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HAWX 2 review: The mild blue yonder


By naming its flight combat franchise "HAWX," Ubisoft created an expectation of ... something more. Something to do with the letter "X." It wasn't "HAWKS" -- that X was a built-in promise, right there in the title, of something x-otic and x-treme. While the first game in the series attempted to make the genre a little more x-citing, its sequel isn't so much a thrilling melange of dogfights and bombing runs as it is a simulation of working nine to five for a missile and bomb delivery service.

Hey, a game where you pilot a flying UPS truck -- that could be pretty neat! Oh, sorry. See, I'm already forgetting HAWX 2. Let me get this all down before I move on to something more exciting, like a documentary on how they make packing peanuts.

Gallery: H.A.W.X. 2 | 10 Photos

Okay, so maybe I'm being a little harsh. Sure, this game is boring (or BORING -- I'll let you to come up with your own super-cool meaning for that acronym) and not so much "by the book" as "xeroxed from the book," but its not bad. Nope, HAWX 2 is fundamentally sound as far as flight combat games go. Heck, it's even kinda pretty. Also, I do find the fact that you can actually take off and land your planes (on runways and carriers) is neat, if not over-simplified.

The original concept behind the HAWX franchise is a neat one: It's an arcade-style air combat game in the vein of Namco's long-running Ace Combat series. But it's been modernized with a storyline styled after the espionage thrillers of Tom Clancy and high-tech, "augmented reality" gameplay assists / heads-up display elements designed to make flying more accessible (and, ostensibly, fun). While HAWX 1 was in-your-face with the futuristic vibe, HAWX 2 never enforces the idea of "You're not just flying a jet but the most advanced fighter ever -- this is the future!" It's more like, "Okay, here's your jet game, have fun, bye."

Hey, I have no problem hitting a target, but I kinda need to know where it is.

It all starts out well enough, running you through the basics of recon, bombing and dogfighting, but then it's almost as if the developer forgot what it wanted to do -- or at least the person responsible for making the game compelling went out for a very long lunch. The game tries to fit into the broader Tom Clancy universe, referencing Ghost Recon here and Splinter Cell there, but instead of it making me feel like I was some sort of elite pilot saving the world, I mostly got the sense I was just supporting the guys with the really cool jobs.

I suppose it didn't help that, rather than pushing my planes to the limit, I sometimes didn't even get to be the fighter jockey. I'm still trying to understand the logic of putting me in the gunner's seat of an AC-130 and having me take out targets on the ground so that a Ghost squad could get to a boat. Maybe the game's designers played Modern Warfare 2 and really dug that part of it? Then there was the "piloting" of recon drones, which was actually more dull than using the UAVs in the Ghost Recon games, because there you were at least able to act on the intelligence you were gathering. No, here it's basically just panning around a green "night vision" screen and listening in on people while someone else tells you what to do.

Well, at least they give better instructions than your commanding officer does for most of the actual flying missions. Your fearless leader just sort of generalizes the mission and sends you off to -- more often than not -- die. Hey, I have no problem hitting a target, but I kinda need to know where it is.

"Okay, here's your jet game, have fun, bye."

HAWX 2 too often opts to throw objectives on the screen, then leaves it up to the player to determine where this mystery target is. In most of these cases, I found myself hunting for my own squadron on the radar, hoping they'd know where to go, and asking, "Seriously, can someone throw me a bearing?"

Oh well. At least I saved the world from a nuclear holocaust. I think. Actually, was there a story? That had to be, right? Well, whatever it was, I can say that it ... was told.

If there's something we can all learn from HAWX 2, it's that, no matter how cool it sounds, flying a cutting-edge, multi-million-dollar jet fighter bristling with the world's most advanced weaponry is pretty dull without the opportunity to do anything really cool in it. It makes me wonder if a "Jet Fighter Weapons Officer: The Game" (JFWOTG) would actually be more fun. On second thought, I'd better not give them any ideas for HAWX 3.

This review is based on a pre-release version of HAWX 2 for Xbox 360 provided by Ubisoft. It took five hours to complete. Multiplayer functionality was unavailable on the build sent to Joystiq.

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