Joystiq E3 hands-on: HAWX

You have to give it to Tom Clancy: He hasn't let his success keep him from trying his hand at new things. One of his latest of these ventures is HAWX, a new action flight game that I got a chance to play during E3. I only got to sample the multiplayer, but what I saw left me really impressed.

At first, the game seems a fairly common take on the genre: You coast around in a strikingly realistic world that's been generated by Google Maps. When you find a target, you can either paint them with heat-seeking missiles or blast them with machine guns (the latter of which I never had much luck with).

Where the game really shines though is when you take the safety off. With the press of a button, the camera pans back, and you suddenly have much more control of the plane. Suddenly, you can evade missiles much more easily and do 180 degree mid-air turns on a dime. It takes a little to get the hang of it, but, once you do, it feels like no other flight game I've played.

The structure of the multiplayer is fairly innovative too. Though I was in a 2-on-2 match, you can have up to eight players going at it. The mode was a basic deathmatch, with you scoring points for bringing down enemies. What made it feel different was the Support system, which maybe be fairly familiar to fans of Call of Duty 4.

As you get kills, the support bar begins to fill. Once the bar is full, you can activate support and get one of a range of different effects. How powerful the support item is depends on how much of a lead you have or, alternately, how far behind you are. For example, when my extremely generous tutors were down zip to five, they were able to activate an item that made my plane stall. When they were down by 9, they gained insanely powerful stealth, which let them hammer away at me while I had no way to locate them or defend myself.

It's not, I'm told, a way to balance lower skilled players with higher skilled players, but rather a way for a team to have a shot of bringing themselves back from the brink of destruction. I think of it as sort of an inverse of CoD 4's system, which allows solidly performing players to extend their kill count gap.

Hard to say anything definitive on the game from that brief multiplayer sliver, but all indications are that Mr. Clancy has outdone himself again. Where does he find the time?

This article was originally published on Joystiq.