Above all the most important element for any video game to work is fun. Without this key ingredient many a million dollar project has found its way into the pre-owned bins or had its original price slashed by retailers in the space of only a few weeks after launch. ‘Fun’ is key to holding your captive audience when dealing with interactive entertainment; that and a good bit of PR. Thankfully, French powerhouse publisher Ubisoft have delivered on both counts when concerning their award winning series of war games based on the works of pro-Cold War novelist, Tom Clancy. Like the novels the games are an explosive mixture of brutal modern day warfare and technical espionage that have captured the imaginations of millions of gamers the world over, so when Ubisoft decided to take their lucrative franchise to the skies with Tom Clancy’s: H.A.W.X, good things were expected.
During the course of development process, however, someone forgot to inject that all important fun factor into Ubi’s latest project and what was released onto retailers’ shelves was a shadow of the glory days of Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. Dull, tedious and lacking in any real entertainment value, many considered Tom Clancy’s: H.A.W.X as perhaps a step to far in a series of games that was running out of steam and more importantly, ideas.
Fast forward a year and a half later and Ubisoft have decided to have another crack at the whip to once again try and claim dominance in the realms of tactical, aerial based combat. The first instalment left plenty of room for improvement; so naturally the biggest question on everyone’s lips was whether or not Ubisoft could take the criticism levelled at H.A.W.X on board, utilize it and succeed in delivering the kind of frantic, pulse pounding air-based combat simulator all were expecting the first time around.
The answer to that is yes and no. With Ubi’s sequel there’s a constant nagging in the back of your mind that not everything is working quite as well as it could, or indeed should. H.A.W.X 2 looks like a Tom Clancy game, feels like a Tom Clancy game, but rarely does it play like a Tom Clancy game. The thrills and excitement that are common place with the Tom Clancy franchise are to far a few between, and yet a part of you really wants to like it.
After a brief introduction you take command of an American Fighter Pilot who gets shot down and taken hostage by some militant force with a drum to beat. Soon after you find yourself in the shoes of a British Fighter Pilot whereupon, (with the help of an obligatory training section), you get to grips with the basics of manoeuvring, combat and landing. As with all games that involve war it isn’t long before it all goes belly up; your training is cut short and Allied Forces suddenly find themselves in a position of high alert. It’s not the most gripping of starts to a video game where the emphasis is placed on edge-of-your-seat-action and as such this slow, somewhat cumbersome introduction doesn’t bode well for what lays ahead. Next it’s off to Russia where you take command of a MiG29 Fulcrum and plunge headlong into your first taste of ‘real’ combat. Whilst there are flashes of inspiration and the ocasional sense of achievement to be had during these aerial clashes- like manoeuvring from out of the path of a volley of enemy missiles or taking out several enemy craft in succession as you pass over and around dangerous mountain peaks-all to often it can feel like a chore as you lazily move from one set piece to the next wishing for something exciting to happen.
H.A.W.X 2 is also painfully slow at times and like racing games of old it’s as if the world around you is moving while you’re in a fixed position. It’s only when you activate the ‘Assistance OFF’ mode which forces an, albeit impressive, external ‘dogfight camera’ that you suddenly get a sense of being separated from your surroundings as you bank, roll and sweep out of danger.
Takingyour craft low across open deserts, through tight canyons and over lush forests the expected rush of the environment zipping by never reaches its climax; there’s the ‘crack’ of thunder as the sound barrier is broken, but that’s all it ever is. As a result you’ll find yourself begging for something, anything, to make it seem like you really are rocketing across huge, open landscapes at frightening speeds in a MiG29 or any of the other 30+ fighter jets available throughout the game. While some might argue that the sense of speed is relative to how it might actually feel whilst sat in the cockpit of an F-14 fighter jet, that’s a moot point because unless you brave the unfriendly cockpit view, 95% of your time will be spent in a 3rd person mode.
As you push further into the games clichéd plot revolving around the occupants of some pissed off 3rd world country whom is intent on upsetting everyone ‘civilized’ and who now happens to have got their hands on a nuclear warhead, it becomes abundantly clear that the action packed set pieces which are the hallmarks of the Tom Clancy series aren’t quite hitting the mark in H.A.W.X 2. While a few of the missions are quite engaging many more drag on longer than is necessary and fail to really get the heart thumping; certainly not in the way one would imagine a video game featuring some of the greatest fighter planes ever conceived. Even when you take control of an AC-130 armed with a 40mm cannon in a level much like the one to be found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, it lacks much of the intensity and drama found in Infinity Ward’s popular FPS.