PS3 Fanboy review: Warhawk

Warhawk has gone through a rather bumpy development cycle. Originally slated to be an epic single player game with a strong multiplayer component, rumors started circulating earlier this year that Incognito was experiencing development problems and were unhappy with the single player portion of the game. The murmurings turned out to be true, with Sony confirming just a couple of weeks later that Warhawk had officially become a multiplayer-only PlayStation Store title and that the single player portion of the game had been dropped.

Though a lot of people took this announcement as a portent of doom for Warhawk (dropping half your game so late in development is never a good sign), a highly successful beta during the summer was able to garner a quite a bit of positive press for the game. This combined with some glowing previews made the public suddenly a lot more interested in Incognito's foray into online warfare. So did they pull it off?
You can purchase Warhawk in one of two ways, either through the PlayStation Store for $40 or on Blu-ray with an included Jabra Bluetooth headset for $60. Which one to purchase is up to your need/desire to communicate in-game with other members of your team -- you get the same game no matter which version you pick.

Graphically, Warhawk is amazing looking, especially considering the relatively small 800 MB download size. Everything in the game oozes polish from the simple intuitive menus to the incredibly crisp and cleaning looking graphics. Any naysayer who says the PlayStation 3 can't do anti-aliasing just needs to fire up Warhawk, this is one of the smoothest, least aliased title in the PS3's entire library. On the resolution side, those looking for another 1080p game to show off your expensive TV may be a little disappointed as the game only goes up to 720p/1080i, but don't worry -- it still looks fantastic on a 1080p set.

One of the most impressive graphical features of the game is its incredible draw distance and sense of scale. You can hover thousands of feet above the ground in a Warhawk, looking over the entire map and engaging in dog fights or plummet straight down and seamlessly transition into ground combat without any kind of framerate drop or load times -- it's beautiful and exhilarating.

What really makes Warhawk stand out though is its amazingly balanced and deep gameplay. The game offers five maps and four gameplay modes; Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Zones (a Battlefield 2-esque mode). You can play as one of the two sides, Eucadian or Chernoven -- both which have their own unique look and slight variations on their vehicles. The two sides are more or less the exact same though and so with the lack of unique strengths or any kind of backstory, choosing your side is more an issue of aesthetic taste than anything.

Once you've picked your character, you choose your spawn point and you're dropped into the game. This is where the gameplay depth first makes itself apparent -- do you jump into a Warhawk and tear across the map? Or do you get into the jeep that just pulled up next to you and man the mounted machine gun as the driver whips along the jungle roads to the next combat spot? Or maybe you're a defensive type player and want to protect the base? Plenty of options there too, with tanks for blasting incoming jeeps and enemy tanks or three different kinds of turrets for taking down Warhawks or oblivious ground troops.

While this might not sound that different from other team based games like Battlefield 2, what really sets Warhawk apart is the accessibility and speed of the gameplay. Unlike BF2, you don't need to spend 15 hours learning how to fly the planes -- within minutes the flight controls feel comfortable. The same goes with all the vehicles and various weapons, everything just feels tight and well thought out. Also, another little difference between the two games is that there are tons of Warhawks and vehicles available on the maps so you never feel like you're having to fight your own teammates for them -- it's a nice touch and helps keep the gameplay fast and frantic.

In another nod to BF2, Warhawk also has a ranking system where you are judged on your performance and given ribbons and medals as awards. Ribbons can be gotten by achieving certain goals like burning three people alive in a short period with the incredibly satisfying flamethrower, or going on an uninterrupted killing spree. As you gain more accolades, your character levels up and gains access to more and more customization options for your character. By the time you've hit the 5 or 6th level, your guy will look completely different from when he started, which helps keep everybody in the game from looking the same.

Also, unlike in BF2 where the better players have access to better weapons -- Warhawk keeps the playing field level the entire time. That General who just killed you did it because he was better than you, not because he had access to a more powerful machinegun. It's a little humbling but at least it's fair.

The only real issue that Warhawk suffers from is caused, ironically, by its popularity. In order to level up your character, you have to play on an official Sony server and unfortunately it can be incredibly difficult to find a spot open on ANY of their servers. It's not uncommon to have to spend 15-20 minutes trying to find a game, a problem that isn't helped by the server browser's habit of not showing the actual number of people in a game. So you end up just trying server after server until you finally find out where you can play. When you do get on, lag is nonexistent (at least on the official ranked servers) and will rarely get kicked out of the server. It's just unfortunate it can take so much effort just getting on in the first place.

While Incognito generated a lot of controversy when they originally announced the transition of Warhawk into a 32 player online-only combat game, they clearly made the right decision. Warhawk is a fantastic title that showcases the incredible depth that games on the PlayStation Store can offer and is a must-buy title for any shooter fan. The action is intense and satisfying, the graphics are beautiful and vibrant and the promotion system adds in an extra layer of addictiveness to a title that is already the game equivalent of crack. Highly recommended -- just don't get mad at us when you find yourself playing Warhawk instead of sleeping. It's happened to all of us.

PS3 Fanboy Score: 9.0

Second Opinion: Nick

I have to agree with Colin's review. Warhawk is, for the most part, "teh coolness". This is assuming you can get into a ranked server for a good match, which as Colin pointed out, is probably the biggest issue of the game. It should only be temporary, I imagine. If anyone's followed my awkward reviews of days past on here or especially on PSP Fanboy, you know I'm primarily an RPG guru. I know, that's narcissistic, but I'll take what I can get. I'm horrible at these kinds of games, yet, the way Warhawk is set up, I learned quickly and have become a formidable adversary for many gamers out there. I still have my qualms with the title, but they aren't limited to Warhawk, rather most games of this sort. In fact ... calling them qualms is a bit of a misnomer, as it's mainly my inability to handle snipers from across the map, or getting capped by a tank when I'm hiding behind a wall. It's not the game -- it's me. I like having control over my environments and knowing how to take care of things in any situation, but the online world strips that security blanket from me. It's still a very enjoyable experience, and I'm not rating the game any lower than Colin, but it does take some patience and getting used to if you're not typically into these games. You shouldn't pass it up, no matter your genre of preference. It's a sight to behold and a joy to play when you succeed, even a little bit. I've been Warhawk'd.

Third Opinion: Andrew
Warhawk is easily the best game in the PS3 library right now. Although I was initially hesitant about the $40 price tag, the incredibly accessible, deep and balanced gameplay of Warhawk more than justifies its price tag. Considering access to the PSN is free, this is a fantastic value, offering endless hours of gameplay. There's a lot to appreciate: the meticulous design of the levels, with its carefully placed points of contention. The beautiful graphics that go far into the horizon really showcase the game's understanding of scale: boosting in a Warhawk is just as exhilarating as seeing one fly by from above. Regardless of your vehicular preference, you'll find that everything in the game is balanced.

What I can appreciate the most is the ability to turn on another SIXAXIS controller and have a friend jump in. Up to four players can easily jump into an online game, making it the quintessential party game for any PS3 owner. You and your teammates will scream, cry, shout, yell in victory (or defeat). This has single-handedly made three of my Xbox 360 owning friends finally consider buying a PS3. It's a testament to how fantastic this game is. Look for me (and my friends) online as PSFanboy.

Fourth Opinion: Jem
What the other three said.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.