Game review: Tom Clancy's HAWX 2
For PC, Xbox 360, PS3, WiiBY GEOFF PARMENTER
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 reminds me of the late 1980s arcade flier Afterburner: While I'm spinning around gunning down enemies I'm never quite sure if I'm performing an aerial ballet or wobbling through the air while my wingmen laugh up their sleeves.
Like the aforementioned arcade classic, most of H.A.W.X. 2 sees you playing from a third person perspective, controlling one of many technologically advanced flying machines from Mr. Clancy's near-future.
Like all action-orientated flight sims, missions can quickly become stagnant. Fly to check point A, encounter bogies, track them until your lock on goes red, fire missiles, fist pump, tell Goose he's buying the first round, rinse and repeat.
To try and keep things fresh, H.A.W.X. 2 shakes up mission selection, alters enemy attack plans and asks you to pilot different machines with different abilities.
The story itself is about as routine as one of its namesake's books. There are missing Russian nukes to worry about, some insurgents are insurging and it is up to you - whether it be flying for the RAF, the Russians or the H.A.W.X. team - to blow that threat out of the sky.
New to the H.A.W.X. series is player-controlled takeoffs and landings. In the original H.A.W.X players were simply dropped in to the mission en route and took over the controls.
The sequel occasionally requires that you taxi to the runway then takeoff. This is generally a matter of holding the 'go forward' button until you are at the correct speed and then lifting the nose or pointing your plane at a landing strip then lowering landing gear. Players asked for it, they got it.
The aerial combat in H.A.W.X. 2 is a mixed bag of new and old. You're still pointed in the direction of enemies and expected to take out entire squadrons but new AI and abilities occasionally turn the tiresome missile-lock combat into a weaving, fast paced and hectic encounter.
As you fight different squads you can expect to face different AI. The first fight I got into our squadron was ambushed. These ambushers where quickly dealt with using the simple track and lock gameplay.
After defeating them, and going through a mildly annoying aerial refuelling mini game, I was put up against a more experienced squadron of fighters. All of a sudden the combat was close quarters and fierce.
These first few skirmishes will get the blood rushing but unfortunately from here on you can expect more of the same and most dogfights have you chasing your onscreen HUD marker, taking no real notice of what is going on around you while the rest of your squad minces about achieving very little.
Later in the campaign you get the ability to designate targets for your wingmen but as the difficulty curve of your enemies increases the reverse must be said of your squadron.
Many of H.A.W.X. 2's missions involve defending a base or other important feature from waves of ground and air hostiles and if you assign your team to an enemy you can expect to be bouncing around from threat to threat as they fail to complete their orders.
Controlling your bird through these missions is generally very easy and responsive and you can expect to get away with the craziest of upside down, back flip, spinning donkey kick moves without the worry of stalling your craft or experiencing redout - though if you are a hardened flight sim fan you can activate the OFF mode, a carryover from the first H.A.W.X.
This makes flying more challenging even if you're still piloting the plane from the exterior.
Mixed in with the Top Gun fight scenes are some new, and some seen-before side missions.
These will see you taking control of unmanned drones as you listen in on terrorist pillow talk or - as in the Modern Warfare series - you will perform tower defence from your attack helicopter, helping friendly units escape as you apply generous volumes of cannon.
The game is visually impressive due to its use of high-definition GeoEye satellite maps, so long as you can remember to avert your eyes from the HUD tracker to take in the vistas you're so intent on dropping explosives all over.
It is in the added game modes and the multiplayer that H.A.W.X. 2 will shine. Missions can be replayed with your choice weapon load out and plane type while your victories unlock alterations in arcade mode so you can change ammo and enemy difficulty.
If your wingmen were a weak point in the singleplayer game, things get a touch more serious as you take to the sky with 3 player-controlled allies in the multiplayer. Dividing up enemies and planning strategies for the cleanest victory adds a new level of enjoyment.
H.A.W.X. 2 certainly has enough going for it to be a large improvement over its predecessor and if you were a fan of the first you're probably already champing at the bit to get your hands on this.
For new players, H.A.W.X. 2 offers the ability to jump right in and take the fight to the skies, but if you've never been a fan of this genre before, H.A.W.X. 2 won't do enough to change your opinion.