made of the original Hawx game. For starters it has introduced the concept of landing and taking off in an effort to make the experience more authentic. Often youâ€™ll need to get your plane off the ground in hazardous conditions, or land on an aircraft carrier before you run out of fuel. Later in the game youâ€™ll even need to land mid-mission in order to restock supplies before taking off to rejoin the battle. Previously Hawx simply spawned players in the air and faded out after the mission objective, often leaving players wondering what they were even doing up there in the first place. Being able to start and properly end a mission with your wheels firmly on the ground helps immerse the player into the story more effectively.
But Hawx 2 is far from a flight simulator and pilots will have little trouble getting their planes in and out of the air thanks to something known as an Enhanced Reality System (ERS). The ERS is an on-screen guidance system that lets you line up and adjust speed for careful procedures and tracking targets. Considering thereâ€™s a mission where you have to refuel your plane by nudging against another plane mid-flight, the ERSâ€™s augmented reality path-finding is a vital tool.
The developers have been careful not to over-use the ERS navigation however. The whole â€śhand-holdingâ€ť assistance from the original game has been finely tuned to give players more freedom this time round. For example dogfights donâ€™t use this system and pursuing targets aimlessly through green hoops is a thing of the past. Also the missile and target-locking weaponry has been adjusted in Hawx 2 to remove the â€śfire-and-forgetâ€ť method that made engaging with heat-seeking weapons so dull previously. Now enemies are more intelligent than ever, with unique flying characteristics and a real knack for getting on your six. Often in the game you will need to ignore your missiles and rely on your cannons due to your bogeyâ€™s skillful flying and use of flares that can send your targeting system into chaos.
The only backwards step in the sequel appears to be the lack of issuing commands to your AI wingmen, a feature that the original Hawx possessed. Itâ€™s a shame, as often your teammates seem to be doing very little in your efforts to complete an objective. One mission in particular saw me having to take out five battleships, three oil rig missile turrets and enemy planes by myself. As I soared around dropping death on my enemies I would often catch a glimpse of my wingmen just aimlessly flying around on a joyride. Thankfully Hawx 2 does feature up to four-player co-op so your chance to order around your own Goose or Ice-Man is still up for grabs online.
The variety of missions has been increased dramatically with this sequel. On top of the usual dog-fights, youâ€™ll find yourself intercepting passenger aircraft suspected of hijacking, escorting ground vehicles from above and using high-tech unmanned vehicles to engage targets with devastating weapons and no risk of being hurt. For jet-junkies, some of the many licensed planes youâ€™ll get to pilot include the AC-130m F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor and the Su-37 Terminator. Youâ€™ll also be operating surveillance drones fitted with cameras for covert operations.
The graphics have been vastly improved from the first game too. Previously, low-flying maniacs were greeted by ugly block textures of what might have been dirt below them. Hawx 2 has significantly upgraded the terrain and dare-devils will appreciate soaring above the rocky, snowy peaks and over dense-forest lined valleys at the speed of sound. Although the regions in the game are sparsely populated in terms of human life, the small clusters of villages and buildings look detailed from above. When combined with the drop-dead gorgeous models of the planes, a very capable lighting engine and the classy HUD, the overall visual result is impressive. The graphics arenâ€™t perfect though, with poor lighting on ground targets and objects that will pop into view suddenly. But considering the vast map areas, the game delivers comparatively well,
The controls are a mixed bag. For more arcade players like myself, Hawx 2 was accessible but detailed enough to make me feel like I had complete control over my F-35. Having auto-correct and speed assistance allowed me to concentrate on evading and engaging, as opposed to stalling and breaking my plane in two. However for more flight-sim orientated gamers, it might seem a tad basic. Luckily Hawx 2 includes a fully customisable control system that even includes flight stick setups with plenty of options. Those who arenâ€™t used to flying games will definitely need to take some time to get used to the controls, possibly tweaking the multitude of settings to get a feel that suits. But after forty minutes of practice, most players should settle in and start piloting like a pro. The main trick is adjusting your speed and keeping distance as close quarter combat can often be a disorientating, albeit exhilarating frenzy.
There is little doubt that those who enjoyed the first Hawx will love the improvements made here and should be on the look out for it in stores. For fans of Top Gun or those who want to take to the skies in fighter-jets, Hawx 2 is also worth checking out over a weekend rental.
On a side note, the game has had an unusually staggered launch. Currently itâ€™s out on the Xbox 360 and PS3 owners will get a taste of the action a week later. The PC version releases in just under a month while the Wii version is slated for release â€śsometime later this yearâ€ť. Of course it all just reads as good news for Xbox 360 owners.