Jeff Markiewicz On April 9, 2009 at 7:42 am

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. is an aerial warfare title from Ubisoft Romania. Their previous works include Silent Hunter III and IV as well as the Blazing Angels series. The Silent Hunter titles were well received but the Blazing Angels series has been pretty mediocre. Will they break the trend and make H.A.W.X. a top gun?

The story starts in 2014. You play as Crenshaw who is part of the H.A.W.X. squadron sent in to deal with rebels on Mexico’s border. The rebels have been getting rowdy and it’s up to you to put them out of commission, as well as provide some ground support for a squad of Ghosts. If this sounds familiar, it’s because you may have already played it. It’s the end of GRAW2, but from the air. Once you kick some ass, your term with Uncle Sam is up and you join a private military corporation called Artemis Global Security flying for the highest bidder. The story follows a fairly predictable course but will keep you entertained. And don’t forget to close your eyes while the game loads because it will give away story locations and plot points. Oops.

You don’t need a giant manual to learn how to fly in this game, you just fly and it feels natural. While flying you will have the option of flying with or without assistance, similar to a racing game’s automatic and manual. In the assistance mode, you are unable to stall the plane at the disadvantage of being less maneuverable. You also get access to the ERS system which will direct you to with glowing gates to the optimal spot to take down your target. It works pretty well too. With assistance switched off, all the safety switches are off and you can pull some risqué maneuvers. Just watch out, you may stall your plane and crash into oblivion. You also lose the ability to go into ERS mode but the viewpoint which is off the side of the plane rather than behind it is great for dog fighting. Just know the controls aren’t perfect in this mode just because it’s such a weird angle in relation to your plane. The gameplay has been boiled down to the fundamentals. You can lock on and take out targets with a variety of missiles and bombs or use your cannons. If you have a missile on your tail you can shoot off a flare or try to outmaneuver it.  Sometimes you will have teammates and you can order them to defend you or attack particular targets but the AI is pretty stupid so you typically can’t rely on them for much. This is pretty much the extent of what you can do.  Some of the missions mix it up with how you defend a target or attack the enemy but it’s all the same. There are three difficulty modes; Normal, Hard, and Elite. The higher you go the quicker you go down and the less ammo you have but you will be rewarded for your efforts. There is a full blown promotion system in the game similar to the Call of Duty series where you earn experience points and rank up. Ranking up unlock new planes and weapon kits which can augment how you tackle a mission. But other than a few favorites, you probably won’t care. Most of the weapons are identical so a new plane will feel more a paint job than a new experience. And you’ll look forward to using a particular weapon more than a plane, which is sad. All this adds up to an entertaining but mediocre experience.

Online is quick and dirty. There is only one competitive mode, team deathmatch but you can at least mix it up slightly with various options. So sometimes you’ll have enough missiles to take down a third world country, sometimes you’ll only have a few and have to make them count. For those who succeed and become the top gun on your team, you will become your team’s ace. This means you’re worth more if you die but as you accrue more and more kills you’ll have access to special abilities likes calling in an EMP blast or have drones repair you and your allies. Unfortunately since there is only one mode, the brilliant potential of this game is neutered severely. All the bombers you’ve unlocked and all the weaker planes, never used again. Pointless. Everyone will be flying two or three planes which is stupid. On the brighter side, there is cooperative play. Before every mission the game will automatically check to see if there are any cooperative missions going so you can quickly jump in if you like. Human allies can help significantly on the levels that require delicate micromanaging that the AI can ruin. Overall though, the online experience is ridiculously disappointing. The cooperative play is nice but since the competitive mode is nearly nonexistent, this game barely has any longevity.

The graphics look pretty good. The ground uses actual satellite imagery. The terrain and cities are well modeled and make the world more than a flat texture. Going up into the sky you’ll eventually pass through neat volumetric clouds and continuing going higher will find you seeing darker skies. It looks amazing.  The planes look stellar. There are nice effects when you try to pull off crazy stunts. The explosions look nice. The issue is that even though you have this awesome genre with all these great iconic airplanes, it never feels particularly cool. It feels more like how a simulator would model the experience rather than arcade style gameplay it contains.

Sound is another category they took the simulation pathway. It’s well done and you can hear your plane go faster and slower. You’ll hear explosions all around you. The warning siren will be going off that the enemy has locked-on to you and has fired off a missile. But it’s just doesn’t feel cool. The voice talent for the cut scenes is well done and pushes the story forward but you barely hear a peep out of your wingman that you fly with nearly every mission. Overall it becomes decent but nonetheless lifeless and mediocre.

Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. took an admirable approach, boil a flying game down to the fundamentals and attempt to do it well. And they succeeded in doing that but it sort of collapsed at the production values. You never really feel like Tom Cruise in Top Gun tearing up the enemy left and right. You never get that satisfaction of knocking someone out of the sky. The story is fairly epic but it can only go so far in helping the gameplay out. The multiplayer seems rushed and incredibly lacking. The graphics look great but lack that final extra touch that makes it badass. The sound effects are well done but you fly almost every mission with two wingman that sparsely talk and immediately forgettable. The title is worth a rental for gamers who love the genre but nothing more. With the state of the multiplayer, you’re going to play the average single player, possibly beat it, and move on to bigger and better things.


Story generic and predictable but entertaining. Gameplay is simplistic but can be pretty fun at times. Single player missions are well varied but can become repetitive after a while. Multiplayer is the bare minimum.


Satellite imagery used for the terrain, well modeled cities, and volumetric clouds make the world believable. Great plane models put you in the seat of the jets you dreamed of flying since a kid. But the game looks more like a simulation than a nice badass arcade vibe it should.


Sound design is a mixed bag. The vocal talent on the cut scenes is pretty decent but the two wingmen that you fly with are lifeless and generic. The explosions will ratter around you really nice and you’ll feel the power of the jet a little bit but it all lacks the final push to make it all sound cool.


You’ll be relatively entertained throughout the single player but when it comes time to take the flight online you’ll be sorely disappointed. Graphics are nice and use satellite imagery which makes the world believable but lacks any coolness vibe. The sound design is okay with decent vocal talent and nice sound effects but even with two wingmen feels lonely on the battlefield. With the state of the multiplayer, you’re going to play the average single player, possibly beat it, and move on to bigger and better things.

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