previews\ Aug 30, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 Preview


The original H.A.W.X. found itself stuck in an awkward position. Fans of flight sims decried the lack of realism, including the absence of fuel gauges and plane-specific physics. Meanwhile, fans of arcade-style shooters craved more in-your-face explosions and afterburner-fueled dogfights. Instead of giving in completely to either side, H.A.W.X. 2 is sticking to its guns and bolstering gameplay with new features and types of missions.

Aerial combat doesn't have the personal nature of a FPS, and fighting an opponent who may be a half-mile away or more can be anticlimactic. H.A.W.X. 2 adds a little more excitement with the addition of a missile cam. By keeping a button held down, you get an onboard view of the missile as it flies straight into the opposition. Likewise, you also get a view from incoming missiles in a small corner-window, which certainly isn't realistic, but helps immensely with dodging and adding a sense of nervous excitement.

For brave pilots with strong stomach, the dogfighting camera offers a wide-angled view of the aerial frenzy as planes twist and turn from an outsider's perspective. Imaging standing still and watching a flock of birds swarming around each other. Controlling the action from this view can be incredibly disorienting, but equally frantic as well as tactical, since your jet gains the ability to make tighter turns.

Ubisoft has yet to reveal the full list of jets, but you can expect 32 in all. I was able to get in the cockpit of a MIG 29 Fulcrum, FA-18E Super Hornet, and a F35 Lightning II. The latter, a stealth fighter, gave me a chance to try out a nighttime mission with night vision and precision bombs. I could see the traces of hundreds of bullets coursing through the skies as I pinpointed targets on the ground below. The situation took a dramatic turn as I was forced to chase down a group of vehicles in the city below, without hurting civilians and without dropping low enough to be detected.

I flew three other, more traditional seek-and-destroy missions, and it is obvious that Ubisoft is taking measures to create a more believable world, from the ground up. All of the terrain is constructed from satellite imagery of real locations, and then touched up by environmental artists with believable structures. You'll be able to zip down between the skyscrapers of cities or spiral through the steel pylons of industrial centers, neither of which is a particularly good idea, but the daredevil possibilities are there.

All of the 20 missions can be flown cooperatively with up to four players total. Survival mode tasks you, or up to four players, with staying alive as long as possible against enemy forces, just as the name implies. Arcade mode requires players to complete missions with alternating sets of restrictions and requirements, although the rulesets are a mystery at present. Team Battle is sure to be the showstopper, with two teams of four players each, battling each other and the AI for points.

Ubisoft isn't rewriting the book for H.A.W.X. 2, but improvements are being made, including deeper storytelling and ties to the Tom Clancy universe. Edward Douglas, a cinematic designer for Mass Effect 2, has taken the reigns as Narrative Director, and Wolfhound, from Splinter Cell: Conviction, has already made an appearance in the cockpit. Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X. 2 is going to have a lot at stake this time around, especially with a main competitor about to make a return.

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