When talking about online gaming for the PlayStation 3, the conversation inevitably turns towards Warhawk. A game that has quite few fans (and probably an equal amount of detractors), it was - for us anyway - an experience that we never tired of. Fast forward to today and we finally got our hands on its successor.
Now before we kick this off, be aware we are going straight into the online play aspects of the game. Yes, it has a singleplayer element, but that feels and plays like a tack on to the online game (unlike many games where the reverse is true), so we'll talk about it later.
Although playing homage to the age of cowboys, this game is set on Frontier - a planet at the edge of man's expansion into space. A planet where mutants battle humans and the prize is the "rifts"; the black gold of the future.
The basics of the game are a mix of genres that, at first glance, would seem to invite disaster but in this instance meld into a very exciting and frenetic online experience. First there is the standard third-person shooter. You know the score, you scoot around the battlefield blasting away at anything that moves, or doesn't move - depending on your ammo supply.
Now throw in aspects of a driving game where you can hop onto an iron steed (a rocket land speeder), an armored truck, tank etc. Not enough? You can also pilot a star fighter that can transform into a mech unit that not only retains its weapons but has the added benefit of being able to stomp on your opponents.
To put the icing on the cake, there is also a strategy base building aspect to the game. At your command is the ability to call down walls, ammunition stores, vehicle spawn points, bunkers, and other match breaking elements. Think about it; create your own choke points, take a commanding piece of terrain and then quickly fortify it. Set up a new base of operations. Now imagine being able to do this in a 32 player match at a frantic pace. Now you have something special.
What makes this game interesting is the array of possible strategies you can adopt. We were amazed at how players combine and work together to create bases and defensive structures. It's a game that awards team cooperation and good communication. Be warned, though, your first outing will be a real challenge as there is a steep learning curve. With a heap of mad action.
The game also ships with a co-op game option for both online and offline play. This is more of a challenge mode that will have you fighting off ever increasing hordes of mutants, while trying to build an effective set of defense and support structures.
The solo game is relatively short and introduces some of the aspects of the game dynamics. We would call it a tutorial, however its pace and limited unlocks means that it is a poor shadow of the online experience. The story is set around Emett Graves who has returned to Frontier under contract to drive out the increasing numbers of mutants. Frankly it's not that great a story and - thankfully - it's also short.
With all the different options in the gameplay you would be forgiven for thinking that the control scheme would be complicated. As it happens, the reverse is true. The standard shooter controls are all where they should be, and the flight controls are equally as easy to pick up. The build aspects of the game are controlled through a “build wheel” on the D pad. It's not complex at all, allowing you to concentrate on the challenge of the game.
The graphics are good, with the western space theme - although not overpowering - is done very well. Building structures dropping from space are topped off with some solid weapon effects. We did have concerns that the widely different weapons and systems may been unbalanced but our experience was that the game rewarded skill over items.
Apart from the poor solo game, every other aspect of the game felt well polished. In fact is was a pleasure to play a game without any discernible graphic or control issues. Stetsons off to the game testers!
Now we freely admit this game will not be everyone's cup of tea (or is that a shot of whiskey?) but if you enjoyed the original Warhawk then you can look forward to a game that is both a worthy successor and a significant step up.