Games: Flights of fantasy and fun
"Tom Clancy’s HAWX" is not a flight simulation.
It’s a high-thrills aerial version of close-quarters combat. And, despite what purists might think, that makes it a lot of fun.
The T-rated game from Ubisoft begins with an engagement familiar to those who’ve played the company’s "Tom Clancy Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2," battling Mexican rebels in Ciudad Juarez in 2012. But that quick mission — which acts as a tutorial — is all you fly before the Air Force decides to disband your unit, the High-Altitude Warfare — Experimental Squadron.
You and your friends decide to join a private military company named Artemis to fight for the highest bidder. Your missions take you to the Mideast, Africa and South America before overwhelming corporate greed sends the action on a new course.
Although your squadron is designated "experimental," your aircraft are anything but cutting edge in most cases.
At the beginning of the campaign, most of the planes are downright antiquated — Vietnam-era F-4 Phantoms and Soviet-era MiGs, for example. Even in later missions — set in the early 2020s — the game recommends flying F-14s and F-117s that have presumably been rescued from mothballs.
You are given limited choices for aircraft and weapons the first time you play through each mission. As you increase in level, you gain additional options that you can use when re-playing the missions. That’s when you can truly go upscale with your aircraft.
Your assignments range from close-air support to escort to airstrikes, usually with a good amount of dogfighting thrown in. Few missions are particularly difficult, but some can get a bit tedious as they mix multiple tasks with a tight timeline.
And don’t expect to loiter at a distance, firing missiles downrange. You usually need to get close before your missiles lock, which means that you’ll twist, turn and squirm your way through each mission.
Of course most of the gyrations your aircraft endures would rip a real plane to pieces and/or kill the pilot. But, remember, this is fantasy. You also don’t have to worry about running out of fuel and don’t need to worry too much about running out of ammo.
The graphics are solid, but not spectacular. However, intricate detail isn’t a huge concern when you’re zooming over Tokyo at a few hundred miles per hour.
The controls are responsive and will be familiar to anyone who has played similar arcade-style aviation games, such as "Ace Combat." The uninitiated will face a bit of a learning curve but should catch on relatively quickly.
"HAWX" also offers a limited selection of voice-activated controls. These are generally related to weapons, electronic assistance and wingman assignments. They work well, but I prefer to let my fingers do my fighting.
Another option has been added to the traditional third-person, cockpit and gun-sight views. You can go into a distant third-person perspective that allows you to get a good overview of the action. It looks cool and the controls work well but it doesn’t promote the feeling of immersion that I prefer.
Another new feature is the Enhanced Reality System, which basically creates a series of frames that outlines the path to a particular target. In most cases, it seems to take some of the fun and spontaneity out of the game. However, it is useful when attacking anti-air bunkers that must be struck from a certain angle.
In addition to the solo campaign, you can go online to play missions co-operatively or engage in dogfights against other players. So there’s plenty of options for blissfully "unrealistic" fun.
Platforms: Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3On the Web: hawxgame.us.ubi.com