Tom Clancy's HAWX Hands-on

We suit up for hands-on time with the single-player portion of Ubisoft's new air combat game.


Tom Clancy's HAWX

When not dodging incoming enemy fire, breaking missile locks, or doing flybys of the Christo Redentor overlooking Guanabara Bay, we were drifting our F-22 in Tom Clancy's HAWX, Ubisoft's new air combat game. As the name suggests, the game is part of the Tom Clancy properties and even follows part of the Ghost Recon storyline. The level we played had us defending the city of Rio de Janeiro against scores of enemy fighters, tanks, and warships.

The F-22 Raptor is merely one of more than 50 planes slated to appear in HAWX
The F-22 Raptor is merely one of more than 50 planes slated to appear in HAWX

If you ask fighter buffs, the F-22 is arguably the most impressive air-to-air combat aircraft currently patrolling the skies. From the demo, we have to agree. Ubisoft Romania has not only rendered the plane to look great, but they’ve also made it a blast to fly. The interface starts out with a just-behind-the-tail-section view of the F-22--think Ace Combat 6 or the classic After Burner. The plane slid, turned, rolled, and accelerated just as aeronautical aficionados would expect. We flew in close to the city without problem, weaved through downtown at high speeds, and drifted across Corcovado mountain. The smooth handling and the powerful turns made engaging enemy planes at both close and long range very enjoyable.

A pilot’s best friend is the heads-up display, which proved to be the case with our demo. Our wingman appeared in the top left to provide mission information with some solid voice acting and a well-animated flight suit. As we engaged enemies, there was plenty of chatter from the various pilots. The bottom left corner housed our radar for finding the next enemy to engage, but the real treat is buried in the bottom right corner. There you see a meter that measures the capacity for the Enhanced Reality System (ERS). Our flight instructor guided us through engaging the ERS to evade missiles, intercept enemy aircraft, and to get set up for our attack run on a target located in downtown Rio. When the ERS was activated, the meter would diminish as concentric triangles appeared in our HUD. As we flew through the triangular tunnel, we got closer to our prey, farther from our attacker, or ready to fire (depending on what objective was selected). While the targeting computer was quite intuitive, we discovered it could be disabled for a second mode of play.

By double-tapping the left trigger (also the brake), we disengaged the ERS and popped out to a more distant camera position. In this mode, we were left without the previously described HUD overlay but had even more flexibility of flight. With the targeting computer turned off, we were able to extend our piloting skills to pull off better drifts, fancier rolls, and some exciting--though potentially terminal--stalls. The plane's handling felt freer, more fluid, and more responsive. This new mode relied more on flying on intuition with less assistance. We could still cycle through targets, but enemy planes that came up with an orange icon indicated they were targeting us. A red arc would appear around our plane to indicate where enemy fire was coming from, and when the enemy aces were out to get us, we definitely took some damage.

Taking damage created an intense experience. Whenever you are hit, your plane goes into a stall. From the time the engines die until your plane hits the ground, you can try to fire up the engines again and fly away relatively unscathed. We were told after taking damage eight times, your plane will be destroyed. The same is true if you happen to crash into a building, a mountain, the ocean, or even a giant statue, but we didn't try all of those to find out. Steering our F-22 out of a flat spin and pumping the right trigger to ignite the engines wasn't too difficult. But with plenty of enemy aces circling us, the urgency was palpable. That only made us more intent on downing the MiG that hit us when we were flying again.

When you turn off the ERS, you can easily engage multiple enemies.
When you turn off the ERS, you can easily engage multiple enemies.

HAWX is said to feature 17 missions, more than a dozen settings, and scores of objectives to unlock weapons, as well as about 50 real-world fighter planes. The planes run the gamut from Vietnam-era aircraft to unreleased prototypes and international variants of common models. If the rest look half as good as the F-22 did--with its blinking lights, heat-distorted exhaust, and detailed paneling--the whole fleet will be worth flying later this year. We will be sure to keep you updated as the game comes along and more information is revealed about the cooperative and competitive modes of play.

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