When it comes to the race between hard information and idle speculation about the upcoming PlayStation 3 game Warhawk, lately it's been nearly a neck-and-neck contest. That said, at Sony's recent press event in San Diego, the company opened the curtains a bit wider on this multiplayer-only ground and aerial combat game so we could see how it's coming along ahead of its release later this year. Based on our time with the game, all of the news seems to be good; and the best news of all is that a select number of players will soon be able to get a chance to play it for themselves when the public beta begins later this month.
The two new playable environments included a desert map complete with rocky canyons that look straight out of the American Southwest (think of MotorStorm's dusty ravines, only with futuristic jet fighters instead of dune buggies and motorcycles), and an island map that featured a green and gray color palette, with sharper cliff faces and more vegetation to check out. Both maps had the same high level of visual fidelity featured in the map we've already seen in the game and long draw distances that really give a sense of the scale of the environments you're battling in.
Warhawk producers refer to each of the five overall maps in the game as "styles," and when setting up a game you'll have five areas on each map style to choose from. These areas are all segments of the larger environment, and because the geography of each area is different, you'll have a different game experience depending on the type of mode you wish to play (choosing from different modes like capture the flag, zone, and so on). Producers said they are looking to make the player-created servers in Warhawk as flexible as possible--so if you want to create a 32-player battle on a small, intimate map, you can set it up and toss everyone into the meat grinder. Conversely, you can take a small group of players and put them in some of the larger maps for a more tactical, and less hectic, game. The sole exception is when playing in dogfight mode--here, you'll battle your opponents on the entire map.
Of the various game modes we played during our sessions going up against some of the Warhawk QA team, one of the most compelling was zone mode. Here, your HUD will indicate specific zones of control for your team. As you progress through the maps, your controlled zones will be upgraded and grow in size. As a result, you have a good idea not only of how much area your team controls on the map, but where your forces should head next to continue the assault against your rivals.
From a gameplay standpoint, we preferred the flying aspects of combat to the ground-based combat. When out of a vehicle, you have access to a basic pistol and knife, as well as various rifles and machine guns you pick up along the way. You can also hop in a jeep or tank to quickly move from one area to the next (and blast a few fools along the way). Still, the game feels best when you're in the air, zooming around from place to place and tangling with ground forces or desperately trying to evade a bogie on your six. Control seems to be as tight as ever, and some of the jet designs are just plain cool.
The development team has made some improvements to the game's presentation--including a number of new pop-up tips that teach you how to play the game but also keep you informed on when status on the battlefield changes. For example, when your flag is captured in a CTF match, a pop-up will appear onscreen to let you know. In addition, it's now easier to see where the flag is on a map, thanks to the addition of vertical columns of colored light emitting into the sky from the flag's location.
If all of this sounds good to you, you're in luck: The open beta for Warhawk is scheduled for release on May 24. Participants for the beta will be chosen from sign-ups from the official Warhawk Web site, and producers told us it will be an approximately 780MB download. Even better news: This will be the full game for the beta, complete with all maps, vehicles, and rewards. We'll be bringing you more on the Warhawk beta in the near future, as well as a full review of the game once it's released.