Soaring through the air at 500 km/h while a pack of Russian insurgents tries their best to send you hurtling towards the ground with their heat seeking missiles sounds like a tense but fun concept. Tom Clancey’s HAWX 2 tries to deliver the excitement of aerial combat, but can’t really seem to get off the ground.Taking control of multi-million dollar aircraft on a series of fictional missions, players are given the opportunity to try some of the world’s highest caliber death machines. Complete with landing and take-off sequences the experience attempts to be as realistic as possible but pulls back from being a straight-forward simulator. Players aren’t required to balance a million different controls while flying but at the same time the game lacks the ease and smoothness of a more arcade-like experience.
Straddling the line between sim and arcade compromises a lot of what would normally make the game soar. Banking and turning feel jerky and overly-precise, lacking the smoothness that would be present in a more casual experience. On the other side of the coin, dodging missiles and gunfire is a breeze requiring only the most basic loops. The game is frustrating where it shouldn’t be and too easy where it needs to be tense. The game does support a few select flight stick controls for those who really want to get invested in the simulation experience, but for a majority of players they’ll be stuck with the disappointing configuration of the base controller. For some reason the acceleration is mapped to the triggers while rudder control is left to the bumpers. This means that players who want to speed up while finely tuning trajectory must contort their hand in to a hook-like claw to succeed. With no option to re-map the controls the game can get incredibly uncomfortable and all over a feature that seems so simple to include.
Some of the levels, particularly the escort missions, fall apart because of poor AI scripting. It makes sense to rely on the player to complete the mission, but even with a sincere effort the suicidal tendencies of ally ships and fighters make it nearly impossible to win. The one place where things feel just right is the landing and take-off sections. Simple enough to execute it won’t require multiple retries, but at the same time challenging enough to make it a worthwhile experience. However, in a fully-featured campaign this is a sidebar at best and doesn’t excuse the mediocre middle section while players are away from the hangar.
What’s really surprising is that despite so few models being rendered, HAWX 2 is not the most attractive game to look at. Most of the jets look passable but up-close the terrain, particularly when there are structures and buildings, still looks bland. Scale is also an issue as players will be fighting large gunboats that are roughly the same size as your one-man vehicle. This evaporates any sense of immersion and shows a general lack of effort in design.
Narratively the game is no gem either. There’s a feeble story about the Middle East and an attack on a military base, but the game snaps between 3 equally lifeless protagonists so frequently that the story becomes hard to follow. Combine that with some poorly rendered CG cutscenes and unremarkable voiceovers and you’ve got a good recipe for players just not caring.
Despite the failings in the single player campaign, multiplayer is a passable experience. As expected the team deathmatch mode is appropriately balanced and fun to play. Having only 8 players in the sky does make it feel a little barren at times, but with the HUD constantly pointing enemies out combat can stay fairly tight. Also included are some unique co-op missions and an aerial take on the traditional horde gametype to add some variety, but these experiences are still mired in the same flaws of the campaign mode.
In terms of depth both the single player and multiplayer components offer players the opportunity to play a wide variety of different aircraft. While not all of them feel completely unique there’s more disparity than expected and players will be able to find a favourite jet for when they take to the skies. Add in options for different weapon load-outs and players can begin taking some, if only a little, ownership over their experience.
Most of the games issues are not new to the series and players who were able to overlook them in the first HAWX game will probably overlook them in the second. This does signal a disturbing trend if there is a future planned for the franchise though. With so little effort put in to fixing old problems and so few new additions it’s hard to justify this sequel, let alone another.
Overall HAWX 2 is a letdown for those who were looking for a title that could bridge the gap between simulation and arcade experience. What we end up with is an unfortunate half and half that doesn’t live up to the highlights of either subgenre. The multiplayer might be worth it to some people, but for a majority of players HAWX 2 will feel more frustrating than fun.