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Despite what you see in the screenshots in this review, H.A.W.X. is as much a flight simulator as Burnout Paradise is a driving sim. Ubisoft’s latest liberty with the Tom Clancy franchise is more akin to Descent or Wing Commander than it is to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X. It’s an arcade shooter that cares more about maintaining a high explosion-per-minute ratio than realism or even proper physics. That means fighter jets with 200-plus capacity payloads, a dearth of takeoffs and landings, and an army of AI-controlled enemy units that are more than willing to fly straight into your missiles for the greater pyrotechnic glory.
As David Crenshaw, former leader of the Air Force’s elite H.A.W.X. squadron, you’ve now turned to the private sector to pay the bills and catch the thrills. In the first half of the game, Artemis Global Security hires you to guard oil refineries and bomb military bases for the highest bidder, which—shocker—eventually has you at odds with the U.S. government. Ever the patriot, this twist sends you back into the arms of Uncle Sam and you spend the rest of the game defending America from an all-out invasion.
The missions, which range from aerial escorts to bombing runs, each last about 20 minutes, and have you taking on enemies from land, sea, and air. Wiping out waves of tanks, boats, and patrolling helicopters becomes brutally mundane, since these enemies never pose a real threat to you and are easily dispatched with auto-locking missiles. Dogfights with other jets fare much better, as we actually had to evade homing missiles or out-flank ace pilots with fancy flight maneuvers.
But the real fun comes from the varied locales where we conducted our fiery aerial ballets. Our hearts raced as we jetted across the skies over Cape Canaveral to ward off dozens of bogies threatening an in-progress space shuttle launch, and a desperate defense of Air Force One after the battle for Washington DC was nothing short of epic. We didn’t mind that the story was farfetched; the gripping urgency and deft dramatic flair packed into these scenarios reminded us of a nail-biting episode of television’s 24—from one of the good seasons.
The later scenarios also featured interesting challenges to keep us on our toes. One assault on a series of broadcast towers, for example, required that we fly below a certain altitude to avoid radar detection. Having a low flight ceiling forced us to adjust our speed and use evasion as opposed to direct engagement.
We played the game with both a gamepad and joystick, and the latter is definitely our preferred control system. Hardware buffs will be bummed though, because even though you can unlock aircraft ranging from Cold-War era MIGs to fifth-generation jets like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, they all handle the same. A third-person perspective mode lets you staff for “advanced” flight tactics, but we still enjoyed playing from the non-functioning virtual cockpit more. But even given all that, H.A.W.X. is a pretty enjoyable action game—we just know it could be so much more.
Fast-paced action, exciting mission scenarios, and maps that use satellite imagery.
Dumb opponents, unrealistic physics, unrewarding unlock system.