GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.
Between Titanfall, MechWarrior Online, and other recent offerings on the giant-battling-robot front, mech combat enthusiasts have an ever-growing range of options. Hawken's stunning sci-fi battlescapes and impressively detailed robot designs are an attractive wrapper for the more fast-and-furious flavor of online free-to-play mech shooter action found underneath its hood. Piloting these slick metal death machines into the fray hits a sweet spot that you won't find in similar games. The raw speed and energetic momentum infused into Hawken's online matches almost contradict the nature of the game's hulking combatants, yet this different breed of multiplayer mech battler brings a new level of excitement to the genre in a way that feels oh-so-right.
Lots of mech games do a decent enough job of making you feel like you're strapped into a huge hunk of walking metal, but Hawken really nails it with flair. Hopping into the cockpit and taking your first heavy steps into this atmospheric sci-fi realm is a wild ride. Everything, from the way the control panel rocks as you thunder along to the visual damage and bleating alarms that grow progressively intense as you get thrashed by incoming fire, adds tremendous weight to the piloting experience. The powerful sights and sounds that accompany your every move help to draw you deeper into your role with effortless ease, inciting battle lust in the process.
It's easy to be wooed by this pleasant sensory overload, but pausing for too long to admire your well-armed ride and the meticulously detailed surroundings is a fatal mistake. Hawken's firefights move at a fast clip. Despite their girth and heft on the battlefield, mechs are surprisingly agile, thanks to fuel-powered jump jets that let you sidestep incoming fire, leap over obstacles, glide short distances, and hover in place. This mobility is great, because it doesn't detract from the impact of being a mech pilot, and it keeps matches flowing. Even in larger battles, you can quickly find yourself flanked and torn asunder, leading you to make a hasty retreat so you can find a safe spot from which to deploy a repair drone. That's not a surefire stopgap to avoid getting sent to the scrap heap, however.
Hawken encourages a "stick together, stay alive" mentality--both through many natural elements of its design and in overt voice-overs suggesting as much--that spurs strategic teamwork. Taking time to repair on the battlefield is a dicey affair, because it's a slow process that leaves you vulnerable. Without a pal to watch your back, you're easy prey. Careful spotting and thoughtful sensor array placement are equally important. With a quick tap of a key, you can call out enemies on sight or even send out a distress signal to encourage teammates to flock to your location to lend a hand. All of this helps build a strong team dynamic that boosts the excitement when your squad clicks.
The high energy flow of standard free-for-all and team deathmatches is fun in its own right and excellent for scoring experience and currency to beef up your mech fleet. That said, the epic scope of Hawken's other core modes holds a very different kind of thrill. Missile Assault puts a cool spin on point capture, since every missile station your team controls continually hurls rockets skyward. You can actually stand and watch each missile race off into the distance and collide with your foe's towering base structure, which collapses in spectacular explosions if you manage to wrest victory from your enemy's grasp.
Siege mode ramps up the spectacle to an even grander scale with longer matches that involve hauling energy around the map and capturing antiaircraft cannons as you fight away. Powering up your base launches your team's Star Destroyer-style battleship, which pushes across the sky and hammers away at the enemy base until it destroys it or is shot down. These modes are a blast, and they do a phenomenal job of making your skirmishes feel like they're a critical part of a bigger conflict.
Hawken sports some impressive battlefield designs. Maps are massive. They sprawl out in all directions and mix in high vantage points, loads of obstacles to use for cover, and subterranean regions to fight through. They're gorgeous too, and visually diverse enough to keep match cycles feeling fresh. You duke it out across murky swamps, dark forests, bright sci-fi cityscapes, dusty dune settlements, icy tundras, and more. This diversity extends to the wide assortment of mechs you pilot.
Taking time to repair on the battlefield is a dicey affair, because it's a slow process that leaves you vulnerable. Without a pal to watch your back, you're easy prey.
From light and zippy scout mechs to more-sluggish heavily armored brutes and everything in between, there's a ride for all tastes and fighting styles. Different handling, armor, weapon loadouts, and combat roles also leave lots of room for tactical variety. Picking off foes through the scope of a long-range sniper mech offers a different kind of satisfaction from hopping into an ordnance-heavy mech and deluging the enemy with clusters of rockets. Other specialties and special abilities are geared toward support, assault, assassination, and defense to round out your options. Despite their strengths and weaknesses, the mechs are balanced enough that none of them feel overpowered.
Unlocking them, unfortunately, can be a slow and tedious process if you don't want to shell out a bit of real cash for bonus experience boosts or instant-unlock access to speed things along. Experience you gain in battle goes toward your overall pilot level as well as the individual mechs you use in a given encounter, and leveling up grants you access to new mechs, weapons, and accessories to purchase. That's all fine, except that the more you switch up your mechs in battle, the slower you progress is with each individual mech.
Almost everything you can buy in the game, ranging from optional custom color schemes and decorations to mechs and weapon components, can be bought with accumulated in-game cash you accrue through playing matches. It's just faster to unlock these items with paid meteor credits. But even if you want a little nudge to ease the grind, temporary XP and money boosters are quite cheap. On the whole, nothing is outrageously expensive, so it all comes down to a matter of patience and playtime.
The sheer time it takes to make substantive progress across your mech fleet is a muddy point in an otherwise excellent game. Does it have a huge impact on the overall quality of the experience? Not really. Hawken is plenty of fun as a free ride, and it's worth sinking a bit of real money into it to ease the slower stretches and fully customize your favorite killer robo-suits. This mech shooter goes far above and beyond what you'd expect in a free-to-play offering, with an impressive visual design and intense, rewarding gameplay to match.
17 mechs to pilot and upgrade, lots of big battlegrounds, excellent and unique large-scale battle modes, and seemingly customization options.
What's to Come?
Hawken is in the late stages of development, and much of the development focus currently seems to be on fine-tuning match making, making sure any bugs are stomped, and adding additional detail. You can, however, expect to see some new mechs in future updates.
What Does it Cost?
Nothing, unless you feel inclined to spend money to speed up you mech fleet's progression and customization. Shelling out actual real-world cash lets you unlock mechs early, grab XP and coin earning boosts, and outfit your mechs faster.
When Will it Be Finished?
No specific word yet on a final release, but Hawken already looks and feels like a finished product.
What's the Verdict?
Hawken is more than just an excellent free-to-play multiplayer shooter: it's mech combat done right. The game gorgeous and a blast to play, but leveling-up requires patience and a bit of grinding.