Tom Clancy's HAWX 2 Exclusive Hands-On - UAV Recon and Air-to-Ground Battles

We take an exclusive flight deeper into HAWX 2's single-player campaign and try out UAV scouting and a little air-to-ground combat.

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The high-flying sequel Tom Clancy's HAWX 2 will let you return to the skies as an ace fighter pilot, but the sequel will have plenty of new toys to play with, including a wide array of different aircraft to fly from modern American, British, and Russian forces. In addition, the game will have all-new military tech that won't necessarily involve flying, such as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drones, and it will also have a larger variety in its missions, including some that will challenge you to switch from midair dogfighting to bombing runs in a matter of minutes. We've tried out some of this new stuff and have new details to report. Please be advised that this story contains minor plot spoilers.

The first new mission we played, "Thieves in the Night," took place about a third of the way through the game…and it didn't even involve getting into a cockpit. We'll explain: The game's story involves quelling an uprising by angry insurgents who are being supplied by a mysterious arms dealer, and part of your job as a member of the HAWX team is to use a UAV to tag key locations on a satellite-image map. In this mission, our Russian contact, "Wolfhound," was on the ground and had identified the mysterious arms dealer who is apparently supplying the insurgents with anything from heavy-duty bombardment missiles to crates of assault rifles with the help of a mysterious and highly placed source in the Russian military. The UAV view is a zoomed-out map colored completely in green. The view vaguely resembles HAWX 2's zoomed-in bombing view (which lets you switch the view from your bomber cockpit to a zoomed-in image of the ground below, from which you can acquire bombing targets). In the case of the UAV, your job isn't to drop any bombs, but rather it's to paint key targets with infrared (IR) markers so that they can later be bombed by your allies.

In this mission, you must first paint a few key bombing targets by putting them in your sights and pressing the fire button to mark them. However, the arms dealer himself suddenly makes an appearance, being driven in his own car to meet with his local customers. At this point, we were required to focus our sights on the dealer's moving car (which appeared as a tiny white blip on the radar) to maintain a surveillance audio link that let us eavesdrop on his conversations so long as we kept him in sight. (Fortunately, HAWX 2 frequently autosaves checkpoints after each individual task within missions, so while the few times we let our quarry slip away meant that the mission was over, we were able to restart more or less exactly where we had left off.)

The eavesdropping clued us in on more intel--namely, the site of other weapon drops in the city and on nearby docked freighters, which we also painted for airstrikes. Eventually, the arms dealer made a transaction with his local partners, after which the cars of all involved parties scattered in different directions while we carefully followed our original target. However, it was just then that our Russian contact was spotted by a few of the arms dealer's henchmen--then quickly dispatched both men and dragged their bodies into the shadows. Since our contact's cover was blown, our last order of business in this mission was to help him escape by using IR tagging on enemy roadblocks so that he could be clued in on which side streets not to take on his way out of town.

Tagging with IR scans sets up priority targets so the bombers can knock 'em down.
Tagging with IR scans sets up priority targets so the bombers can knock 'em down.

We then skipped ahead to a different mission later in the game--about halfway through--called "Behind Enemy Lines." The mission takes place just after the Russian army has recovered a pair of stolen nuclear warheads from the enemy and is flying each one back to Mother Russia in transport planes. Our job, as a Russian pilot, was to jump into a Su-27 Flanker and escort the carriers through enemy territory on their way home. Unfortunately, the enemy was already on the alert and had a substantial force already airborne and headed our way, which meant that we had to do double duty both defending the transports and defending ourselves from enemy fighter planes.

After beating back a few waves of enemies, we finally approached an area dug in by allied Russian forces that had antiair guns stationed on the ground. These areas were marked on the map by obvious glowing green outlines, and we did our best to lure enemy fighters into the kill zones to get them off our backs.

We'd finally gotten rid of most of our enemies and had nearly reached friendly space, so the transports set a course to take the long away around the last stretch of hostile territory, which was equipped with antiair guns of its own. However, our high-ranking commanding officer in the Russian military made the puzzling demand that we cut straight through, since the route through enemy lines was much faster. (Why he gave that order is anyone's guess.) Unfortunately, one of the transports, piloted by none other than Wolfhound, was hit by enemy fire and had to make a crash landing right into enemy territory--a small encampment on the lee side of a dam.

Though Wolfhound was able to expertly land the damaged craft safely (without any of that unsightly nuclear holocaust), the frustrated agent immediately demanded an evac, which our commanding officer assured us was inbound. While Wolfhound established a perimeter, enemy vehicles and emplaced cannons on the ground had begun to open fire, and we were tasked with using our Flanker, an excellent dogfighting ship, to go toe-to-toe with earthbound tanks and gun emplacements in a narrow mountain valley. This is a lot tougher than it sounds, since the Flanker is a heavy-duty fighter jet that, while equipped with powerful armament, doesn't exactly turn on a dime.

Ever fly a dogfighting jet on a bombing run? You will in HAWX 2.
Ever fly a dogfighting jet on a bombing run? You will in HAWX 2.

We did the best we could, carefully swooping down into the bowl of the valley and dumping as many missiles as possible onto our foes before pulling up like mad to avoid crashing right into the mountain. While we scored several kills, our grounded comrades were unable to hold out against the assault, and rather than risk having the nuke be recaptured, our high-ranking commanding officer ordered us to aim and fire at the dam, which would surely kill Wolfhound and the transport survivors but would also eliminate all opposition on the ground and at least let the Russian forces come back later to pick up the pieces. We had no choice but to blow the dam, dooming our comrades to a watery death while our high-ranking Russian commanding officer assured us of how shameful it was that such brave men should die for the cowardice of politicians.

HAWX 2's single-player campaign will offer plenty of variety and the ability to use some interesting new toys beyond just more fighter jets. The game will be released on September 7 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

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