After a successful venture into the realm of the flight simulator 18 months ago, Tom Clancy is back with HAWX 2. This time there are a few new features, such as the ability to actually land and take off, but the developers surely hoped that this sequel would allow the franchise to reach the acclaim of Tom Clancy's other franchises. Unfortunately, it's difficult to see that happening based on the evidence.
The story follows various groups of pilots from America, Britain and Russia, as they attempt to foil what turns out to be a rather ridiculous plot. Initially it didn't seem too bad. There were pockets of insurgents attempting to rise up in the Middle East and in Russia there were separatists trying to overthrow the government. While it was probably unnecessary to have both of these things happening, everything remained quite plausible and the missions were well structured and paced. However, the plot twists then started happening, things started getting way over the top and in the end, it just turned into a huge mess.
It got to the point where one of the more minor characters got elevated to be the main antagonist for no real reason, and he was hell bent on killing millions of people with nuclear missiles just to take out maybe a couple of people he didn't like - people who were apparently behind everything and were never even mentioned. His justification for this? Quite flimsy really, he just handed out the cliche line of "One day you'll understand". The other slightly strange thing is that he's also in charge of a satellite laser, which is probably more likely to achieve his goals than nukes. This pretty much sums the story up, over the top and pointless. There was no real need for it to get so overblown and had it stayed within the realms of possibility, it probably wouldn't have been too bad.
The gameplay, in some ways, is fairly standard. Players have the option to fly an aircraft how they would expect and overall, the game handles quite well. The game even makes handling progressively harder as speeds increase, which is a nice touch. The handling of the aircraft isn't the problem though, it's what happens around all of that. For example, the HUD. The system for detailing lock-ons and missile alerts for players is very frustrating. If an enemy fighter gets a lock, some red text appears which isn't that noticeable. If they actually manage to fire a missile, a marker appears which indicates a rough estimate of its trajectory and a small camera appears in the right-hand corner of the screen. Now, this is perfectly fine if not much is going on, but when a huge dogfight is happening, having to look at a camera detracts from the actual action. Surely having some kind of audio cue would make it much more clear. Apparently not, as there are no audio indications at all for anything to do with that.
Said audio cues could have been omitted because of one other problem though. While there are ally aircraft present in missions, they essentially do nothing. So, if for example, there's a situation where there are 4-5 enemy planes, the chances are they will all target you, the player. This means you could have 3-4 incoming missiles at a time, constantly. Having an audio cue might have driven the player quite insane, but then again, being missile spammed also achieves that. At one point, the allies even said "We'll watch your back while you take out the objective", they really didn't. While having to take out bridges using a bomb camera, missiles kept flying in and when looking upon the radar it's easy to see why; none of the allies were engaging any of the opposition fighters.
The opposition AI can also create some degree of frustration, as they aren't bound by the same laws as the player. They will almost never stall and in some weird circumstances perform impossible movements. Also, they never appear to run out of flares, which can make taking them down become quite an arduous task.
From the perspective of presentation, HAWX 2 is amazing in some areas, decent in others, and sub-par in the remaining categories. The terrain, provided by Geo-Eye, is incredible. Cities are accurately represented and there's almost no low-resolution textures to be found anywhere. From here though, things start to degenerate. The aircraft models are pretty good, but the cutscenes are really not. The voice acting isn't that great and the actual scripting/animation is very poor. The lip-syncing is terrible and even the actual aircraft's movements don't appear very plausible. It's a real shame.
In terms of the story campaign, there are various different mission types - it's not just about the typical flight simulation gameplay. At some points, players will take control of drones to tag targets, or get to control the obligatory AC-130 for a support mission. These missions seem to dry up as the campaign moves along though, which is a shame. Different modes do unlock though, such as free flight and survival mode. The latter of which will certainly challenge players, as they have to survive waves upon waves of enemy combatants.
To give the game even more replay value, there are challenges, which unlock abilities and more aircraft. And when said aircraft are used in any of the non-story modes, they will gain experience allowing for custom load outs and different skins. The problem is, that there are very few people playing the online mode.
Unfortunately HAWX 2 does very little to convince on any level. The story is only memorable for all the wrong reasons and problems with the gameplay mechanics make it often frustrating to play. The actual aircraft handle well, but this is cancelled out by the game's other issues and it's a real shame. There are some positives in the Geo-Eye terrain and the game's replay value, but it's not enough to gloss over the rest of the game's faults.